Did the Wizards make the right decision?

Analyzing the benefits of Westbrook joining Washington


Photo courtesy of Washington Wizards

On December 2nd, 2020, the Houston Rockets traded Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a 1st round pick. Wall spent his entire 10-year career with Washington, earning 5 All-Star selections and making the playoffs 4 times. On the other hand, Westbrook was traded to Houston 1 year ago after being picked to 9 All-NBA teams and being named MVP in 2017. When looking at both players, most fans believe the 2 players are indistinguishable because of their similar playstyles. But although both are speedy guards with unique vision and tremendous finishing abilities, each guard brings separate skills and expertise to their new teams. With that in mind, did the Wizards make the right decision?

To analyze, we must first fully grasp the distinction between Washington’s abilities before and after the trade. Before the trade occurred, it was no exaggeration to say the Wizards have been a disappointment to D.C. sports. But although they have underperformed statistically, their main problem came from a lack of direction.

In basketball, the goal is always to win. However, if teams know they don’t have the pieces necessary to compete yet, they can choose to “tank” instead. When tanking, rather than focusing on meaningless wins, teams will concentrate on rebuilding, developing, and acquiring younger talent, so they can succeed in the future. 

A great example of this idea can be seen from the Philadelphia 76ers. 5 years ago, they were the worst team in the entire league, having won only 10 out of 82 games. However, this short-term pain of constant losing was only a byproduct of a long-term plan: During their downfall, they made several acquisitions of young players with potential and lottery picks in the draft. Then, they fixated their attention and energy on cultivating, expanding, and refining these young players’ skills to reach their maximum potential. And after just 2 years of rebuilding, the 76ers miraculously elevated from the 14th seed to the 3rd seed in the East, as Joel Embiid was named an All-Star and Ben Simmons was named Rookie of the Year.

With the Wizards, however, things were a bit different. Because they didn’t trade Beal and have openly made clear their desire to compete, it was obvious that they were trying to win rather than tank. Yet, they hadn’t made the playoffs in 2 years and they hadn’t moved past the 1st round in 4 years. They didn’t choose a clear-cut path to take, and some fans might even declare these last 3 years as a total waste.

However, this all changed when they traded for Westbrook.

Now, the Wizards have a well-defined course of action. With Westbrook, the Wizards put themselves in a better position to succeed, as Westbrook brings new, intangible ingredients to the table. His most valuable element comes from the idea that he always wants to win. No matter what situation is at hand, Westbrook will always find ways to dominate, and he now gives Washington a definitive goal to make the playoffs.

Furthermore, Westbrook’s leadership is invaluable. Currently, 7 G-League players have been called up to play for the Wizards, and given their inexperience and unsuccessful culture, these players show minimal enthusiasm and passion for the game. But bring in Westbrook, and you now have a commander who can guide these players, allow them to grow, and provide them with the energy, intensity, heart, and emotion that will bring these players to the next level.

And lastly, let’s not forget that John Wall hasn’t played in 2 years. There is no guarantee that Wall will be what he was before he ruptured his Achilles, especially considering how much of his game is dependant on athleticism. Westbrook, on the other hand, has suffered minimal injuries throughout his career. He is healthy, he is ready, and thus, Washington indeed made the right decision by trading for him.