The basketball world was stirred on Wednesday with the news that Russell Westbrook had requested a trade from the Houston Rockets, potentially ending the marriage between the two parties after just one not-that-successful season.
Despite the Rockets’ early oust from the playoffs, however, Westbrook did post a strong season, averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game and shooting a career-best 47.2 percent from the floor.
As such, even despite Westbrook’s insane contract, which will make him the second-highest-paid player in basketball next season and doesn’t expire until 2022-23, when the future Hall-of-Famer will be 34, Westbrook still has the production and star power necessary to gather plenty of interest on the trade market.
Moving him won’t be simple, but it’ll be far easier than many are making it sound like it’ll be.
Below, we break down four potential trade destinations for Russell Westbrook.
One reported interested party for Westbrook already are the Charlotte Hornets, who The Athletic’s Shams Charania mentioned as a potential suitor early on Thursday:
— Stadium (@Stadium) November 12, 2020
The pairing makes sense for a multitude of reasons.
For starters, even with all the cap space they’re set to have this offseason and the next, Charlotte is not a free-agent destination, so their best bet towards getting back to relevancy will be on the trade market.
Plus, with Mitch Kupchak calling the shots as general manager and Michael Jordan the team’s owner, Charlotte probably doesn’t want to do a full five-year rebuild, but rather get back to at least ‘decent’ as soon as possible. Adding Westbrook, especially on an Eastern Conference team for the first time, is a surefire way to do that.
Add the fact that Westbrook is a Jordan Brand guy himself, and this fit starts to make even more sense.
To make such a deal happen, all the Hornets would have to send Houston as far as contracts go is Nic Batum’s expiring deal, which the Rockets would undoubtedly love so as to get out of cap jail as soon as possible. Part of Houston’s rebuild, if they do undergo one, will be to clean up their books.
To sweeten the pot, Charlotte won’t have to go as far as adding the No. 3 pick to the deal; sending the Rockets Miles Bridges should be more than enough for the two sides to come to an agreement here.
Another team that could use an immediate upgrade in the star power department, especially in the backcourt, is the Orlando Magic, whose top two point guards last season, Markelle Fultz and DJ Augustin, are set to hit free agency in the coming weeks.
With Jonathan Isaac likely to miss the season, the Magic are going to have to do something bold to stay in the playoff picture in the East, and with minimal cap space, it’ll have to be the trade market they attack.
A target like Westbrook would make a lot of sense.
He’d be able to be his team’s No. 1 playmaker again, something he is reported to covet, and his pick-and-roll game paired with a talent like Nikola Vucevic should thrive. Vucevic would be the most talented big man Westbrook has played with in years, if not ever.
A trade between the Magic and Rockets could look something like Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross and Khem Birch for Westbrook. Not only would that work financially, but it would also give Houston a promising, relatively young wing in exchange for the nine-time All-Star.
New York Knicks
One team that is always mentioned as a theoretical trade suitor for Westbrook is the New York Knicks, due to their utter lack of star power and the poor backcourt play they’ve had to endure for years now.
Now, the team does appear to be headed in the right direction under the guidance of Leon Rose, and making a desperate trade for a player like Westbrook seems more like something the team would do under former leadership, but that doesn’t mean this potential deal is completely out of the question.
To make a deal work, all the Knicks would have to include salary-wise is Julius Randle and someone like Kevin Knox, since they have the cap space to absorb Westbrook’s monster deal.
Would that be enough for Houston to bite?
If they consider a Westbrook trade a salary dump, then yes. If they think the 32-year-old still has value, though, they might start to negotiate with New York to include the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft.
It’s impossible to predict whether the Knicks would agree to that, but considering this year’s draft is relatively weak, particularly after the Top 3 prospects are off the board, maybe they might.
Los Angeles Clippers
The ultimate wild card in a potential Westbrook trade is the Los Angeles Clippers, who The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported as having an interest in the enigmatic floor general.
That shouldn’t come as a total surprise, as the Clippers were said to have wanted to upgrade their backcourt earlier in the offseason, which makes sense considering how their season ended in the bubble.
The easiest way to make a deal happen between the two teams is to make it a clean player-for-player swap: Westbrook for Paul George, who struggled in a variety of ways during his lone season with the Clippers. Getting Westbrook to Los Angeles without including George is extremely difficult, and would likely require another team or two getting involved.
But considering George’s positional overlap with Kawhi Leonard proved awkward last season, there’s a possibility the Clippers are looking for a way to get out from under his contract anyway this offseason, regardless of Westbrook.
Now, an argument could be made for either the Rockets or Clippers having to add an asset to sweeten the deal for the other party to accept, but just to keep things simple, we’ll say it should be a one-for-one trade: two bad contracts attached to two excellent players being shipped out for each other.
Such a deal may not be enough to finally get the Clippers over the hump in the West, but the experiment itself sure would be entertaining to watch unfold.
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