NBA Rumor: Russell Westbrook Trade

253 rumors in this storyline

Following their blown 3-1 lead to Denver, executives around the league wondered if the Clippers might panic and do something rash, such as trade for Russell Westbrook. Instead, they’ve made minor tweaks to the roster and coaching staff, replacing Doc Rivers with his assistant, Ty Lue. These new faces might not be any better on paper, but the blend could work better on the court. It’ll take more time to find out.

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Unlike Houston’s rightful reluctance to trade Harden, the Rockets’ new front office searched far and wide for Westbrook destinations as soon as he expressed that he didn’t want to be there anymore, according to multiple league sources. Houston viewed Westbrook’s desire to leave as a blessing in disguise. Trading him provides another opportunity to make Harden happy again. Many members of the Rockets’ organization believe Harden doesn’t actually want to leave, he just wants to win a title. The Rockets need to prove to Harden they’re the franchise best suited to help him win one before his contract can expire in 2022.

Russell Westbrook was an All-NBA selection in 19-20, but he received very little trade interest as he sought a trade from the Houston Rockets. “There. Was. No. Market. For. Russell. Westbrook,” said Zach Lowe on his podcast one day after the trade. “I kept saying this over and over again. The Clippers were not interested. The Knicks were not interested unless they were incentivized. I don’t know where the Hornets noise came from. Maybe it was credible. All I can say is from the people I know there, I never heard they were interested. There was, to my knowledge, nothing.”

HoopsHype spoke with one general manager, three executives, and an NBA scout for their reactions to the blockbuster trade and what it means for the players and their new teams. “It’s a wash,” one Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “Both teams needed to make a trade. Washington has to give up a pick because Wall has a bigger injury history and hasn’t played in two years. The contracts were the same. Russ should be really good in the East. Scotty (Brooks) should know how to use him. Washington will be better than they were since Russ is actually playing and Wall hasn’t been. I think Washington is for sure a playoff team.”

After playing against Harden in pick-up games and showing some explosion, one scout believes his fit next to Harden in the backcourt should be a good transition. “I think it was time for a fresh start for both,” an NBA scout told HoopsHype. “I like Russell going to Washington and giving them an opportunity to keep Brad happy. Scott Brooks knows how to use him, and he’ll be the lead guard. Houston getting Wall and playing him with Harden seems similar to the fit with Russell. Obviously, there’s a real unknown about how good he’ll be back from injury. I think Washington got the better of the trade but let’s see what Wall’s status is.”

Initial trade talks stalled over draft capital and the possibility of other players included in a deal — for instance, young big man Thomas Bryant —before both teams could come to terms on an agreement. In the end, it was a simple Westbrook-for-Wall swap with the addition of a heavily protected first-round pick. Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard declared a week ago that the Wizards had no plans on trading Wall and the Rockets were prepared to enter camp with Westbrook, but situations in the NBA are always fluid and can change on a dime — a phone call is all it takes.

Houston’s stance on Harden has not changed, a high-ranking Rockets source told ESPN, saying the team hoped to be competitive with the perennial MVP candidate on the roster this season and does not envision a scenario in which Harden would be traded before the opener. The Rockets have let it be known that they would require a return that included a young, potential franchise cornerstone and a massive picks package in any potential deal for Harden, according to sources.

Concerning Harden, the Nets and 76ers were strong suitors weeks ago but Houston is refusing to talk turkey with anyone — and they don’t have to. With Westbrook, the problem for imagining a trade with him as the centerpiece is there just isn’t that robust of a market for him right now. The teams that might have made sense have all seemingly gone in other directions — Detroit drafting Kilian Hayes, Charlotte drafting LaMelo Ball, New York signing Austin Rivers (kidding).

What’s Houston’s mindset going into training camp with Harden and Westbrook? Feigen: I think the organization’s mood is extremely cautiously optimistic, but optimistic. The organization has felt all along they need to bring these guys back and let them work with Stephen Silas, let them work with a slightly changed rotation, and let them feel good about that. Things get that way a little more when you’re apart and when you’re playing pickup ball with KD (Kevin Durant), and he’s so excited about what that team can do. You remember those good times in Oklahoma City, and they went to the Finals where Harden has not been since he left Oklahoma City.

Feigen: Harden, that would mean blow it up and start over in so many ways. You’re rebuilding if you move Harden. I think there’s a sense here, but really around the league, that they need to be patient on any consideration of moving Westbrook until he sort of rebuilds his stock to where teams start looking at him as a superstar again rather than what the last thing they saw, which was Westbrook in the bubble coming off the thigh injury more quickly than he normally would have and coming off COVID. Teams need to see him look like the full Russ again.

In the Hornets’ case, there is a belief in some corners of the league that their appetite for a Westbrook trade increases significantly if Charlotte does not land LaMelo Ball with the No. 3 overall pick in Wednesday’s draft. Michael Jordan, Charlotte’s owner, is a known Westbrook admirer. Should the playmaking Ball be drafted before the Hornets’ turn at No. 3, according to the theory, there is a much stronger case to be made for trading for Westbrook in spite of the cost and attendant risk.

Wall’s version of this would be going to the Rockets for Westbrook — if it ever happens. If it doesn’t, maybe there’s something else out there. Maybe there’s another niche market that doesn’t consider Wall the league’s least-tradeable player and instead deems him more desirable than some other guys. After all, Wall is now fully healthy and has looked encouraging, according to people who have been at his offseason workouts and scrimmages.

Longtime NBA reporter Ric Bucher went on “The Odd Couple” podcast with Chris Broussard and Rob Parker and shared an interesting tidbit about the discord in Houston. According to Bucher, there is a “revolt” going on, and it’s directly related to Fertitta supporting President Trump. “I immediately thought this was Daryl Morey leaving, and Mike D’Antoni leaving, and Russell Westbrook and James Harden going ‘No offense to Stephen Silas or Rafael Stone, but we don’t want a starter kit, we’re playing for a championship,’” Bucher said on the podcast. “But what I heard is — and we know how much politics and political position had to do with the boycott and protests during the (NBA) bubble — I’m hearing that Tilman Fertitta’s strong Republican support and donations is one of the things that is contributing to this dissatisfaction, and those two [Westbrook and Harden] are not the only ones to want out of Houston. Lesser players are of the same mind. There is a revolt here because they look at Fertitta as a guy who supports the current president.”

In the Hornets’ case, there is a belief in some corners of the league that their appetite for a Westbrook trade increases significantly if Charlotte does not land LaMelo Ball with the No. 3 overall pick in Wednesday’s draft. Michael Jordan, Charlotte’s owner, is a known Westbrook admirer. Should the playmaking Ball be drafted before the Hornets’ turn at No. 3, according to the theory, there is a much stronger case to be made for trading for Westbrook in spite of the cost and attendant risk. Some league insiders believe that the Hornets, at Jordan’s behest, want Ball at No. 3 should Minnesota and Golden State keep the top two picks to select Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman. Others see Charlotte springing a surprise at No. 3 and selecting the fast-rising Onyeka Okongwu.

Reports of a Russell Westbrook trade request to the Houston Rockets leaked last week, but it could have been in response to James Harden privately angling for a trade to the Brooklyn Nets. “I heard it a number of days ago,” said Brian Windhorst on The Lowe Post of Harden’s interest in the Nets. “Guess who else heard it? Russell Westbrook. So I think Westbrook, who is kind of the forgotten man here, I think he goes in and is like ‘You’re not asking for a trade. I’m asking for a trade.’ “And so I think in the postmortem, it might have been Harden who moved first.”

On Saturday, Cody Zeller joined Sirius XM Radio to discuss the speculation regarding Russell Westbrook and the possibility of him joining the Houston Rockets. “I find out the news the same way everybody else does, on Twitter. We’ve gotten to know each other a little bit, both being Jordan athletes. So whatever happens happens. I’ve been in this league long enough to not really worry about it. There’s so many rumors that fly around. I’m playing in Charlotte until they tell me to go play somewhere else, and that’s the way I look at it.”

The Rockets likely will need both. And for the trade possibilities that have circled like birds of prey, the Rockets’ goal remains, according to a person with knowledge of the team’s thinking, to make their core players believe again in the team’s championship chances. That, as always, begins with the face of the franchise. James Harden has long had enormous input in how the team has been built. That has not changed. He has been known to grow impatient, as with his restlessness through the six days it took to complete the trade for Westbrook in the summer of 2019.

The Rockets believe they can bring in the help to regain his confidence. But it will take a whole lot more than powers of persuasion to make the Rockets — tied for fourth in the West and quickly brushed aside by the champion Lakers in the second round — look like legitimate contenders. Westbrook, according to a person with knowledge of conversations, wants to feel as if he can “be himself.” That could mean moving to a team that would return him to his Thunder role. The Rockets believe it could come with adjustments in Houston.

If the Knicks acquire Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook in a trade, several teams expect them to also pursue veterans in free agency that can help them compete in 2020-21. As we’ve reported, some MSG people are hesitant to give up assets in a Westbrook or Paul deal because they want to have enough trade capital to deal for another top player – if/when one becomes available via trade. But if they find a Westbrook/Paul trade that suits them, it’s fair to assume that Julius Randle is involved to match salaries. The Knicks could also absorb the Westbrook or Paul contracts into cap space

Rose’s decisions will tell us whether the Knicks, under his watch, are aiming for immediate contention or continuing their rebuild. If he makes a run at Russell Westbrook or deals prospects/picks for a win-now piece, the timeline is shifted. If he keeps the draft pick, signs young free agents and acquires assets, the development stage moves forward. If he maintains cap space for next summer, prepare for the run at Giannis Antetokounmpo. From what we’ve gathered from two sources who’ve been in contact with the Knicks about roster decisions, Tom Thibodeau is pushing win-now moves. That’s predictable. It’s how the coach is wired. Thibodeau is also a former team president who acknowledged having a say in New York’s roster construction.

The Houston Rockets are believed to have a limited trade market for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook either wants to be traded or significant changes to the way the Rockets operate. “I’ve got bad news for him on both of those fronts,” said Brian Windhorst on Sports Center. “New coach Stephen Silas has said he does not intend to change the offense very much. I’ve surveyed a significant part of the league today and I don’t think there’s a lot of interest in Russell Westbrook trades out there. Not because they don’t think he’s not much of a player, but because of his contract.”
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