While big-market teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks are reportedly the frontrunners to trade for the former NBA MVP, there’s one dark horse team in the Eastern Conference who actually has the assets to absorb Westbrook’s massive contract.
Enter the Charlotte Hornets, who have reportedly thrown their hat into the ring for the 9-time All-Star. The Queen City may not have the same allure as Hollywood or the Big Apple, but it does give players a chance to rub shoulders with the team’s legendary owner, Michael Jordan. Russ would not doubt savor the opportunity to play for the GOAT himself.
Charlotte has been searching for that go-to guy ever since Kemba Walker moved to Beantown in 2019. Westbrook’s addition could bring the buzz back in the nest. The 6-foot-3 dynamo notched 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.6 steals in what could possibly be a one-and-done career with Houston.
Westbrook reportedly wants to return to a playstyle similar to what he had with the Oklahoma City. Ever since Kevin Durant left, Russ had the ball in his hands for the majority of possessions and pretty much did whatever he wanted. He can have that same situation if he joins the talent-starved Charlotte team.
In reality, the Hornets don’t really have a perennial All-Star they could use as a fair bargaining chip for Westbrook’s prowess. What they do have is a sizable cap room, several promising players, and future draft picks they could offer as a package.
The Hornets only have $79 million currently committed for next season. Plus, more All-Stars could be enticed to join Charlotte for a chance to team up with the electrifying guard.
Westbrook is owed a lot of money over the next three seasons (around $131 million) and Charlotte’s best bet to match that is to center a deal involving Nicolas Batum. The Frenchman never really lived up to that fat five-year, $120 million contract anyway. Batum also perfectly fits Houston’s system as a serviceable 3-and-D guy who can play multiple positions.
The 6-foot-9 swingman is expected to exercise his $27.13 million player option in the 2020-21 season, making him the key piece in a possible Westbrook deal. The tricky part, however, is finding the right pieces to add to a Batum package that would entice the Rockets to flip their disgruntled guard.
Let’s look at two blockbuster trade options the Hornets can offer the Rockets for Russell Westbrook.
Hornets Option 1: Nicolas Batum, Devonte Graham, Malik Monk, and No. 3 pick of the 2020 Draft
Ideally, the Hornets would want to keep guys like Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, and Malik Monk just so Russ can have a nice supporting cast. Sadly, that likely won’t be the case and Charlotte will be forced to part ways with one or two of their young studs.
The Rockets would likely seek multiple first-rounders for Westbrook’s services. However, Charlotte can still preserve their future if they just give away their third selection for the 2020 Draft, along with a pair of talented guards that would take Russ’ place. This year’s class isn’t as star-studded anyway, so the Hornets might as well get an established All-Star instead.
Houston, on the other hand, would love to have a nice young piece for the future and choose from the likes of Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, Onyeko Okongwu, or whoever falls into their laps at no.3.
Losing Graham would certainly sting especially after that breakout 2019-20 campaign. Malik Monk is another project they were hoping to develop, but maybe it’s time to let him go if it ensures Westbrook joins the team. These two guards will quickly fill the void left by Westbrook.
The Hornets brass, however, must strike fast for this to come to fruition, since the draft is set on November 18. This would definitely be one of the biggest draft-day trades of all-time if the Hornets can pull this off.
Option 2: Cody Zeller, Terry Rozier, No. 3 pick of the 2020 draft, and 2021 second-round pick
Again, the third overall selection is the most valuable trade asset the Hornets do have since the Rockets won’t have to wait long to get a promising lottery pick that they could partner with James Harden.
In the event that the Rockets want no part of Batum, they could get another expiring contract from the Hornets in Cody Zeller. While the traditional big doesn’t exactly fit in H-Town’s scheme of things, Zeller would likely be just a nice one-year rental for the team.
That’s an additional $15.4 million in cap room which they could use in pursuit of a big-time free-agent in the stacked class next year.
Scary Terry, meanwhile, put up big numbers when given a starring role in Charlotte. He tallied 18 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in his first year as a Hornet. Obviously, those are not Westbrook-like numbers but his addition should somehow lessen the blow of losing Westbrook’s all-around game. Plus, he is only set to make $19 million next season, which shouldn’t put too much strain on the Rockets’ cap.
The Hornets do have a guaranteed second-rounder in 2021 which they received from the Brooklyn Nets. They could use this asset just to further sweeten the pot.