Russell Westbrook took his fair share of licks throughout the past two seasons. But for seemingly the first time in years, Westbrook did not end the season with his stock taking a nosedive. In fact, after every pundit and their mother thought that Westbrook's days as an impact player for a contending team were over, it was the 2017 NBA MVP who had the final say, as he ended the season on a high note after his midseason move to the Los Angeles Clippers.
During his one-and-a-half year stint with the Clippers' in-city rivals Los Angeles Lakers, Westbrook showed glimpses of becoming the same ferocious rim-attacker he's always been through the course of his career. But the Lakers' lack of quality personnel and floor spacers made life a living hell for Westbrook and company. It didn't help matters at all that Westbrook was making $47 million, preventing the Lakers from adding the necessary players to contend.
Nevertheless, after impressing with the Clippers, Russell Westbrook should be in line for one final eight-figure contract as he continues to succumb to Father Time. This is quite the turnaround from his days as a “blood-sucking vampire” that siphons the life away from those he shares a locker room with.
The question now is which team will be willing to take the leap of faith that Westbrook continues his strong two-way play for the Clippers to close out the 2022-23 season. Now 34 years old, time is running out for Westbrook when it comes to being an important piece of a team's contending puzzle, but there remains plenty of gas in the tank of a veteran who's determined to give stardom one last hurrah.
With that said, these are the 3 best destinations for Russell Westbrook when NBA free agency kicks off in July.
Los Angeles Clippers
Does anyone actually think that there's a better fit for Russell Westbrook in the entire association than the Clippers? For the entirety of the Clippers' Kawhi Leonard-Paul George era, the fans have been crying out for a floor general, a leader who will help get Leonard and George easier shots from their preferred spots on the court. And in February 2023, he finally came in the form of Westbrook, whose stock was at his lowest following a buyout.
Westbrook's regular season stint with the Clippers was a mixed bag; the Clippers lost their first five games with Russ in the starting lineup, and then just as they were getting into a rhythm, George injured his knee on a collision with Luguentz Dort.
As a result, the Clippers entered the 2023 NBA playoffs having to rely on Russell Westbrook more than they would have envisioned when they picked him up off the buyout market. But Westbrook flourished; even when he shot poorly, his impressive effort on the defensive end, his tenacity on the boards, and his unselfish play gave the Clippers life even as Kawhi Leonard soon joined Paul George on the mend with a knee injury of his own.
Russell Westbrook, despite exiting the playoffs in just five games, came out as one of its biggest winners. He showed that he's still capable of turning up against high-level competition and he proved that he's invaluable to the Clippers as a workload sponge when Leonard and George are out or managing their load.
The tricky part about this equation is that the Clippers will have to duck under the second luxury tax apron so they could offer Westbrook the taxpayer midlevel exception. While that is certainly doable, it's fair to wonder whether Westbrook will instead be in search of one last big payday.
But given how rejuvenated he's been in a Clippers uniform, it's hard to envision him willingly choosing to move away in free agency.
The Heat were one of the teams that showed interest in plucking Russell Westbrook out of the buyout market last February. Given how deep they advanced into the playoffs even without the former MVP, the Heat may choose to stick with the recipe that has worked out perfectly for them — putting at least four capable shooters from deep at all times.
Gabe Vincent and Kyle Lowry are both pull-up threats at the point, and as the Heat would attest to, the three-ball is the great equalizer when it comes to facing teams that supposedly boast the greater talents.
Nevertheless, adding Russell Westbrook will give the Heat a different dimension offensively; as they showed in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets, they need someone who can put pressure on the rim, and Westbrook does that in spades.
The youth movement is in full swing in OKC. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's emergence as a deserving member of the All-NBA First Team means that the Thunder, despite being as young as they are, are closer to contention that one might think, especially after nearly making it into the 2023 NBA playoffs as the eight-seed.
Adding Russell Westbrook doesn't make total basketball sense, since Gilgeous-Alexander already shares a backcourt with rising star Josh Giddey. But if Westbrook fails to find a suitable contract anywhere, perhaps the Thunder could make a bold statement showing that they care about those who mean so much to their franchise by inking their former franchise star to a huge one-year deal.
By then, Westbrook could be a game-changing presence for the Thunder off the bench.