Will Thunder Trade Russell Westbrook To Timberwolves, Knicks, Bucks or Bulls?
That is the big question in the NBA world after news came down that Kawhi Leonard was opting to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The morning hours of July 6, 2019, will go down in NBA lore as arguably the time when everything changed. It is no secret that the league was on pins and needles all week leading up to Leonard’s decision between the Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors, but nobody could have predicted what would follow.
Instead of coming to the Clippers alone, Leonard reportedly convinced Oklahoma City Thunder All-NBA forward Paul George to join him.
George, 29, is coming off a year where he was widely regarded as one of the five best all-around players in the entire league. Despite his amazing talent, he was largely an afterthought throughout most of this offseason because he had inked a long term deal with the Thunder just one year ago. The deal seemingly cemented a duo of him and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City for the long term.
Well, as it turns out, the ‘long term’ ain’t what it used to be.
In response to Leonard’s lobbying, George reportedly demanded a trade from OKC. The Thunder obliged, getting back a package of second-year point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari to go with the bevy of draft picks. The picks include: the Clippers’ unprotected 2022, 2024 and 2026 picks, their unprotected 2021 and protected 2023 first-round picks via Miami, and the rights to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.
Although there are many obvious reverberations from the events that unfolded early July 6, the one that few people are talking about is what this all means for George’s co-star, Westbrook.
Based on the package that OKC took back and the murmurs regarding the situation around the league, Westbrook is now on the trading block.
Westbrook, 30, is coming off another season where he averaged a triple double: 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists. The one major issue with his game last year, though, as is typically the case with him, is his shooting. In a league where the three pointer has become increasingly important, he boasted a 29 percent 3-point shooting percentage last year. That is down from 30.8 percent for his career.
That being said, he remains a walking triple double machine and one of the league’s most effective players, so needless to say, there are a number of potential suitors for him.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were one of the most discussed teams in the NBA when free agency kicked off. They were indicating that they wanted to make a big run at D’Angelo Russell, but unfortunately that never materialized and he ended up getting sent to the Golden State Warriors. The Wolves could easily offer a package of Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, trade picks and cash to OKC for Westbrook. Although Westbrook is on a worse contract than Russell, at this point in their careers, he is clearly the better player.
The New York Knicks, much like the Wolves, struck out on their free agency targets this summer. They wanted a big name, but instead ended up setting for a bunch of role players. If New York waited until December, when the freshly signed Julius Randle would be eligible for a trade again, they could move him, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier and some draft picks for a superstar in Westbrook.
Similarly, the Miami Heat made a big splash when they traded for Jimmy Butler this summer, but that is where their talent pretty much starts and ends. Butler will not be able to do much alone, even in the weak Eastern Conference, so pairing him with Westbrook would make a lot of sense. The Heat could give up some combination of Goran Dragic, Justice Winslow and assets in return for an All-Star to play alongside Butler.
Finally, the Milwaukee Bucks. Technically, the Bucks don’t need to do anything. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo, arguably the most talented young player in the NBA, and just resigned Khris Middleton. Even with the loss of Malcom Brogdon, they could stay pat and still be one of the two favorites to win the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia 76ers. Still, it’s hard to ignore the arms race we are witnessing in the NBA right now. Stars matter, and Milwaukee only has one. The Bucks could offer up a combination of Eric Bledsoe, Jon Leuer and draft picks in exchange for Russell – a clear upgrade.
Where will Westbrook ultimately end up? We may have to wait until December to find out.