Following the blockbuster trade between the Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets that sent John Wall and a 2023 lottery-protected first-round pick to Houston for Russell Westbrook, Dave Zirin and Etan Thomas spoke with one another on WPFW's "The Collision" about what Wall meant to the local community and the franchise. Then, Thomas brought former NBA player and Wizards analyst Tony Massenburg and former Wizards forward Drew Gooden into the conversation as well.
The following is a transcript of the show:
Dave Zirin: "Yesterday is a day that is definitely going to live in infamy for the history of the Washington basketball franchise... the day that the Washington Wizards traded John Wall and a first-round draft pick for Russell Westbrook, cutting the John Wall era short. Twenty-three months since he’s played, [he was] finally getting ready to come back and that’s when the team's general manager, Tommy Sheppard, or maybe the franchise's owner, Ted Leonsis, said, 'It’s time to go, time to end the John Wall era.'"
Thomas: "It’s crazy because, first of all, I wanted to [discuss] what John Wall really means to the D.C. community, just as a whole -- aside from basketball. I actually interviewed John Wall and Bradley Beal for my book, Athletes and Activism, and I spoke to both of them about their willingness to speak up and take a stand. And if everyone remembers, they both lead a Black Lives Matter march this past summer in D.C. Bradley Beal gave an impassioned speech, John Wall was right there on the front lines and everything like that, so they both have my respect just from that. But the question on everybody’s mind is why the relationship didn’t work. First, I want to ask you about what John Wall meant to the city, to the entire DMV, what he meant to the entire community."
The love DC had for John Wall far exceeded any that he received on a national NBA level Not many stars embrace a place, connect with it & represent it the way he did. He didn't win a championship in his 10 years but he won over hearts. This breakup will be hard for many to accept— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) December 3, 2020
Zirin: "Yeah, let me start that by quoting Michael Lee, who writes for the Washington Post, in a tweet he sent yesterday. He said, 'The love D.C. had for John Wall far exceeded any that he received on a national NBA level. I think that’s very true. Not many stars embrace a place, connect with it, and represent it the way he did. He didn’t win a championship in his 10 years, but he won over their hearts. This breakup will be hard for many to accept.' And that’s exactly right. I’m having a very hard time accepting this, a very hard time accepting this. I wanna ask you how you’re accepting this, but just first and foremost to answer your question, I mean John Wall meant a lot to the DMV both on and off the court. I mean on the court, people have to realize just how bad this organization was doing when John Wall came to the franchise. I mean, it was the great Gilbert Arenas, his knees were falling apart, and he was getting involved in some things that weren’t so great for the franchise. They had older players who they were trying to get rid of and in the midst of this, they’re trying to break in this No. 1 overall draft pick named John Wall, who only played one year at Kentucky. And he had some injuries early on in his career, but in the process what John Wall did is he made basketball fun again in the DMV, and I feel like he reminded people that this is a basketball town to its very core. I felt like he almost single-handedly resurrected this entire history that we have here, from Elgin Baylor to Adrian Dantley, upwards to today to people like Kevin Durant. That’s the DMV. Stevie Francis right here where I am in Takoma Park, I mean this is a basketball town to the core of its being. Of course, the Washington Mystics representing every year on that front as well, and producing great women players as well in this area (shoutout Monica McNutt). What you have, though, in John Wall, was the person that reminded us how fun basketball could be. And in addition to that, I mean I’m biased, only because I have a young son here who has been crying since last night. I had to physically stand in between my son and his John Wall poster, which he was about to rip angrily from his wall."
Zirin: "I told him a story of growing up in New York City, about how Reggie Jackson was my favorite player, and when the Yankees traded him to the Angels, I couldn’t stop crying, but I never took his posters down because I was down with Reggie, you know what I’m saying?"
Thomas: "Right, right, right."
Zirin: "And I tried to explain to him that in this day and age where you have free agency and trades and a lot of movement of players, you’ve gotta keep player loyalty as much as you keep uniform loyalty. And he can still be a fan of John Wall. Just because he’s in Houston doesn’t mean that fandom has to stop, and it doesn’t mean that he has to stop rooting for John Wall. But, to get to your question, I mean, for everything John Wall did on the court, people have to understand that off the court, he was such an active member of this community, particularly around the issue of homeless children, disadvantaged children. I mean, he put millions of dollars into this city to make life better for [those] hit hardest. ... The best thing I’ll say about John Wall, in addition to how much I disagree with the decision by the Wizards to trade him, is that he really is someone who comprised an era. Like we need to speak about the John Wall era in Washington D.C. Taking this team deep into the playoffs, taking the Celtics to seven games in the second round, I mean, he made the sport matter. Like the announcers said, 'D.C.’s point GOD, John Wall.'"
Thomas: "Mhm, and it’s interesting when you’re talking about your son. My son Malcolm, I found this old picture that he took with John Wall from a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway that we participated in with him and it was like 6 or 7 years ago; Malcolm looks all young. At that event, the way we saw John Wall communicating with the people that he was handing out turkeys with -- kids pay attention to stuff, so Malcolm is watching him, he’s checking him out, and [I could tell] he was like, 'Wow, this dude really cares about the community.' And it’s different because you’ve gotta understand, sometimes guys go to things, it looks like a chore, like they’re not really there or into it. But John Wall was into it! And he does this out of his heart! He doesn’t have to do any of the stuff that he does in the community, but he does it. So that’s why the community really embraced him as a whole, the way that he gave back. So we definitely want to give him his flowers. ... David Aldridge tweeted this out: 'In 2012, D.C. had John Wall, Bryce Harper, Alex Ovechkin, and RG3 in town and it was as exciting and electrifying of a sports quartet at the time that there has ever been in this city. It seems like it was a million years ago, not 8.' What do you remember about that time? Because it was really a special time."
Zirin: "Yeah, I mean, I remember it as a time of possibility and you have to say, as much as potential can be fleeting in sports, RG3 was of course ravaged by injuries. People might have seen him play yesterday, starting for the Ravens. Bryce Harper has certainly made his bag, but the Nationals, when they finally won a World Series, did it without Bryce Harper. And then you have, of course, Alexander Ovechkin. It took a long time, but he did of course fulfill his promise of bringing a championship to the Caps. So, not bad. And it’s the John Wall one that hurts because the other three that I described, there was a beginning and there was an ending. And Ovechkin, it ends with him winning a Stanley Cup. Harper, it ends with him signing with Philadelphia. RG3, tragically, it ends with his knee being destroyed in that playoff game against Seattle. With John Wall, I feel like we didn’t get the chance for an ending. Because the dude has been out for 23 months and we've been waiting for him for almost two years and [based on] the workouts, the tapes I’ve seen and the testimonials from like, Kevin Durant, he looks great, he’s rebuilt it. And so I felt like in order to truly have a bookend to this John Wall era, I feel like the Wiz needed to run it back, to run it back one more time with Wall and Beal; they had to give it one more go around and the fact that why didn’t and what they did, in fact, was a salary trade and giving a first-round pick for Russell Westbrook... I feel like he didn’t get an ending and certainly not an ending that he deserved. That’s how I feel. And we’ll talk about Westbrook in a moment, we’ll get to that. And this isn’t a long diss to Russell Westbrook; we’ll talk about how Russell Westbrook can fit with the team, but it hurt very much because, like you just said it, those players, some of them really did succeed, some of them did not really succeed, but they all had endings, except for John Wall."
Thomas: "You know Shannon Sharpe called this from day one, and he tweeted that this was the only trade that made sense because of their identical contracts, and you just referenced it, that it came down to a contractual issue. Is that all it is? Like, did this have to happen? What are your thoughts on that?"
Zirin: "I don’t know. I mean, just literally yesterday, I was having this discussion with my son in the car where we were saying, 'Wow, it looked like there was some tension between John Wall and general manager Tommy Sheppard and there were these rumors around John Wall that he was going to be traded for Russell Westbrook, but now Tommy Sheppard is saying that everything is smoothed over. Isn’t that a relief? It looks like John Wall is gonna be here! Isn’t that a relief that we’re gonna be rooting for Wall and Beal again?' And so my question, and I’m gonna ask this of Drew Gooden and Tony Massenburg, is what the heck happened?"
Thomas: "Right. What happened?"
Zirin: "Is it some sort of GM smokescreen to throw people off the scent or something like that? Because if so, John Wall deserves better than that. Second of all, you can’t [say] it’s because the Rockets somehow sweetened the deal because instead of Wall for Westbrook straight up, we’re also giving up a first-round draft pick! So it’s not like the Rockets sweetened the deal, so what the heck happened? Why did we trade John Wall after they said everything was okay? I don’t understand it, and I hate to even ask this, this is my question to you -- and I really do not even like asking this question -- but do you think that tape of him over the offseason throwing signs and drinking, do you think that made a difference? I mean, do you really think something as dumb as a little tape taken by a friend of his, did that really overtake a big period of him doing beautiful things for this city and making basketball fun again? Did that really matter that much?"
Thomas: "I mean, it’s tough. Now, I [wear] two different hats. So now I put on the hat as the AAU coach, using everything as an example for my players, and I talk to them all the time about social media. And I’m like the old grandpa, you know, 'Get off my lawn, you young people! You’re recording everything on social media. Why do you put everything on social media? You do not have to record everything you do in your life on social media!' That’s usually what I’m always saying to them. But with that being said, John Wall did make a mistake with that, he did apologize for it, and he owned it. And also, it did look bad. I’ll say all of that in one. Now, do I think that it was a reason to trade him? No. But I can’t think of anything else that makes sense, for all the reasons that you described before. You wanted them to run it back, you’ve been waiting for two years to see this combo. You heard the rumblings of John Wall and Bradley Beal’s relationship not being that great, them working on it, them putting aside whatever differences they had to be able to do whatever is best for D.C. You’ve heard all of those different conversations, so it came kind of out of the blue for him to be traded now before we even see him back on the floor, I will say that."
Zirin: "Well, bam. You did [mention] something very important that I wanted to hit on, because the Wall/Beal relationship, these are two men from very different backgrounds and two just very different people. And, yes, the relationship was rocky, and we all know that at the start. But in the last couple of years since Wall’s injury, it looked like their relationship didn’t only heal, but it actually flourished. I mean, to see them march together at the BLM protest, or to see them cheering on the Mystics as they went for their championship, high-fiving each other with every Mystic basket deep into the playoffs, that was not a bad relationship. If anything they looked like bosom buddies."
Thomas: "I agree."
Zirin: "And clearly things had gotten good between them, which makes me really think: [do] the Wizards want to keep Bradley Beal? Are they looking to trade him at the trade deadline to a team like the Miami Heat? I mean, because if you trade someone who is a friend to Bradley Beal, who is a backcourt mate to Bradley Beal, I mean, unless things just explode into beautiful wonderness with Russell Westbrook -- because as you well know, winning cures everything -- [how does Beal feel]? Because if that doesn't happen, this looks like a statement to Bradley Beal that says, 'We don’t really care what you think.'"
Thomas: "Yeah, you could look at it like that or you could look at it as Bradley’s team. And they made their decision on who they were going to throw everything behind and who was going to be the face of the franchise. Now, if they end up trading Bradley Beal? Oh my God. So they get rid of both of them? I didn’t even think about that, Dave, before you just said it, so I can’t even imagine that happening. But stranger things have definitely happened. But now we have to see how the two new teammates, Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, coexist. And it’s going to be interesting, just like it’s going to be interesting to see how John Wall and James Harden [coexist], if he stays in Houston. There have been rumors that he wants to get out of Houston, but let’s just say that he stays in Houston, how is John Wall going to coexist with James Harden? Because now you have two new relationships that have to form, and that’s the part that puzzles so many D.C. fans is that this has been such a long-going, nurturing relationship here with John Wall and Bradley Beal and it seems like the divorce that happened before you tried all the options. You know what I mean? Before you went to the counseling and when you were in the middle of everything, you sign the papers and get a divorce. It seems like they just ended it too soon. And all of D.C. was literally waiting to see the backcourt on the court at the same time and see what they produce. So that’s one of the many reasons why D.C. fans are so puzzled and unhappy with this decision."
Zirin: "Well I’ll take another step. It feels like the couple that has a rocky marriage, goes to counseling, fixes the marriage, and then one of the parents, only when the marriage is fixed, steps in and says, 'I don’t approve of this marriage.' It makes no sense! I just don’t see why you wait 23 months and then don’t try to run it back one more time, especially given Wall’s history. Now, you said something that’s very true, that’s not speculation: Tommy Sheppard, the GM of the Wizards, said on a podcast a couple weeks ago that this is Bradley Beal’s team, which is another thing that really rubbed John Wall the wrong way, that Sheppard was going public with that and saying that this is Bradley Beal’s team. So if that’s true, and if everything is being geared toward keeping Bradley Beal, then this had better work with Russell Westbrook because you just made a chess move, to me, that makes Beal’s existence on this team in an untenable position."
Thomas: "Yeah that's true, this does have to work or it will definitely look terrible and like a bad decision. For Westbrook, is this the last stand for him? Just watching everybody's reactions, I saw Chris Broussard said that it’s likely that Westbrook won’t play another relevant playoff game in his career. And I thought that was kind of a strong statement to make. I mean, I’m looking at the Wizards' roster and they can make the playoffs this year! They can make the playoffs with this team! I mean they can be relevant. I mean, I have respect for Chris Broussard, I might just disagree with him on this. But I thought it was an interesting take, like this is the last stand for Westbrook. What do you think of Broussard's comment?"
Zirin: "Well, I disagree with it and I think that one of the greatest tricks in the NBA this past year, one of the greatest accomplishments I should say, is that somehow, playing with James Harden (who I think would sooner shave his beard than pass the ball sometimes) Russell Westbrook averaged 27 points a game. How the heck did Russell Westbrook average 27 points a game playing with James Harden, who averaged like 36 a game or something like that? I mean, he actually still has a lot going. He’s 32 years old, but he just turned 32 in November; he just turned 32 a couple weeks ago. Now, I’m not sure how his high-motor game, his game that relies so much on athleticism, I’m not sure how age is going to work with that, but I have to put aside my sadness about John Wall and I think he’s going to work really well with Bradley Beal. Bradley Beal is not someone like James Harden who needs the ball in his hands. You could have Russ push the ball up off the rebound. I mean, he averaged 10 assists per game when he’s got the ball in his hands. This is going to sound crazy to say, but in a way he’s less ball-dominant than Wall is. I mean, and if they’re building the team around Beal, I think it can work well. I think Chris Broussard is very wrong, I really do."
Thomas: "We are now joined by a long-time NBA player and the sideline reporter for the Washington WIzards, Tony Massenburg. We also have Drew Gooden, who is an NBA veteran and who does a lot of commentating for the Wizards right now. Both guys definitely have an inside track on everything that’s going on. We are sitting here talking about and trying to figure out how this trade makes sense. We’re struggling trying to make sense of why this trade had to happen. Drew, let me ask you first, were you shocked to see this trade happen or did you expect it?"
Drew Gooden: "I’ll tell you what: First of all, I am sad to see John Wall leave the Wizards. It’s one of those tough things; he’s been here his whole career. It’s a tough situation, he had something to prove this year. I know he wanted to prove that he was back healthy, that he could help this team compete for a playoff berth. But on the flipside, on the business side, I think this was a win for the Washington Wizards. One thing that was always talked about leading up to this was how big John Wall’s contract was and how [there were] the unknowns and the question marks and if he was going to be able to compete at a high level and be that guy that he once was before he signed that contract. And could he coexist with a guy like Bradley Beal? He is up-and-coming and a guy who you don’t want to cap his potential of maybe being an MVP candidate, maybe being the new face for the Washington Wizards. So I think this was a win for the Washington Wizards to not only offload John Wall’s contract, but in return receive a guy that’s been healthy the majority of his career, that’s been an MVP player before in the past, and is a superstar. And that is Russell Westbrook, so I think that is a good trade for the Washington WIzards going forward."
Thomas: "T-Mass, let me get your reaction to this, the same question. Were you surprised by this trade or was this something you expected?"
Tony Massenburg: "I was not surprised by the trade, I was surprised by the timing. I think that when you look at what’s gone on in Washington over the last couple of years plus John Wall’s injury at a time when he is entering into a supermax deal, I think all of those things were factors in John Wall eventually getting traded. I’m going to go a slightly different route when talking about this trade, I’m going to go away from basketball. I think the incident in September with John throwing up signs, I think that ultimately was not viewed very well by the organization, a mistake that he made off the court, not tragic, but a mistake that’s not necessarily becoming of an NBA franchise. I think that alienated some people high up in the organization and I also think when you look at the way Bradley Beal has ascended in John Wall’s absence, meaning becoming more of a guy who can involve his teammates while at the same time elevating his level of play, I think Bradley Beal more than eclipsed his potential when he was drafted by the Wizards. He was drafted to be sort of a Ray Allen type, a shooter, a scorer, and he evolved into not only a Ray Allen type, but a guy that you can run the offense through and not isolate other people. He became a great team basketball player. Now, I’m not saying that John Wall isn’t a great team player. Because to me John Wall is a true point guard and everything about that says team player for the most part. But I think when you look at everything Bradley Beal did over the past few years, upping his assists, upping his scoring, and his leadership and guys kind of galvanizing around that, then I think those are the things that really sort of sealed John Wall’s fate. And when you have a guy like Russell Westbrook who’s available, not having his best year last year and not being a great shooter but you do have a great shooter in Bradley Beal then you put those two together and you have a combo that potentially could work, especially in the East. So I think that Tommy Sheppard and the guys in the front office for the Wizards looked at that and now was the time to make that move."
Gooden: "And T-Mass, that wasn’t it though! You gotta remember, John played a big role in this by vocally saying that he wanted to be traded once the trade rumors were out."
Massenburg: "No doubt about that."
Gooden: "So I think this is a double-edged sword right here where you’ve got both sides coming to a conclusion that ultimately this isn't the place for you. I mean just imagine us going into another season going back and forth with the John Wall/Bradley Beal feud about who’s going to be the guy, with Scott Brooks as a head coach on the last year of his deal. It just didn’t make sense and it probably shouldn’t have gone this far. But ultimately for the Washington Wizards and Tommy Sheppard to be able to move John Wall’s contract, you gotta remember that was the untouchable contract! Up until last night, you could not trade John Wall’s contract. You heard the rumors, but rumors are rumors. They ultimately came true, but like I said, I don’t think it was just the Washington Wizards doing their part to move John Wall. I think that once they heard the rumors, John Wall and his agent, Rich Paul, they got together and they said, 'You know what? It’s time to go,' and they got that trade done. And I think it took some part on Russell Westbrook to make this deal go through as well, and I think Russell Westbrook just wanted to go anywhere. I think that the relationship that Westbrook has with Scott Brooks in the past in the days of Oklahoma City, I think that had something to do with it, so I would say Coach Brooks had to be a recruiter in this process, saying, you know 'This is going to be a good place for you, Russell.' I’m not going to sit up here and say the Wizards traded John Wall against his will because I think John Wall had something to do with it as well, trying to get out of D.C."
Massenburg: "Well, if I came off that way, guys, I’m going to apologize because maybe I didn’t make myself clear. I’m certainly not saying the Wizards just wanted to get rid of John Wall. Everything you just said is true, Drew. I just, the elements that I bought into it, are elements that contributed to what you just said, I just didn’t go into it. We all know as former players, if we ever hear our names when we were playing in trade rumors, and we get those rumors confirmed, that they’re really coming from the organization, and the organization has not talked to us, that we literally open up our computer or open up a newspaper and we find out we’re on the trading block? We would no longer want to be there. We would feel the same way John Wall did. But the things you highlighted, I just bought into because I felt they were closing the contributing factors that probably made the organization say, 'You know what, we’re gonna pull the trigger on this.' But most certainly Westbrook made his feelings known that he wanted out of Houston before we even heard any rumors about John wanting out of D.C. or D.C. looking to trade him. So certainly, Drew, I agree with you on what you said, I just think that it got to a place where it just had to happen. And Russell Westbrook, when you really look at it, is there anybody else that you really could have traded [Wall for] that would have been any better? When you’re talking about trading John and needing a point guard?"
Gooden: "No, I don’t think so."
Massenburg: "That’s my point, and they’re very similar. So I think this is an opportunity for the Wizards to really cash in and see what they can really do with Bradley Beal as the face of your franchise playing alongside a guy like Russell Westbrook, a former MVP. This should be an interesting mix."
Zirin: "First of all, I really appreciate that you both are being very forward-looking and trying to look at where this is going to go. But I have to ask, what is John Wall’s legacy? Because a lot of D.C. is very upset right now, judging by social media, judging by people blowing up my phone. A lot of people are very sad to see this era end, so what in your mind is John Wall’s legacy with the Washington Wizards?"
Gooden: "A fierce competitor. I had the opportunity to play with John Wall for my last years in the NBA before I ultimately retired and, I mean, you can’t take back what he’s done for the city, and what he’s done for basketball for the Washington Wizards. From the day he got drafted as the No. 1 pick to ultimately getting to this point, being 30 years of age, on the basketball side, he’s accomplished a lot. A lot for the organization, arguably one of the best that played at the point guard position for the Washington Wizards. So when it comes to some historic numbers and historic players that have put on that uniform, John Wall sticks out to me as one of the top ones, especially in this era. So you’re going to have fans that are upset, that have seen him the last 10 years in a Washington Wizards uniform. You’re gonna have kids that are now adults that have seen John Wall in that jersey that now have to move on. It did not go down the way you want it to go down, but guys in the stature of John Wall, a guy who’s put that much time, that much work in for an organization who’s been here since he was drafted as the No. 1 pick, you hate it to go down like it went down. But like Tony Massenburg just said, this is a business. T-Mass, you were on the team my rookie year when we were in Memphis. I got drafted as the No. 4 pick in Memphis. Jerry West, it was his first year being the President of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, and I was his pick at No. 4, and I would say 3 months, 4 months into that season, we were stockpiled at my position. We had Stromile Swift (who was drafted as the No. 2 pick two years prior to me), Pau Gasol (who was the No. 3 pick the year before my draft) and Shane Battier (who was the 6th or 7th pick that same year) and then the following year, they picked me at No. 4. So we had a lot of young talent, but we just could not put the pieces together to make something right. I heard the trade rumors. It’s like T-Mass just said, rumors are rumors until they actually happen. It’s funny this story because when I was hearing the rumors about me being traded, me and my agent had the discussion with Jerry West, and Jerry West said, 'Drew, this is ridiculous, we have no intentions of trading you. Don’t read the papers, you’re going to be here a long time. So plan on wearing a Memphis jersey for a long time.' So I was like, 'Alright, that’s cool; Jerry West gave me a straight-up answer, man. We’ve got nothing to worry about. But let’s just see what happens man, let’s ride this season out.' A DAY LATER, less than 24 hours later, I get a call from Dick Versace, who was an assistant general manager at the time saying, 'Drew, we’ve got some news.' He said, 'You’re on your way to the Orlando Magic; we just traded you for Mike Miller, the reigning Rookie of the Year.' And I was like, 'Wowww.' I was happy, don’t get it wrong, I was happy that I was traded, but I was like, 'Wowww, Jerry West just told me that I was not going to get traded less than 24 hours ago and then he has somebody else call me to tell me I was traded!'"
Thomas: "That’s how it goes, man, that’s how it goes! Let me tell you this, I have a story from when I was with the Wizards, when I was right here! I was in Ernie Grunfeld’s office, right? We’re talking about going to big man camp because they used to send a big man down to Florida to IMG Academy to work out with Robert Parish and Clifford Ray. So I’m in there in the summer and I’m talking to him about big man camp. And I’ve heard a little bit of trade rumors, I’ve heard whispers and stuff like that, but nothing major. So he’s telling me, 'Yeah, you’re coming back from your injury, we’re looking forward to next year. We want to send you down to big man camp and you’re doing all this stuff and Robert Parish is great to work with and Clifford Ray is this, and we’re looking forward to everything with you and we’ll see how you and Brendan [Haywood] can work together,' and all this different stuff. It was this whole long speech, right? Now I’m driving from the Verizon Center home to PG County. I’m not even off Route 50 yet, and I get a call from my agent who says, 'You just got traded.' I was like, 'Are you serious?' I was like, 'No, that has to be a mistake! I was just in Ernie Grunfeld’s office like 10-15 minutes ago!' So, I had to do a U-turn, go back to the Verizon Center, clear out all my stuff, and then he shook my hand and said, 'Thank you for everything,' like the whole conversation 15 minutes ago never happened."
Gooden: "Exactly! That’s the business!"
Thomas: "It’s a cold business."
Gooden: "Then, you look at some of these comments from like five days ago that say, 'We have no intention of John Wall getting traded, that’s hoopla, yada-yada-yada,' and then it happens; I mean, this is the business. You can’t prepare for the questions asked before it happens. You have to say the right things. Ultimately, I think Tommy Sheppard has done a fantastic job with this organization."
Thomas: "I think so too, it’s just that people are going to question this because people have the connection to John Wall, and people really wanted to see him get back on the court. I mean, we were waiting for two years to see the healthy John Wall. People wanted to see the combination with Beal."
Massenburg: "Again, I really think that’s part of what triggered the trade. Let’s look at the last two years of what Bradley Beal has done versus what he was with John on the court. And again, he was clearly great with John there, but man, the last two years, the kid has averaged 30! And raised his level of assists! And you could literally see the guys on the team galvanizing around him as a leader. Those are the type of things you look for in a guy when you are a front-office person because you want to keep everything going smooth. And so with the little bit of friction that you’ve seen over the years between Brad and John and now you see Brad ascend at a time when John’s not there, and I’m not trying to say that the Wizards are so much better with John not there, I’m not saying that. John is clearly a tremendous talent, did tremendous things for the Wizards, and in my opinion is a top-five Wizard of all-time when you look at what he’s done statistically on the court and the contributions he made off the court. I have to have him there, and I think that’s why so much of the city is disappointed that he is no longer there. But all that being said, you have a lot in Bradley Beal, and so I think the organization is looking to pair him with another star to see if they can get to the next level. Ultimately, I think John’s legacy here is going to be great, because as Drew said, it didn’t necessarily end the way we wanted it to, but during his time here you have to admit that he played hard, you have to admit that he gave it to you every night the best way that he could, and he’s a competitor. And ultimately as a former No. 1 pick, you want to see your guy become an All-Star and be the face of your franchise, and John Wall was all of those things! Now, clearly there were some hiccups and things off the court, but first of all, you’re talking about a 10-year span in the NBA. Nobody has been perfect! And overall, John has done way more good than any negativity that you could attach to his name."
Thomas: "I agree with you. Let me ask you, how do you think Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook will coexist? Because now Wizards fans are left wondering, 'How is this going to work? Are we a playoff team now?' How do you see them working together?"
Gooden: "I’ll tell you this: Russell Westbrook is probably one of the most underrated, unselfish players that we’ve ever seen. Because every time Russell Westbrook gets in a new situation with a new superstar, there’s question marks. There were question marks if he and KD could work together at a certain time, along with James Harden and them in those younger days. They ultimately moved on from that, but those guys were successful in all that and during their time together. And let’s fast forward even further in OKC when Paul George went to Oklahoma City, there were questions if he was going to be able to coexist with Russell Westbrook. What happened? Paul George upped his scoring average three points to 27, almost 28, points a game when guys thought that was actually going to diminish to under 25 points a game. And ultimately Paul George had arguably one of his best seasons in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform under Russell Westbrook. Fast forward to Russell Westbrook going to Houston with James Harden, piecing up with James Harden. People thought, 'James Harden, how are they going to share the ball? They’re going to be arguing, it’s going to be like positive and negative polars trying to connect.' But listen: What happens with James Harden’s scoring? It goes up from 30 to 35 points! So when you ask me can he coexist with Brad, I’m going to tell you right now, it’s going to be easier for Brad to score his buckets. Because now you’re not gonna have Brad having to figure out; when a team is starting to double him when he gets to his 15-point mark, and he’s going to have to start figuring out how to make that pass to Thomas Bryant or make that pass to Davis Bertans, he isn’t going to have to make those decisions anymore. It’s going to be Russell Westbrook spearheading that whole situation and it’s going to be easier for Bradley Beal to score 27 or 28 points a game. I’m saying it today and it will be documented here in the near future. The one thing that’s not being accounted for with Russell Westbrook is that everybody knows Russell Westbrook is a scorer; 23 points a game is what he scored. That’s four more points a game than what John was averaging when we saw him. John averaged 19. What’s not being accounted for was Russell Westbrook statistically, in addition to the unselfishness was his assists. The dude just averaged over 8 assists a game! Washington is not just getting a guy who can drop points. They’re also getting a guy who can pass the basketball! So that should play well, not just for Brad but for everybody else on the team. And let’s call it for what it is, guys: You’ve got Bradley Beal averaging almost 29 a game, they pick up another guard who is averaging [27 points], and he had an off year by his standards! [He averaged 27] points and he was playing with the most ball-dominant player in the league with James Harden. So if you’re used to playing with a ball-dominant guy, and now all of a sudden you’re playing with a team guy like Bradley Beal, who can also score, D.C. may have the most dangerous backcourt in the league and certainly one of the most dangerous. I’m gonna say, if I had to go rank the backcourts right now, I would probably go Phoenix with Devin Booker and Chris Paul, and then I’ve got Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal as the second-best backcourt in the league right now. So I’m excited to see what these guys can do."
Zirin: "Wow. My head was spinning a little bit about all this. The next question I would ask is, Russell Westbrook’s game, you just talked about his ability to pass, you just talked about his ability to rebound, to push it down the court. Any concerns about his age? He just turned 32, he has a game that relies very strongly on his athleticism. Any concerns in that department or do you think Russell is the kind of guy who’s going to age like fine wine?"
Gooden: "Well, you’ve gotta kind of look at his body of work and what he’s done for you lately. If he’s healthy, he’s ready to go, he’s not going to be on a minutes restriction. I think John, ultimately, was probably going to come in at a slow pace. We weren’t going to see him at his full potential probably until the 15- or 20-game mark. And with the condensed schedule, who knows? John Wall probably wasn’t going to play back-to-backs, that was an unknown. There weren’t any deciding factors that you could lean on and say, 'Yeah that’s going to happen.' And with Russell Westbrook, you know he’s going to come in here and pay 35 minutes a game. I don’t care if he’s 32, 33, 34, you know game one, he’s going to be ready to play and there’s no minute restrictions; he’s healthy. Now if something happens, God forbid, then you have an issue. And if he’s not available, then you can go back and look at this trade [like], 'Well, you traded for damaged goods, you traded for an older player.' John Wall is 30, Russell Westbrook is 32, then those questions come into play. But going toward the potential of what can actually happen now? I don’t know, I like it! What do you think, T-Mass?"
Massenburg: "Yeah, I like what can happen. The thing you have to consider with Russell Westbrook, I always kind of put Russell Westbrook in the category with, say, a LeBron James -- guys that are physical freaks. The difference between Russ and LeBron though is LeBron plays at a pace, and LeBron doesn’t play at 100 miles an hour for 48 minutes, while Russell Westbrook does. So when you look at the way he plays the game, yeah, you have to be concerned because he is an all-out kind of dude on every single play. But if you’re a Washington WIzards fan, hey man, that’s what you paid to come and see."
Thomas: "But let me ask you this, T-Mass: A lot of people are referring to the Westbrook that we saw in the bubble, and his playoff struggles, and it’s interesting because I interviewed Jeff Green, his teammate for my podcast “The Rematch” on BasketballNews.com and we talked about the fact that Westbrook tested positive for COVID-19 right before the bubble season, so he missed a lot of time with that, and then when he came back, he got hurt. And Jeff Green was talking about how his timing was off in the beginning, and then he got hurt again and his timing was off again. And then he was out of shape and then he couldn’t really breathe and you could see him trying really hard, going 100 percent. He was trying extra hard to make it happen and the timing and rhythm just weren't there. And I’m not using that as an excuse, and Westbrook definitely didn’t use that as an excuse; he didn’t even mention it. This was just me and Jeff Green talking, and I think a lot of people forget that those events happened which contributed to his playoff performance. Do you agree or disagree with that, Drew?"
Massenburg: "Let me just say this real quick. I 100 percent agree with you, Etan. We’ve seen what COVID has done to football players, we’ve seen what happens to positive guys and they don’t look quite the same. Russell Westbrook is not the type of guy who’s going to use that as an excuse. So that being said, I don’t think what we saw in the bubble was the real Russell Westbrook. And again, playing his first year with a ball-dominant guard like James Harden, you’ve gotta figure that out, man. You’ve gotta remember what it’s like when you play with a guy who holds the ball A LOT and the ball doesn’t necessarily move. Russ is a guy that will benefit from ball movement because he is constantly in motion. So I think that he’ll be a better version of himself in D.C."
Gooden: "Hey, I hate to joke about COVID-19, but if he already had COVID and fought it, that means he has the antibodies already, so that’s a blessing in the trade that you don’t have to worry about Russell Westbrook catching COVID-19 probably any time soon! Not to joke about that, but going forward, I think that’s kind of a misrepresentation of Russell Westbrook in the bubble. I think the damage was probably already done. I think the goal was probably 'Operation Get the Hell out of Houston' by the time the bubble hit. And you could kind of see it on their faces that they weren’t really playing for anything and I think with the [Mike] D’Antoni situation, with him not getting an extension, I think there were just so many question marks in the air. The owner selling the team prior to the season starting, I mean you just don’t know where the Houston Rockets are going. Daryl Morey was eventually going to get fired, he resigned, or whatever you want to call it. It happened, so it was a lot of question marks, and then James Harden. You don’t think James Harden and Russell Westbrook talked? How about a situation with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving where Kyrie knew LeBron was going to leave and he pressed the trigger to get out before LeBron did. With all of these moving parts, you don’t think Russell Westbrook went, 'You know what? I’m outta here as soon as it’s my time to get out of here.' Maybe this happened too late. It probably was supposed to happen sometime during the summer or in the fall to get traded out of Houston, but it happened now. And ultimately, I think everything we saw in the bubble was leading up to what we have now [with] Russell Westbrook in a Wizards uniform."
Thomas: "But I do have to say: I think if they beat the Lakers, they all would have been fine, because winning cures everything."
ALL: "Winning cures everything!"
Massenburg: "And let’s not forget that during that time, in the bubble, there were already rumors that D’Antoni was had a deal to go to Indiana! You guys remember hearing that rumor?"
Thomas: "Right, right."
Massenburg: "That was a rumor at the time when the Rockets were still in the playoffs!"
who’s hurting about John Wall, I hope you listen to this show
because I think as sad as the present might be, the future actually
looks a little bit brighter maybe than what we think. So that’s all
I’ve got to say."