What the future holds for the Houston Rockets is anyone’s guess. They’ve been bounced out of the second round of the NBA playoffs in back-to-back seasons, are yet to win the Western Conference with James Harden at the helm, and are without a head coach and general manager. One way or another there will be new faces calling the shots, and it’s feasible to think moving Russell Westbrook is a possibility.
This season the point guard averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, seven assists, and 1.6 steals per game. With that said, Houston has shown a tendency to take a chance on the trade market.
Russell Westbrook is due roughly $132.7 million over the next three seasons. Houston gave up Chris Paul and two first-round draft picks to acquire Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer. Chances are such a haul is the ceiling for any trade this offseason.
In the scenario, the Rockets are indeed open to moving Westbrook, what teams should give them a phone call? Here are three teams that should look to strike a deal with Houston.
3) New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are coming off a successful first season in their stop-on-a-dime rebuild sparked by trading Anthony Davis last offseason. They have by no means peaked, and they can only add to their deep young core headlined by Brandon Ingram (if re-signed) and Zion Williamson. At the same time, the Pelicans are devoid of a head coach. What is their eventual hire going to want to do with this team? Maybe they want an exuberant floor general?
Everyone knows the deal with Russell Westbrook: he has been unable to win a championship with a number of high-profile players. One thing there’s no disputing with Westbrook is his talent: he’s as talented as any player in the sport and can be a team’s number one source of offense.
By going full speed coast-to-coast and attracting attention, Westbrook draws double-teams, opening up the perimeter for an open jump shot. The UCLA product is a nifty passer that helps efficient outside shooters like Ingram and JJ Redick.
The West is stacked, so there’s no such thing as too much firepower. There’s a glut of teams in the same position as the Pelicans in having a shiny group of puppies they feel can make the playoffs next season. Getting a franchise point guard to accompany their young stars could be the juice New Orleans needs to run away from the pack.
New Orleans can send Houston Jrue Holiday and a future first and second-round selection for Westbrook. The Rockets get a steady scorer and shooter to put next to Harden.
2) Utah Jazz
Had Bojan Bogdanovic not suffered a season-ending wrist injury the Jazz maybe don’t blow a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. Nonetheless, they blew that lead and have failed to reach the Western Conference Finals in four consecutive seasons. Perhaps the time is now to rock the boat, that being trade for Westbrook?
Quin Snyder’s unit has been a defensive-minded, halfcourt team; they’re great at what they do. At the end of the day, it hasn’t been enough to get over the hump. Westbrook would give Utah a new dimension. His keen ability to dash coast-to-coast and get to the rim off the dribble with tenacity is one of a kind and would give the Jazz something they don’t have. Yes, Donovan Mitchell is a star, but even he is more so a halfcourt threat in Snyder’s offense.
Imagine a Russell Westbrook-Mitchell backcourt: it’s a scary thought. You get speed, aggressiveness, and players who can be effective and as dangerous off the ball as they are with it. Meanwhile, Westbrook’s blazing nature would fit well with center Rudy Gobert, who is money in the paint and on alley-oops. Westbrook can draw a double-team and either kick it out to a single-covered Mitchell or throw a lob to Gobert for an easy bucket.
In-between the big three would be Bogdanovic, who averaged 20.2 points per game this season, Joe Ingles, and Royce O’Neale. This would be a rotation with star power, diverse skill sets, and continuity.
Utah could send Mike Conley, a respectable shooter and defender, the 23rd pick in next month’s NBA Draft, and a future second-rounder to Houston for Westbrook. The Rockets get a savvy veteran who fits next to Harden and a player of their choosing to add depth.
1) Orlando Magic
The Magic have sneaked into the playoffs and lost in five games in back-to-back first-round series. At some point, they have to choose a direction: go for a ring or rebuild. By trading for Westbrook, they’d be making a valiant effort to win.
They badly need a standout scorer. Nikola Vucevic is a terrific scorer, inside and out; Evan Fournier is a reliable scoring shooter; Markelle Fultz had his moments this season. It’s not enough. Westbrook would be that prolific scorer who makes life easier for those around him.
The above individuals as your second and third sources of offense bode better than solely relying on them to carry the scoring load. Westbrook will attract the attention of opposing defenses, taking the defensive stompers off outside shooters (the Magic were 25th in the regular season in three-point shooting percentage) and resulting in less double-teams on Vucevic. Relying on a play-making lead guard and versatile center (Westbrook and Vucevic), the Magic would have a similar offensive structure as the Philadelphia 76ers (Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid).
Orlando has been excellent defensively under head coach Steve Clifford, finishing the regular season in the top 10 in opponent points per game in each of the last two years. Albeit he’s a bit shaky on that end, Westbrook is adept at pick-pocketing and could be motivated to hush the world as the number one on a team that will be inevitable underdogs.
Orlando could send Houston Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon, and their second-round pick in the upcoming draft. This deal gives Houston a two-way player in Ross and a frontline specimen in Gordon who would add some size to their rotation.