As many of its machinations begin to settle into place, there is no questioning that the highly anticipated free agency of 2019 lived up to the hype. Multiple superstars found new homes for the start of the 2019-20 season, and players across the league got paid some serious money. To put it in perspective, five of the 15 players to make an All-NBA team last season will be suiting up for a different franchise after this summer.
Despite many players being taken off the board, this is the league that never sleeps, and there is another member of the 2018-19 All-NBA teams who could be on the move: Russell Westbrook.
Paul George forcing his way out of Oklahoma City to pair up with Kawhi Leonard on the Los Angeles Clippers put the Oklahoma City Thunder in a tough position regarding the future of their franchise. It looks like the next step of finding a trade partner for Russell Westbrook is one both sides share mutual interest in pursuing. So, one question remains: who is the other team in a Westbrook trade?
Multiple teams, including the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and the Miami Heat- who are considered the most likely of those mentioned- have been linked to a potential Russ deal. For each team that could play the role of Westbrook’s second team since entering the league, though, there are unique pros and cons.
Pro: Going all-in to win now
The Miami Heat pulled off an incredible feat in composing a way to bring Jimmy Butler to South Beach. Despite having few assets and no cap space, they were able to do what Pat Riley has wanted to do since the departure of LeBron James in 2014- get another star.
The Heat have been scrappy the past few seasons, but that has only gotten them as far as the second round and led to two seasons of missing the postseason entirely. If they create a two-headed monster of Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, they are all but a lock to make the playoffs and have potential to work their way into in the top half of the seeding.
Even if the styles of play these two stars bring to the table don’t necessarily mesh as ideally as you would hope, this is Miami’s best shot at getting another big name to play alongside their new franchise leader in Butler.
Con: The loss of all depth
While this move may be the best chance the Heat have at obtaining a second star, they would have to craft an interesting package to send in return. Devoid of almost all tradable future first-round picks, the only pieces that Miami could use to get a deal done would have to revolve around smaller salary, like Goran Dragic’s expiring deal or Kelly Olynk, and young players, like Justice Winslow, Bam Adebayo, or Tyler Herro.
Just to make the money work, it would take multiple contracts and could leave the Heat’s roster depleted. Having to replace many of their rotational mainstays with minimum level players could damper this team’s hopes of pushing towards title contention.
Pro: Adding talent
As a trade asset, some of the criticism of Russell Westbrook is certainly warranted. He has four years left of a hearty supermax deal and is a point guard entering his thirties who is dependent upon athleticism and has had some injury history. All these things may be true, but they do not change the reality that Westbrook is still an elite player in the league.
The 2017 MVP still has put up triple-double averages for three straight seasons and played at a consistent All-NBA level. For the Houston Rockets, the good – the effectiveness of his play – outweighs the drawbacks of his contract. Daryl Morey is a vocal supporter of the idea that adding as much talent as possible can be the most direct avenue to winning, and trading for Westbrook would be doing just that.
Con: There is only one ball
The end of last season shed some light on possible discontent between Houston’s two stars in James Harden and Chris Paul that had been an ongoing issue for the team throughout the season. The issues, which the Rockets have denied, centered around the tendency of Harden to dominate the ball and his lack of effort when playing off ball.
If there is already potential concern arising from an insufficient amount of ball to go around, then Westbrook is not the answer. Much like Harden, Russ is most effective with the ball in his hands, and, at least somewhat disengaged when it’s not. He also doesn’t have the same spot up shooting abilities other guards, like Chris Paul, has in their arsenal.
He may be a star, but not the star for Houston.
Pro: Overcoming small market hurdles
After breaking up their toxic relationship with Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves struggled to return to success last season. This wasn’t due to a lack of trying, though, and the T-wolves are certainly looking get back to winning and the playoffs.
Unfortunately, Minnesota isn’t quite the free agent destination of other cities around the league, leaving the team with slim options come the offseason. A trade for Russell Westbrook would give them a chance at a top-level talent who is still in his prime to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns.
His contract may not be perfect, but Minnesota doesn’t have many alternatives when it comes to adding this kind of talent to their roster.
Con: It cuts into their cap flexibility moving forward
The free agent class of 2020 could be possibly underwhelming, but the summer of 2021 will certainly make up for it. With elite players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George all potentially available, the Timberwolves would probably like to try their chances at getting lucky with a big name two years down the road. Adding Westbrook to the roster would limit their ability to spend severely.
San Antonio Spurs
Pro: Popovich could deliver the best version of Westbrook
Gregg Popovich may be the all-time greatest coach in the history of the NBA, so it only makes sense that giving him a talent like Russell Westbrook would be a recipe for success. Russ’ former coaches of Scott Brooks and Billy Donovan are reputable coaches, but Pop is in a category of his own. It has been seen with multiple players, including most recently DeMar DeRozan.
Bringing Westbrook into the mix in San Antonio would give him his first chance to play with a historic coach and try to make the most of his game while he still has some gas left in the tank. It would also be a nice way to cap what will eventually be the end of Pop’s coaching career.
Con: The young guards’ development
The Spurs have an impressive rotation of young guards in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Bryn Forbes. If he takes the next step in his progression, Lonnie Walker could be included in that group as well. Either way, there are multiple young players who are on the cusp of being something really special for San Antonio – one of the better franchises in the league when it comes to developing young talent.
Adding Westbrook to the mix will certainly limit the minutes these guys see on a regular basis, and that alone could be reason enough to reconsider adding a player like Russ.