The Oklahoma City Thunder shocked the NBA world when they traded away Paul George to the Clippers for a record haul of five future-first round picks. This was a move that was a part of Kawhi Leonard signing with the Clippers as well, setting them up as one of the elite contenders next season.
Now, it appears the Thunder are in full-rebuild mode, but only one person is truly stopping them from that, and that’s Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has spent his entire career with the Thunder, and though he’s never been able to win the franchise an NBA title, he has won an MVP and been one of the most electrifying players to watch in the NBA for years now.
As tough as it would be to trade the face of the franchise away, especially after Kevin Durant bolted a few seasons ago, it’s a decision that needs to be done if the Thunder want to do this rebuild right. Another clear indication that the Thunder are committed to resetting was their decision to let free agent signings Alec Burks and Mike Muscala rethink their signings with the team after the Paul George trade (Muscala decided to stay, whereas Burks ended up signing with the Warriors).
Though Russ is arguably a top five point guard in the league, it’s not like every team would be open to trading for him. A lot of teams have either younger point guards, are in rebuild modes themselves, have their star point guard already, or just don’t want to absorb his massive contract (Westbrook’s supermax contract might be the biggest snag in any potential trade). So there are only a few realistic destinations that would make sense, but those are slimmed down even further when considering the assets they have to offer that would make it worth the Thunder trading him away. So let’s take a look at some of the realistic trade scenarios to get Russ out of OKC.
The Pistons have already been reported as having expressed interest in trading for Westbrook, and it makes sense. Right now, they are stuck in mediocrity, and Westbrook could elevate them to the next level. Already having Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, adding Westbrook would make this one of the more athletic and exciting teams to watch.
The toughest part is matching up assets for Russ. The Pistons don’t have a lot of young talent to offer, and they would also need to trade away some bigger contracts to make salaries match. Any trade with the Pistons would have to involve either one or both of Reggie Jackson and Tony Snell. Jackson used to play for the Thunder before being traded away, and is on an expiring contract, something that any rebuilding team really values. Having Dennis Schroeder and newly acquired Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the roster, adding another point guard doesn’t make much sense, but he could always be traded away for more assets later at the deadline.
Trading away Russ for just some expiring contracts won’t fly, so the Pistons would have to throw in some younger assets and/or some picks too. Luke Kennard would be the three-point shooter that the Thunder have desperately needed over the years, and would be the Pistons best trade chip. Throw in a future first rounder or two, and the Thunder have something serious to consider with this trade offer.
This one probably makes the most sense for all parties involved, and the Heat have already been reported as being interested in trading for Russ. They just signed Jimmy Butler, and we all know Pat Riley has never been a fan of rebuilding, so remaining as competitive as possible will always be the goal for his Heat squad. Plus, Russ has already discussed his future with his agent and Thunder GM Sam Presti, and he seems open to being traded, and he seems open to playing with Miami too.
Miami have bigger contracts on the roster that they can use to match up salaries, so no problems there. They also have some younger assets to trade away as well, including Bam Adebayo, Justice Winslow, and rookie Tyler Herro. However, the only potential snag that the Heat run into here is they lack draft picks to offer. Ironically enough, the Thunder own most of their future picks from their trade with the Clippers, so that might be the only hiccup in this potential trade.
Since they would be acquiring Russ, the Heat would have no need for Goran Dragic, so he would likely be traded away. It makes sense for the Thunder too, for he has a larger salary on an expiring contract, so much like Jackson in the Detroit trade scenario, they could flip him for more assets at the deadline if they wish. The Heat would likely have to throw in another larger contract like Dion Waiters, who has two years on his contract, so not ideal for the Thunder, but it does beat paying Westbrook max money, so they’ll bite the bullet there.
Lastly, the Heat would probably have to throw in at least two of those younger players mentioned earlier to make this trade worthwhile. I’m thinking Winslow and Adebayo, although trading away Bam would hurt, especially after trading away center Hassan Whiteside. They probably would like to see what they have with Herro, especially after his performances thus far in the Summer League. A package revolved around Dragic, Waiters, Winslow, and Adebayo might be enough to land Westbrook and create a star tandem in Miami.
This is probably one of my favorite trade scenarios, but I don’t know if Russ would like to play for Orlando, thus meaning Orlando may not be willing to trade for him.
Orlando’s biggest Achilles heel for years now has been their point guard play. Adding Westbrook would finally get them over the hump of mediocrity. They have quite a few young players already on the roster that look like promising talents, as well as Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon already locked in to team-friendly long-term contracts, so this team is suited for a jump start by adding Westbrook.
However, if you’re trading for Westbrook, you’ll obviously have to give up some of your younger talent and future assets, and quite possibly one of either Gordon or Vucevic. Vucevic had a breakout year last season, so if they had to part ways with one of them, it would likely be Gordon.
They may be able to get away with not trading away Gordon. They would probably have to trade D.J. Augustin and Evan Fournier to make salaries match, plus some young players and future assets. If they keep both Gordon and Vucevic, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to keep Mo Bamba, so he would likely be added. Then if the Thunder want to take a chance on Markelle Fultz, he could be thrown in the mix. Jonathan Isaac is another younger player that may be thrown into the mix as well.
There’s two potential packages I see that make the most sense. One is revolved around Aaron Gordon, with D.J. Augustin thrown in there, and maybe either Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, or a draft pick or two thrown in there. If they do keep both Gordon and Augustin, they would likely have to throw in Fournier, Augustin, Bamba, and Isaac or Fultz to make it enticing enough for the Thunder. Again, this is one of those trades that likely won’t happen because not all parties may be interested.
This one is another one that doesn’t seem likely, but let’s explore it anyways.
The Bulls have been in rebuild mode for a few seasons now, and don’t look like they are quite there yet. They are in need of a star player, and Russ can be that guy. An athletic point guard with a highlight reel of emphatic dunks. Does that remind you of anyone Bulls fans?
To make salaries work, the Bulls would have to throw in Otto Porter, which is fine since his deal is expiring. The Thunder can trade him later down the road. The Bulls would have to part ways with some of their younger talent, so guys like Kris Dunn and Wendell Carter Jr. make the most sense. Toss in a pick or two and the Thunder have everything in this package they would likely ask for; cap relief, young talent in Carter Jr., draft assets, and even a potential project at the point guard position with Dunn.
I can see the Bulls saying no to this though. Giving up on Carter Jr. so would be tough to swallow. Plus, they just drafted Coby White, so do they want to trade for an expensive point guard when they just drafted one? Probably not, but the Bulls have been desperate for a star, and Russ would easily fill that void. A trio of Westbrook, Zach Lavine, and Lauri Markkanen would be a group that could get these Bulls back to the playoffs.