John Wall Might Be a Dream for New York Knicks Fans, but the Reality of Getting Him Is a Nightmare Scenario

With a report circulating that the New York Knicks might try to land unhappy Houston Rockets point guard John Wall, fans of the team might be justified in their excitement. But to think they’ll land Wall for recently demoted former All-Star Kemba Walker requires not just a suspension of disbelief. No, a Walker-for-Wall trade stretches into the realm of delusion.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau announced on Nov. 29 that Alec Burks would be the team’s starting point guard moving forward. Beyond that, Walker isn’t just going to a reserve role. No, the 2018-19 All-NBA performer is out of the rotation. So much for the New York native’s happy homecoming. But while a healthy Wall would be an upgrade for the Knicks, the organization won’t want to pay the price it would require.

Kemba Walker’s slide into oblivion

Just a little more than two years ago, Kemba Walker secured the bag; a four-year, $140.8 million contract as part of a two-way sign-and-trade between the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics. Walker went to Boston, with Terry Rozier going to the Hive.

And for one season, the Celtics were delighted with Walker. An All-Star in 2019–20, Walker helped Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals. But knee issues slowed the veteran last season. After Walker missed 29 games during the regular season, he couldn’t go for the final two games of Boston’s first-round loss to the Brooklyn Nets in last year’s playoffs.

The first move Brad Stevens made after moving from head coach to president of basketball operations was to trade Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder, giving up their 2021 first-round pick and a second-round selection in 2025 to bring back former Celtic All-Star Al Horford and a 2023 second-rounder.

Oklahoma City bought out the remainder of Walker’s contract, eating $53.7 million. Walker then signed a two-year, $17.9 million deal to come home to the New York Knicks. Now he’s lost his starting job at point guard to a player in Burks who is a natural wing.

According to A. Sherrod Blakely of Bleacher Report, a source close to the Knicks said New York could be eying John Wall. Wall is idle with the Houston Rockets as the team rebuilds around young talent. Walker is buried at the end of the bench at Madison Square Garden because he couldn’t hold off Burks. That career trajectory plots as a straight line pointing down.

Kemba Walker alone will not get John Wall to the Knicks

The New York Knicks would love to deal Kemba Walker but they'd have to give up a lot more to get John Wall from the Houston Rockets.
The New York Knicks would love to deal Kemba Walker but they’d have to give up a lot more to get John Wall from the Houston Rockets. | Patrick McDermott/Getty Images | Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

If one were to consult the ESPN Trade Machine to check the viability of a Kemba Walker-for-John Wall swap, it was telling untruths until the afternoon of Nov. 30. The worldwide leader still had Walker’s salary at roughly $36 million. But that’s the contract the Thunder bought out. The problem has been addressed; Walker’s cap hit now accurately reads $8.7 million.

Further, because he signed with the Knicks on Aug. 10, Walker can’t be traded until Dec. 15. So any potential deal for Wall is at least a couple of weeks off.

But here’s the problem. Wall owns the NBA’s second-highest salary in 2021–22, a whopping $44.3 million and change. Both the Knicks and Rockets are over the salary cap, so the most money New York can bring back in a deal is 125% of the outgoing salary in a trade, plus $100,000.

That means the Knicks must send a minimum of $33.2 million in salary back to Houston in a Wall trade. Further, because New York used an exception this year, it is hard-capped.

Assuming the Knicks wait until they can trade Walker, they’d have to add another $24.5 million to the package. There are ways New York can get there. But fans won’t like any of those trades.

Evan Fournier’s $17 million could be combined with the $9.5 million cap figure for Burks.

Are fans going to like Fournier, Walker, and Burks for Wall? Not likely. This scenario assumes RJ Barrett’s $8.6 million cap figure is off-limits.

John Wall would be a splashy addition for the Knicks but at what cost?


The Boston Celtics’ $141 Million Disaster Has Quickly Become the New York Knicks’ Latest Nightmare

John Wall hasn’t played an NBA game since April 23. Houston shut him down for the season because of a hamstring injury. Wall is healthy, but the Rockets will only play him as a reserve. They want to develop the kids.

The Knicks are hunting a second consecutive playoff berth. At 11–9, New York is seventh in the crowded middle of the Eastern Conference. Just one game separates the sixth-place Hornets from the 11th-place Celtics.

Thibodeau needed to change because New York’s starting unit was the worst in the NBA in terms of net rating. Burks isn’t likely a long-term solution for the Knicks, not with an assist rate of 12.6%.

But even for a coach in Thibodeau who favors a short rotation, the depth New York would surrender to bring in Wall is too high a price to pay.

It’s becoming apparent Walker is never going to be the scoring sensation he was in Charlotte. It’s just as clear that Wall’s days as an All-Star level performer are in the past. Moving Walker for Wall might make sense in a vacuum for both the Knicks and Rockets. But the cap numbers aren’t that simple. Gutting their depth to move Kemba Walker and take on John Wall makes no sense for the Knicks.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference. Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.