With a majority of the players who entered this offseason seeking a new contract off the board, free agency is beginning to wind down. One pieces to fall into place was Kawhi Leonard, who unsurprisingly had his bags packed to play for the Clippers in Los Angeles, but surprisingly recruited OKC’s Paul George to come with him as they move to the West Coast.
Sam Presti and the Thunder front office may not have had much of a choice in retaining George, despite still having at least two seasons left on his contract, and certainly brought in a fantastic return for the 2019 MVP second runner-up. Following the deal, OKC is left with numerous first round picks, as well as a glaring decision to make regarding their franchise star, Russell Westbrook.
The trade made it clear to Westbrook, who has spent all 11 seasons of his career with the Thunder, that Oklahoma City wouldn’t be ready to contend with the top teams in the league this season. He, along with his agent, have since met with the Thunder front office in order to determine the next move for the former MVP, and it appears that all signs point to a trade.
With a change of scenery feeling imminent, multiple teams have been eyed as potential landing spots for the 30-year-old point guard, most prominent being the Miami Heat. This league is always full of surprises, though, and there are three dark-horse teams who could benefit from trading for Russell Westbrook.
Last season’s first round exit as the eighth seed was only the third time this team has made the playoffs in the last ten years. The trade for Blake Griffin in 2018 granted the team a very talented player, but also meant that the time to win is now.
Griffin has certainly performed well since arriving in Detroit, but the rest of the team hasn’t quite played up to the levels needed to capitalize on the present. Pairing Russell Westbrook with Blake Griffin would give the Pistons a certified tandem of two star players and improve their chances of making some noise in the Eastern Conference.
After losing Kemba Walker, who signed with the Boston Celtics in free agency, the Hornets’ next move is up in the air. However, trading for Westbrook would give this team both a renewed identity and face of the franchise. Charlotte isn’t looking ready to compete for a title, which is the goal for Westbrook, but this franchise does have a few advantages that could make them a probable trade partner for OKC.
The Hornets have enough bad salary of their own that they could package together a deal to bring aboard both Westbrook and Steven Adams, whose contract has yet to yield any buyers on the trade market. Adding both players to their roster while shedding some of the more overpaid and underproducing of their own roster may be enough to get this team at least back in the playoffs by next season.
Plus, Michael Jordan owns the Hornets, so why not pair him with the brand’s biggest star in Russell Westbrook?
This one almost makes too much sense. Minnesota isn’t quite the free agent hot spot, so this team needs to swing for the fences when they have a chance to land an MVP candidate level star. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves have bloated contract of their own attached to Andrew Wiggins that could be sent back in a trade. This would at least allow OKC some flexibility in an attempt to avoid the luxury tax and a hefty repeater tax bill.
Put Russell Westbrook on the court with stretch five may be the ideal duo, as well. Minnesota could offer Wiggins and picks while still retaining solid talent and ability to roll out a starting five that could very well sneak into the back end of the playoffs in the West.