John Wall is testing the limits of the NBA's untradable contract

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There was a time not long ago when All-Star point guards Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and John Wall owned three of the worst contracts in the NBA. In a disastrous series of events over the past two years, the Houston Rockets dealt Paul for Westbrook, and then Westbrook for Wall, costing themselves the rights to as many as three first-round draft picks in the process. Both Paul and Westbrook have since been traded again for real assets, begging the question of whether any NBA contract is actually untradable anymore.

Wall is testing that theory, as he and the Rockets have mutually agreed to part ways, pending the pursuit of a trade partner for the oft-injured 31-year-old's services, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. News of Wall's availability, coupled with no reported plans for a buyout, was met with some version of, Good luck.

Wall has played 41 games since Christmas 2018 and no more than 41 in a season since 2016-17. He averaged 20.6 points last season on 40/32/75 shooting splits, the worst efficiency of anyone who took at least 14 shots per game. He took 18, because someone had to on the 17-win Rockets. Keep in mind, Victor Oladipo was more efficient in his brief Houston tenure, and he is currently playing on a minimum contract.

Wall is due $91.7 million this season and next, when he will be the league's second-highest paid player behind Stephen Curry. The former No. 1 pick is the most overpaid player in the NBA by no fault of his own.

Knee injuries kept pace with the breakneck speed that made Wall a five-time All-Star from the onset of his career. A bruised right knee gave way to tendinitis a month into his rookie year, before a stress fracture in his left kneecap cost him the first half of the 2012-13 season. By May 2016, both knees required offseason surgery. The left knee needed another procedure in January 2018. He necessitated season-ending surgery on his left heel a year later, and a month after that, he slipped at home, suffering a torn left Achilles' tendon.

The four-year, $171 million supermax extension Wall signed in July 2017 did not even begin until after the surgery that cost him the entire 2019-20 campaign. The Wizards tied a lottery-protected 2023 first-round draft pick to Wall's deal in their December 2020 trade for Westbrook, highway robbery in retrospect. 

Now, the Rockets are looking to dump Wall, and any trade could cost them even more first-round picks. Houston still owes its 2024 and 2026 first-rounders to the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with a first-round pick swap in 2025, as part of the Paul-Westbrook deal. Still, the Rockets own nine first-round picks over the next seven years, recouping much of their outgoing draft capital in last year's trade of James Harden.

Five-time All-Star John Wall's best NBA days may be behind him. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Five-time All-Star John Wall's best NBA days may be behind him. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Does Houston really want to part with more of the paltry assets it received in the Harden deal, just to follow the Paul for Westbrook for Wall cycle to its natural end? Dante Exum is the only player left on the Rockets from the Harden trade, and the first-round picks they received are all tied to the 2021 champion Milwaukee Bucks and 2022 championship favorite Brooklyn Nets, meaning none of them may ever land in the lottery.

Per ESPN's Tim MacMahon, "the Rockets do not want to give up first-round draft compensation in a Wall trade and would not have interest in discussing a buyout until possibly after free agency next summer."

Avoiding a deeper dive into their draft capital would require finding a team willing to commit 40% of next year's projected $119 million salary cap to a 32-year-old who has been unavailable for 192 of a possible 260 games since January 2018 and wildly inefficient in his brief stints between. In other words, it requires finding teams with either $35.4 million in bad contracts of their own or teams intentionally trying to lose.

The latter lands Wall in the same situation, rehabbing his value on a terrible team. Unless, of course, he can find one willing to buy out the remaining $91.7 million left on his deal, as the tanking Thunder did last month with the $73.7 million left on Kemba Walker's contract over the same period. Walker gave up $20 million in the process, before recovering $17.9 million of it on a two-year deal with the New York Knicks. Then again, Walker is only 19 months removed from his last All-Star appearance, and it has been 43 months for Wall.

The list of teams intending to tank this upcoming season is not long, especially when you remove the Rockets from that equation, and the Thunder already have $27.4 million in dead salary cap committed to Walker. Raise your hand if you think Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert or the Orlando Magic's DeVos family are willing to pay John Wall $40+ million not to play for their teams. The Detroit Pistons have already shed their worst contracts, and just about every other team will start this season eyeing a playoff berth.

The Cavs and Magic are also two of the few teams with the neutral contracts to unload for Wall. D'Angelo Russell is not a distressed enough asset to warrant the Minnesota Timberwolves including him in a deal for Wall, especially given Russell's relationship to Karl-Anthony Towns. The market is practically nonexistent.

Eric Bledsoe ($3.9 million guaranteed next season), Luke Kennard ($14.8 million team option in 2024-25) and Serge Ibaka are due $40.6 million of their combined $73 million guaranteed this season, so technically the Los Angeles Clippers could trade for Wall. Even at his best, Wall gets them no closer to a championship this season, when Kawhi Leonard will be rehabbing his torn ACL, and do the Clippers really want to commit $132 million to three players next season, sacrificing depth for one player who may not even be available? 

Wall has waffled between league-average 3-point shooting and well below throughout his career, settling at 32% on a career-high 6.2 attempts last season — hardly a floor spacer for Leonard and Paul George. He is a skilled passer, but that was not enough to earn Rajon Rondo real playoff minutes on the Clippers in 2021.

The conversation might be different if Wall were entering the final year of his contract, but expiring deals are not worth what they used to be. There was no trade market for former All-Stars Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge last season, and none of them made near the salary Wall is owed in 2022-23.

If the Rockets are unwilling to sweeten deals with first-round draft compensation and Wall is unwilling to surrender significant salary in a buyout, he could be faced with the possibility of spending another year of his career on the bench. If indeed he does not plan to play behind Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green in the backcourt, the only salvaging of his value will come with each passing paycheck, and that is a real shame.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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