The Oklahoma City Thunder shocked the basketball world last week when they traded Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a historical haul of draft picks, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai-Gilgeous Alexander. The move was out of nowhere, and now the future is uncertain in OKC; there’s no longer a clear path towards contention, and a rebuild may be in the cards.
Shortly after the Clippers trade, it was reported Russell Westbrookand the Thunder front office have been discussing the superstar point guard’s future, including the possibility of a trade. Despite coming along with gigantic super-max contract and various criticisms about his ball dominance, Westbrook is still an All-NBA player who has only missed 14 games in the last four seasons. However, given the size of his contract (and a $47 million player option when Westbrook is 33), they won’t get nearly the haul they did for George, and may have to take less than Westbrook’s perceived value to get the numbers off the books. Here are three potential destinations should the Thunder decide to offload Westbrook and his $206 million contract.
New York Knicks
After the franchise’s dreams of landing a superstar free agent this summer bore no fruit, the Knicks are still looking for the next big thing to dominate Madison Square Garden. Westbrook would be the perfect match for a New York crowd desperate for any type of hope and excitement. As far as his supporting cast, he’d have no help, but a one-man show with Westbrook as the star will, at the very least, put people in seats. He’d make the Knicks relevant again, and could propel them to their first playoff appearance since 2013.
The tough part of a swap like this would be the numbers, as will be the case with any Westbrook trade. The Knicks have the contracts to match after signing a handful of average players to above average contracts over the last two weeks, but they can’t be traded until January. They’d also certainly have to give up the third overall pick in this year’s draft, R.J. Barrett, if they wanted to land Westbrook, not to mention several future first-round picks. After such dedication to the youth movement over the last half-decade, it would be a bit of a surprise to see the Knicks turn heel and give up everything for the ever-elusive superstar they’ve been searching for since the dramatic decline of Carmelo Anthony. Then again, it would be in line with the Knicks’ decision-making process this century. It’s a bit of a long-shot given they wouldn’t be able to make a move until January, but Westbrook’s play-style (and sense of style) in New York is a great match.
The Heat made the best out of a messy cap sheet this summer, getting creative while managing to land Jimmy Butler and send off the ever-disgruntled Hassan Whiteside and his nearly $30 million salary. Butler alone does not a contender make, however, and Pat Riley could look to pair Butler with another star. Enter Westbrook. Both players like to have the ball and neither is an elite shooter from deep, so it’s not a perfect fit. But a Heat team led by Butler and Westbrook would lead the league in intensity, and couldn’t be counted out in any scenario, especially in an Eastern Conference that has been thrown into flux after a tumultuous free agency period.
The biggest obstacle here is the Heat’s lack of draft picks; they don’t own their own first-round pick in 2020, and their 2021 pick is already in possession of the Thunder. But even after all of their maneuvering to land Butler, the Heat have the contracts to match Westbrook’s hefty salary. A swap of Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, and Dion Waiters, along with whatever picks they could spare, would work for both sides; the Thunder get a talented young player who is starting to come into his own in Winslow, and Dragic is still a productive player. Any sort of trade for Westbrook would leave the Heat quite thin on the bench, but Miami has always prioritized star power above all else. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see Westbrook’s fashion evolution after moving to Miami?
Westbrook could represent Detroit’s only hope to make the leap from good to very good anytime in the near future. Their cap space is all but locked up for the next few years, and the ceiling of their current core seems defined. The goal would be to pair Westbrook with Blake Griffin and create a one-two punch as deadly as any in the Eastern Conference. Griffin showed he could be an upper-echelon distributor when Detroit ran the offense through him last season, but the load took its toll in the playoffs; Griffin played his final game of the season barely able to get up and down the court. A heroic effort, but one that Dwane Casey and the rest of the Pistons’ brass would rather not see again. Westbrook would help take that load off Griffin, helping save him for when the moment is biggest, and his addition would create the most exciting Pistons team in decades.
Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson would have to be on the way out if Detroit wants to make that star pairing reality. Jackson is generally a minus on the court after a series of knee injuries sapped his explosiveness, but Drummond is a quality, albeit not game-changing, player who is still only 25. Add in two unprotected first-round picks, and Detroit is in business. A Westbrook-Griffin pairing wouldn’t be as exciting as it would have been five years ago, but they’d still get Detroit to at least the second round of the playoffs, a land they haven’t graced since 2008. It would be a worthwhile move for a franchise that projects to be nothing better than above average for the next few years.