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Russell Westbrook, Rockets

Editorials

How could the Houston Rockets swing a deal for Russell Westbrook?

The landscape of the NBA shifted some days ago when the Los Angeles Clippers announced their agreement with reigning Finals MVP and unrestricted free agent Kawhi Leonard, along with the trade deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder that allowed them to pair Leonard with the superstar he reportedly handpicked himself in Paul George.

This surprising turn of events sent shock waves across the league, and perhaps no other team aside from the Clippers was so heavily affected by these turn of events than the Thunder. To be more specific, George’s departure from Oklahoma will have a tremendous effect on superstar point guard Russell Westbrook and his future with the franchise.

Now left as once again the only superstar in an OKC team that appears all but ready to hit the reset button, Westbrook is stuck in a bit of an awkward situation. The eight-time All-Star will be 31 in the coming season, and he does not seem to be interested in taking part in a Thunder rebuild. This being the case, he has reportedly already been in talks with team general manager Sam Presti pertaining to a potential trade away from the team.

So who would want a two-time scoring champion two years removed from a historic MVP campaign on their squad? A lot of teams, as it turns out. The Miami Heat and the Detroit Pistons have been identified as two of the frontrunners to land Westbrook if he indeed becomes available, but perhaps the most intriguing prospect would be a move to the Houston Rockets to link up with former Thunder teammate James Harden.

However, this is far from being a straightforward deal for the Rockets. The team’s front office will need to be extremely creative if they want to make this deal work, and it will almost certainly require the inclusion of a third team in what is definitely going to be a complicated three-team deal.

Ideally, the Rockets would want to bring in Westbrook as a like-for-like replacement for Chris Paul, who himself has been rumored to be unhappy with his current situation in Houston. However, the problem is that it is highly unlikely that the Thunder will be interested in taking on Paul’s current deal, which will see him earn roughly $125 million over the next three years. As a matter of fact, there appears to be no other team in the league who is willing to absorb the nine-time All-Star’s monster contract, which probably rules out a possible three-team deal in this respect.

A more likely scenario for the Rockets wold then be a trade centered around 25-year-old big man Clint Capela. The 6-foot-10 center signed a five-year, $90 million extension with Houston last summer, but has also been included in some trade rumors over the past weeks, with the Boston Celtics being identified as a serious suitor for the big man’s signature.

Acquiring Capela would make sense for the Thunder. At 25, and with four years remaining on his current deal, OKC could use him as a centerpiece to build around on. The Swiss international had his best season last year, averaging 16.6 points (on 64.8 percent shooting), 12.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.5 blocks, and 1.4 turnovers in 33.6 minutes per contest. And he did this alongside Harden and Paul, so just imagine what numbers he could put up as a lone star in Oklahoma.

The Rockets will also likely need to part ways with Eric Gordon, whose expiring deal might pique the interest of a Thunder side looking to free up some cap space. The Thunder could also choose to flip the 30-year-old three-point specialist into an asset and trade him to a contender in exchange for future draft picks — something that will be pivotal in their rebuild process. For their part, Houston should also expect to send over some picks towards the way of the Thunder in any deal involving Westbrook.

And then there’s the matter of fit. Will a Paul-Westrbook-Harden Big 3 work? This is definitely a valid and extremely difficult question to answer, so we will leave this for another article. At this point, with all that’s been going around in the league, it’s as if a team like the Rockets have no choice but to risk it all by adding another superstar in their team just to remain relevant.

There isn’t likely going to be another Westbrook-caliber star that’s going to be available anytime soon, so from this perspective, it seems that Houston will indeed have to at least take their shot. Otherwise, they risk losing him to another team with championship aspirations, as they face another season with the same core which has failed to reach the Finals twice over.