“Chip, I’m all jacked up on Mountain Dew!” This is what I’d scream at you if you were in my apartment after finding out Rockets PG Russell Westbrook wants out of Houston, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. It’s too bad James Harden is “locked in” for this season. Yeah, okay ... We’ll see how “locked in” The Beard is after a slow start to the season. Well, I digress. It feels like the NBA offseason has finally begun with a big trade rumor, so naturally we’re going to overreact and look at possible teams who could target Westbrook in a deal.
Before I get into it, we shouldn’t be bad mouthing Russ at all. He clearly didn’t want out of OKC and the Thunder wanted to move in a different direction. His contract was also pretty nutty, which is tough to work with in this cap era. Westbrook is still a hell of a basketball player, is a gamer and a winner. He’ll be a hot commodity on the trade market and whoever lands him, I feel, will get a huge push toward making the playoffs, or advancing or even getting to the NBA Finals. Okay, that’s me defending Russ. Now let’s look at trade destinations!
UPDATE: The Hornets have emerged as a potential destination for Westbrook via trade, per Shams. Charlotte had been rumored as interested in trading up in the draft to snag a big man — potentially James Wiseman. the Hornets already have two guards in Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier, though neither is anything close to Westbrook. Charania mentions the Jordan Brand connection with Michael Jordan being the owner of the Hornets.
The Hornets could dump Nic Batum and Cody Zeller’s massive collective salaries to clear space for Westbrook, then throw in a few first-round picks and a prospect. Rozier is only signed through the next two seasons and is honestly better suited to play off the bench (which is something Graham could do as well).
This is the most likely one to pop up in reports from Shams or Woj in the next week or so before transactions become unfrozen. Westbrook had always been linked to the Knicks before he decided to stick with the Thunder in 2017. This is as good a time as any for the Knicks to make a splash before going after Giannis Antetokounmpo in free agency next season (unless The Greek Freak signs a max extension with the Bucks). If Giannis isn’t available, the Knicks won’t have anyone to spend money on. Unless they deal for Russ.
A deal for Russ wouldn’t be a bad idea. He’s a superstar you can pair with another superstar to form a playoff contender. New York doesn’t need to build an immediate title contender right now. The Knicks can do somewhat of a similar move to when they got Carmelo Anthony. Bring in an alpha who can do his thing and get people excited about basketball in the Big Apple again. It’s not like Westbrook can’t still play. He was never a good fit for Houston with James Harden. Everybody knew that.
The Knicks have the assets and salary dumps to make a deal like this work, plus a high 2020 NBA Draft pick to potentially dangle at Houston, which is hurting for picks. The Rockets could get back a young player and the No. 8 overall pick for Russ. It’s not like the No. 8 pick is going to net New York a sure-fire All-Star either, it’s a relatively weak draft class. I say go for it Knicks and don’t look back.
Morey traded for Westbrook once, why not make it twice! The Sixers have been hurting for help at point guard for what seems like the past two decades since Allen Iverson left. Westbrook doesn’t solve their shooting woes but possibly pairing him up with Ben Simmons AND Joel Embiid seems like an OK idea. Doc Rivers would be able to make the most of that type of roster, you’d have to think.
As for the logistics of a trade, the Sixers have two massive salaries they can dump in Al Horford and Tobias Harris. Neither is a great return for the Rockets, but throw in Zaire Smith or Matisse Thybulle and a first-round pick and Houston gets a decent haul. Morey is a cap wizard and if he can fit in Simmons, Embiid and Westbrook’s massive salaries on one roster, it would be his greatest feat yet.
I’ll admit that the more likely player to land in Milwaukee via trade is probably Chris Paul, who will almost assuredly get dealt by the Thunder. What if CP3 goes to the Suns and the Bucks come calling Houston asking about adding Westbrook to Giannis and Khris Middleton? That Big 3 would be pretty scary to think about after the Bucks should have steamrolled through the East but didn’t this past season. Chalk it up to the bubble, really.
The issue with the Bucks trying to land Westbrook — or even CP3 for that matter — is they don’t have a ton of assets and they have too many long-term contracts. So a third team would almost definitely have to get involved if Westbrook goes to the Bucks. Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez have three years left on their deals and George Hill has two years left. At least 1-2 of those players would need to leave, plus probably Ersan Ilyasova’s $7 million in salary, and even then the Bucks may not have room for Westbrook’s max deal.
The Suns had already been talking about bringing in Chris Paul. He seems like a much better fit with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. If the Suns whiff on CP3, would they consider going after Westbrook? Why not. Phoenix has the cap space to fit in Westbrook if the deal involves Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre Jr. That may not be enticing to Suns fans but a roster with Westbrook, Booker and Ayton would be fun to watch under Monty Williams in the desert.
The Suns also have some picks and young assets that may entice the Rockets more than some of the other potential deals. Cameron Payne emerged a bit in the bubble and could be floated. Jevon Carter (I’m biased because I went to WVU) could still turn into a plus-defender and Patrick Beverley type (which Houston is familiar with). Ideally, the Suns keep both or at least one of Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges. Somebody has to play defense for Phoenix. If that’s the case, an offense led by Booker and Westbrook might get the Suns into the upper half of the West.