I’m Listening, but it’s the Wrong Time
There are a handful of teams that would likely be open to the Houston Rockets’ star if the timing was right, starting with the Denver Nuggets.
Why it could happen: The Nuggets have Paul Millsap coming off the books and the salaries to match. With Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets have a superstar and might believe the time is now to push for a championship.
The Rockets wouldn’t receive any game-changing players, but they could get a few nice pieces back and have more depth around Harden. This trade works more for Houston than the Nuggets.
Why it won’t happen: The Nuggets have a good young core that will be hitting their prime in two or three years. They are a contender as constructed and should only get better with time.
In two years, the Western Conference could be theirs for the taking. Westbrook might be a short-term upgrade, but he’d inhibit their chances of competing down the road, which is what the Nuggets are planning on doing.
San Antonio Spurs
Why it could happen: The Spurs have both LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan entering the final year of their contract. They could use one to make the deal work. The majority of their big-money deals end in 2020-21, so adding Westbrook’s contract wouldn’t destroy their long-term finances. He would make them better and no one is better than Gregg Popovich, but I doubt this deal happens.
Why it won’t happen: Every player over 30 will be off of San Antonio’s books by 2020-21. They’ll go from being a veteran team to a young team. The Spurs’ current situation fits perfectly with a rebuild in a year or two. If the Spurs were to move one of Aldridge or DeRozan, they would probably want young players and picks back, not an aging superstar.
Why it could happen: Russell Westbrook seems like the type of player that Michael Jordan would love to have. Factor in that the Hornets have over $40 million coming off the books even if Nicolas Batum picks up his player option, and Houston might be looking at a team that wants and can fit in Westbrook.
Charlotte could send Batum and his $27 million back to Houston, who would receive salary relief and a player that probably fits better in Houston than he does in Charlotte, where he was overburdened as the number one option.
Batum’s career might seem over, but at only 31 years of age and on a much more competitive team in a contract year, he might decide to actually care again and help the team out. If not, he’s an expiring contract that would be useful to Houston for salary purposes.
Why it won’t happen: The Hornets seem to be committed to a rebuild and with only $32 million on the books for 2021-22, they might want to stand pat and see if the economic downturn turns their massive amount of cap space into a weapon to sign top-tier free agents, as all the good teams may have next-to-no cap space.
The Hornets are only a maybe because they wouldn’t have much to offer Houston in return and the Rockets would be looking for the best trade, not just any trade.
Why it could happen: The Raptors have Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol coming off the books and would have ample cap space to add Westbrook’s salary. They could even ship Kyle Lowry back if they want to maintain more financial flexibility. Lowry is likely a better fit for Houston over Westbrook but the problem is that’s true for the Raptors too.
Why it won’t happen: The Raptors are transitioning from a veteran team to a young team built around Pascal Siakam. Westbrook could make them better but not by much if they have to move Lowry. Unless they get Westbrook basically as a salary dump, they probably like the team they have and are content to let contracts run out and attack younger free agent options down the road.
Next: Interested teams