What the Russell Westbrook-John Wall trade means for James Harden

Create: 2020-12-03
Update: 2020-12-03
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Thursday, December 3, 2020
Normally this is the time of week when we start gearing up for football, finding ways to pass time throughout the day in order to get to a Thursday Night Football matchup that we're not crazy about but are excited for anyway ... simply because it's something. We don't have that luxury today because we had football yesterday. On a Wednesday afternoon. 
Considering it's only the second time in modern NFL history that a game has been played on a Wednesday ... yeah, it was weird. But, hey, at least the Steelers and Ravens (or at least the Skeleton Ravens) got to play, which is something I wasn't quite sure was ever going to happen.
Now that the NFL's most chaotic saga is over, the NBA is here to pick things up with some craziness of its own. Come, sit down and let me elaborate. 
📰 What you need to know
1. Westbrook-for-Wall trade shakes up NBA 🏀
We had a pretty good idea that Russell Westbrook would be traded this offseason -- he reportedly wanted out of Houston amid some sweeping changes within the organization. The questions were 1) Where would he go? 2) What would Houston get in return for him?
Well, we got our answers last night. The Rockets dealt Westbrook to the Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a 2023 first-round pick with protections (top-14 in 2023 and 2024, top-10 in 2025, top-8 in 2026). It's a blockbuster trade that shakes up the league landscape a bit, so let's go to our Sam Quinn for trade grades:
  • Wizards grade: B+ -- The Wizards are desperate to contend as they look to convince Bradley Beal to stick around beyond his current contract (two years remaining). By bringing in Westbrook, they not only upgrade at point guard and insulate themselves against Beal's possible departure, they also detach themselves from the uncertainty of John Wall's Achilles injury
  • Rockets grade: B- -- The big question here is whether Houston is trying to work toward a rebuild or if they're trying to retool and stay competitive with James Harden. If it's the latter, this trade is a head-scratcher given the massive gamble on Wall, who is coming off a torn Achilles and is a questionable fit. If it's the former, it makes a bit more sense. Houston didn't have a ton of leverage given Westbrook's trade request, but they did manage to land a good player plus a first-round pick
It's the second straight offseason that Westbrook has been traded as part of a major guard-for-guard swap -- the Rockets landed him last summer in exchange for Chris Paul (who was also traded again this offseason) and two first-round picks. Obviously, at this juncture, we can say that it didn't work out as Houston planned, and the Wizards are hoping that they see better results and get more longevity out of this deal.
While the Wizards are clearly trying put all their eggs in Bradley Beal's basket here, this deal makes it seem way less likely that the Rockets will hang onto Harden heading into next season. Our Brad Botkin helps illustrate why:
  • Botkin: "If you want this Harden era in Houston to continue, you could try to convince yourself that Wall is, or at least was before his injuries, a bit more like Chris Paul than Westbrook ever was in that he expertly probes the mid-range and can at least crest the 30-percent mark from beyond the arc. But this is a reach. The simple truth is Wall has long been about the closest thing to a Westbrook clone, and indeed he's a nearly identically ill-fitting player alongside Harden with a nearly identically crippling contract." 
Considering that the season begins in about three weeks, we could see the other shoe drop in Houston fairly soon. What? You thought the NBA was gonna go a few weeks without some off-the-wall chaos? Get real.
2. Steelers stay undefeated with ugly win over Ravens 🏈
I may not believe if it if I didn't see it with my own eyes, but the Steelers and Ravens finally played their Week 12 matchup yesterday. After three postponements and more than 20 positive COVID-19 tests, the two teams met yesterday afternoon -- nearly a full week after they were supposed to play on Thanksgiving night. 
It would have had to be an instant classic to excuse all the headaches that came with trying to play this game but the AFC North showdown was actually fairly entertaining, for better or for worse. We saw some sloppy, silly football from both sides at various points in the game, but how much else do you have going on at 3:40 p.m. on a Wednesday? We'll take it. 
Here are some game takeaways from our Bryan DeArdo and Tyler Sullivan:
  • Why the Steelers won: After an early turnover, Ben Roethlisberger rallied and put together a solid day throwing the ball (51 times, to be exact). He completed over 70% of his passes despite the fact that his receivers kept dropping very catchable balls
  • Why the Ravens lost: Baltimore gave themselves a fighter's chance with RGIII at quarterback but the Pittsburgh defense just proved to be too good. Joe Haden had an early pick-six and the Steelers held the Ravens to 3-of-13 on third down conversions. Pittsburgh has now only allowed seven total third-down conversions over their past three games
With the win, the Steelers improved to 11-0 and remain the league's only unbeaten team. So, the NFL's biggest headache and most prolonged saga of the 2020 season (so far) has come to a merciful end. But, with coronavirus cases surging, could we see this sort of rescheduling debacle again this season? Jason La Canfora thinks so.
  • JLC: "It is all about whittling down 32 teams to one final champion in as close to normal fashion as possible, no matter how much stress it may put on any particular game in any particular week, be it 1 through 17. That 18th week is going to be the start of the playoffs, I am thoroughly convinced. Trust me, there was never anything close to serious consideration of one of the game's best rivalries -- Baltimore at Pittsburgh -- going to that week; if a game of that magnitude was played on a Wednesday while a lot of Americans were in the car-pool line (where school is actually in session), then you'd best believe any other game could be as well if need be."  
He does have a point. If the NFL can move the Thanksgiving night game -- one of the biggest marquee scheduling slots of the season -- then the league has an operational mindset of "get the games over with by any means necessary." All things considered, it's kind of surprising that it took this long to see a Wednesday game, so it doesn't seem out of the question that it'll happen again.
3. Champions League matchday 5 wraps up ⚽
I've got good news and I've got some bad news regarding Champions League. The bad news? Matchday 5 is officially over and now we've only got one week left in the group stage. The good news? That final round of group play looks like it's going to be a doozy. 
Wednesday's action set the stage for a crazy Matchday 6, so let's get some takeaways:
  • Olivier Giroud seized the spotlight for Chelsea: Giroud had all four of Chelsea's goals in a 4-0 win over Sevilla, making him the oldest player (34) in Champions League history to record a hat trick. The victory helped Chelsea clinch Group E
  • PSG gets vital win over Manchester United: Neymar and Marquinhos came through for PSG in their 3-1 win over Man U on Wednesday, and now the battle for Group H is going to come down to the wire. United, PSG and RB Leipzig all have nine points in the table with one match remaining. Only two of them can move on
Manchester United and RB Leipzig will meet next week in what it bound to be the must-see match of the final slate. United can qualify for the knockout round with a draw, while RB Leipzig will need a win to advance through. PSG would qualify with a draw versus Istanbul Basaksehir. 
That's not the only intense group battle heading into Matchday 6, either. Real Madrid, Borussia Monchengladbach, Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan all still have a chance of qualifying for the Round of 16 via Group B -- and Zinedine Zidane's job could be on the line if Real doesn't make the cut. 
Buckle up. By this time next week, we'll have our knockout stage set.
4. MLB teams make non-tender deadline decisions ⚾
As we discussed earlier this week, yesterday marked MLB's non-tender deadline. Pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players who didn't receive a contract offer (or tender) from their team by Wednesday's deadline are now officially free agents. Let's go over who did and didn't get tendered.
  • The Cubs tendered Kris Bryant but did not tender Kyle Schwarber, who is now a high-tier free agent
  • The Yankees tendered Gary Sanchez
  • The White Sox didn't tender Carlos Rodon and Nomar Mazara
  • The Rockies didn't tender David Dahl, the former first-round pick who was an All-Star in 2019
In total, 59 players didn't receive a tender -- the highest number of non-tenders over the past six years -- and you can find the full list here. That high number isn't entirely a surprise when you consider the financial restraints caused by the pandemic, as well as how many teams now try to operate with ruthless efficiency.
The tough news for the non-tendered players who are joining the free agent pool? I's not exactly a buzzing market right now. 
📝 Odds & Ends
  • The NBA has officially unveiled its season-opening matchups from December 22 through Christmas Day
  • Fresh off Iron Mike's return to the ring, Evander Holyfield wants to fight Mike Tyson for a third time
  • YouTube star Logan Paul and San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane could be headed towards a boxing match of their own
📺 What to watch tonight
🏀 UConn vs. USC, 7:00 p.m. | USC +1 | TV: ESPN
🏀 Florida vs. Boston College, 9:30 p.m. | BC +7.5 | TV: ESPN2
📝 Top scores from last night
🏈 Steelers 19, Ravens 14
Ben Roethlisberger went 36 of 51 for 266 yards and a touchdown in the win.
💵 Winning wagers: BAL +10.5, Under (41.5)
🏀 No. 17 Texas 69, No. 14 UNC 67
The Longhorns rallied after blowing a 16-point lead and Matt Coleman hit a buzzer-beating stepback jumper to cap a wild finish.💵 Winning wagers: TEX -1, Under (137.5)    
🏀 No. 1 Gonzaga 87, No. 11 West Virginia 82
Joel Ayayi matched his career high with 21 points and Andrew Nembhard and Corey Kispert each dropped 19.
💵 Winning wagers: WVU +8.5, Over (157)      
 
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