Russell Westbrook on the trading block? Sure. Let the frenzy begin.
Well, OK, it’s not so dramatic. We have one analyst, Ryen Russillo of the Ringer, saying there is a chance that Westbrook could be traded from the Rockets a half-season into his tenure as James Harden’s sidekick. But there’s no indication that the Rockets are actively working on a Westbrook deal.
Still, the main ingredient that drives a trade like a potential deal for Westbrook is desperation and there are desperate teams out there—teams desperate to bring in a star, teams desperate to get to the Finals, teams desperate to stay relevant.
Westbrook might not be the answer for any of them. He is 31 and in the second of a five-year, $205 million contract he signed with the team that traded him to Houston, Oklahoma City. He makes $38 million this year and will make $85 million in the next two seasons combined. He has a player option for 2022-23 worth $46.7 million.
He’s averaging 24.1 points this year but is doing so on 42.4 percent shooting and 23.4 percent 3-point shooting. In an era in which efficiency rules, Westbrook remains an unreliable high-volume shooter.
Still, he is a star who plays with speed and strength, a guy who can run an offense singlehandedly and fill a stat sheet every time out. Westbrook averaged a triple-double in each of his final three seasons with the Thunder, leading the league in assists the last two years and in scoring three years ago.
So he has value. But he is inefficient and he is expensive. Who would take a chance? Let the rumor mill spin …
- Houston gets: Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk, Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Dion Waiters
- Miami gets: Russell Westbrook, Gerald Green
Whenever a big-time point guard comes on the market—see: Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday—the Heat will be mentioned. That’s because they’ve got a sizable matching contract to offer (Goran Dragic, at $19 million, expiring this season) and a desire to take a crack at a championship now that Jimmy Butler is in the fold.
It’s especially true for Westbrook, because the Heat were considered the frontrunner to acquire him from the Thunder this summer before the Rockets stepped in.
In most cases, the Heat can’t land a top-shelf point guard because the teams they’d be dealing with are rebuilding and looking for young assets and draft picks. The Heat can’t trade a first-rounder until either 2025 or 26 and have only one second-round pick on hand for the next seven years.
The Rockets are different, though. With James Harden already on board, Houston is trying to find a way to land the pieces to be a contender and the very fact that they could deal Westbrook is evidence of that.
The Heat don’t want to include either Bam Adebayo or Tyler Herro to make a trade work and they might not have to. Miami could tempt Houston with depth. The Rockets could have Dragic and either Justise Winslow or Kelly Olynyk (Winslow is the better player, but he’s dealing with a back injury and Olynyk might be the better fit).
The depth angle for Houston comes with a pair of low-cost, high-value wings, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson. Because Miami is over the tax threshold, the Heat would have to include Dion Waiters with Gerald Green, who is injured, coming back from the Rockets.
Houston comes away with Nunn, a combo guard who can start with Harden, as well as Dragic, Robinson and Olynyk off the bench. Those four players are shooting 41.3 percent from the 3-point line. The Rockets would have to take on Waiters’ contract, which pays him $12.1 million next year and $12.6 million the following year.
Miami would have to deal with Westbrook’s contract going forward and would be left to scramble for a bench, but they could have a starting five of Westbrook, Herro, Butler, Adebayo and Meyers Leonard. That’s a tough bunch, especially in the East.
- Houston gets: Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, D.J. Augustin, draft pick
- Orlando gets: Russell Westbrook, Ben McLemore
The Magic have been patient in developing their players and there is much riding on letting Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba develop. Isaac has been good in Year 3 but hasn’t had the kind of breakout numbers the team hoped he would post. Making a move on forward Aaron Gordon could allow Isaac to play power forward exclusively, which might accelerate his growth.
Most of all, the Magic need an offensive focal point and Westbrook certainly is that. Putting Westbrook on an Eastern Conference team almost certainly will be enough to get that team to the postseason, especially one with the solid role players—Terrence Ross and Nik Vucevic stay in Orlando in this scenario—that the Magic have.
Houston gets back Gordon, who is having a struggle of a season and would benefit from new surroundings. A deal would depend on Gordon’s health because he’s been playing on an injured Achilles tendon and probably needs some rest. If he can get back to 100 percent quickly, he’d be a good starting point on a Westbrook trade.
Fournier is a 42.0 percent 3-point shooter who is averaging 19.4 points this season and can give the Rockets another perimeter threat with Eric Gordon. He also would provide some insurance should the oft-injured Gordon be oft-injured down the stretch of the season.
A lineup of Harden, Fournier, Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela would be formidable and a bench that would include Danuel House, Augustin and Austin Rivers gives the Rockets more depth than they’ve had in years.
Again, it might take a draft pick from Orlando to nail down a deal, one that the Rockets could flip for another player (Andre Iguodala, for example). But it would be a trade that addresses needs on both sides.
Minnesota Timberwolves (and Cleveland Cavaliers)
- Houston gets: Kevin Love, Robert Covington, draft pick
- Minnesota gets: Russell Westbrook
- Cleveland gets: Gorgui Dieng, Keita Bates-Diop, Josh Okogie, Jarrett Culver
It was presumed that, after missing out on D’Angelo Russell this summer, the Timberwolves would make a push for Westbrook. That didn’t happen and even with Minnesota sinking again into irrelevance, it still would be a longshot.
The big problem is that Karl-Anthony Towns would be off the table and Minnesota’s two prime tradeable assets after that are Jeff Teague and Andrew Wiggins. The Rockets would not want either. Instead, the Wolves could piece together an offer that combines a player Houston is known to covet—former Rocket Robert Covington—with an overpaid backup big man (Gorgui Dieng). Those two account for $27 million worth of salary this season, with Covington signed for two more years ($25 million total) and Dieng for one ($17 million).
To have any chance of attracting the Rockets’ interest, the Wolves would need to include three promising young pieces: last year’s top draft pick, Jarrett Culver; 2018 first-rounder Josh Okogie and 2018 second-rounder Keita Bates-Diop, who has played well this season. Minnesota might have to include a future first-rounder to cinch a deal.
The trade might make sense for Houston if the Rockets were looking to contend in the next year or two, because Bates-Diop is 24, Culver is 20 and Okogie is 21. But the Rockets need guys who can help them win now.
With that in mind, we got to thinking: Why not add a third team, a rebuilding club looking to move a star with a big contract?
We present the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kevin Love. If Minnesota wants Westbrook, getting the Cavs involved makes the most sense. If Cleveland sent Love to Houston and the Wolves sent Covington, the Rockets will have gotten a decent win-now haul for Westbrook. They may want one of Minnesota’s youngsters or a draft pick to offset the picks they sent to OKC, however.
The Cavs could take Okogie, Culver and Bates-Diop and immediately add three young players who could boost their rebuild. It’s a win for all involved.
- Houston gets: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, Donte DiVincenzo, draft pick
- Milwaukee gets: Russell Westbrook
All right, this would be a bit crazy but no team is more eager to show it can compete with the elite in the postseason than the Bucks. Bringing in Westbrook would be a daring move for a franchise that badly wants to get Giannis Antetokounmpo’s signature on a contract extension next summer.
The Bucks would want to keep the Antetokounmpo-Khris Middleton combo together, which means the rest of the rotation would be up for grabs. Eric Bledsoe and George Hill would be at the core of a deal and from there, the Rockets could pick and choose. Most likely they’d want a shooter (Ersan Ilyasova or Kyle Korver) and at least one young player (Sterling Brown, Donte DiVincezo).
Plucking a draft pick from the Bucks (who have Indiana’s coming in this year but owe their own to Boston) would help the Rockets’ flexibility in making another trade. There is a wealth of productive veterans available for a pick.
It’d be a tough sell for the Rockets, though. They’d get the depth they need and be out from under Westbrook’s contract. But they’d be giving up an elite player and the best player they’d be getting back would be Bledsoe.