Let’s Make a Deal?
There are several teams that would potentially be interested in the Houston Rockets superstar. Let’s dive into each team and why they would all be interested in Russ.
Why it could happen: The Magic could use a guard and an out from their jumbo-sized lineups. Already a contender for the playoffs, the addition of Westbrook could boost their chances of getting homecourt in the first round like Jimmy Butler did for Miami. The Magic would probably want to move Nikola Vucevic and Markelle Fultz to match the salaries.
Vucevic might be a lumbering center, but he’s a center who can stretch it out to the 3-point line and would help Houston in the rebounding department. He’d allow for the spacing of micro ball on offense with the benefits of having a true center.
Vucevic is not a great defender, but when has that ever really been a problem for the Rockets? Fultz, the number one pick in the 2017 draft, might look like a bust, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
2019-20 was really his first full season, and if it was his rookie season, there would be plenty of reason for optimism. He still can’t shoot threes but his free throw shooting has improved dramatically over his career, which creates optimism that he can re-discover his 3-point stroke from college.
This deal works for both parties, and while it doesn’t directly save the Rockets money, the flexibility it provides them makes it far easier to save money.
Why it won’t happen: Orlando might want to only play four playoff games every year.
Why it could happen: The Pistons have about $60 million coming off the books heading into 2020-21, which means they’re one of the few teams that could absorb a massive salary. They also have Blake Griffin for the next two years and a partnership between him and Houston Rockets guard Westbrook would get the Pistons humming again.
The Pistons don’t have much to send back to Houston, so this would be more of a traditional salary dump. But if Houston could get back any picks, that would be great from an asset point of view, as the cupboard is pretty bare in that regard.
Why it won’t happen: The Pistons say they want to build around Blake Griffin, but you never know. They have salary cap space and with the economic downturn, they might just decide to sit and wait it out while the rest of the league struggles to manage their finances.
Why it could happen: The Bulls are desperate to be relevant or at the very least, better. When teams have been as bad as the Bulls have been recently, even getting the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference feels good.
Westbrook could at least guarantee that, depending on how much they have to give up. A straight swap of Westbrook for Zach Lavine or Otto Porter might make sense. Porter makes the most sense because of how redundant LaVine would be next to Harden, and his salary is larger.
A trade with the Bulls will net the Houston Rockets players that fit better around Harden, but for the most part, Chicago offers a landing spot for Westbrook’s massive salary.
Why it won’t happen: The Bulls thought they were on the verge of “contending” this year until a plethora of injuries derailed their season. They might just want to run it back and hope they have better health and better players.
New York Knicks
Why it could happen: “Did an NBA GM make an overpriced, past-their-prime, superstar available? Say no more,” yodels James Dolan in his latest song to an empty Madison Square Garden before the opening game of the 2020-21 season.
Dolan cannot help himself when a player like Westbrook becomes available, and while Westbrook might be all of these things, he would certainly make Knicks basketball better. He might even make them a playoff contender.
Imagine how the Knicks battling for the eighth seed would reinvigorate their fanbase (that’s how sad it has become for America’s most over-covered franchise). The Knicks only have $44 million in salary for the 2021-22 season, which includes $19 million to Julius Randle, which is not fully guaranteed.
They desperately could use a superstar pitchman to sell free agents on them because selling them on the …. (crickets) …..history….hasn’t really worked out. Westbrook would fill that void perfectly.
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Of all the options, this makes the most sense because the Knicks are quite apt at making the least sense.
Unfortunately for the Houston Rockets, they wouldn’t likely receive much in return, but knowing the Knicks, they’ll somehow send a future Hall of Famer the Rockets’ way.
Why it won’t happen: Oklahoma City could beat the Rockets to the punch with a deal centered around Chris Paul.
The Bottom Line
The difficulty in finding a viable landing spot for Russell Westbrook is based on how his contract and age dramatically limit the number of teams who would covet his services.
The teams most interested in a player of Westbrook’s age and price are generally teams hoping to compete for deep playoff runs in 2020-21.
Most teams that fall into this category already have superstar players that are either better or cheaper. Westbrook, the MVP in 2016-17, has now become one of the least valuable players in the league due to his age, contract and the reality that Westbrook is at his best when he is the best player on the team.
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If Daryl Morey is able to move on from Westbrook, don’t expect a haul in return. The offloading of the remaining $130 million on Westbrook’s contract will be difficult enough.