After trading Paul George to the LA Clippers, the Oklahoma City Thunder appear to be gearing up for a rebuild.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported this week that their All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook is "welcoming the idea" of being traded from the franchise he's spent the first 11 years of his career with.
There are a number of teams in the league that could use a player of Westbrook's calibre. The catch? Westbrook is set to make $38.2 million in 2019-20, $41.0 million in 2020-21, $43.8 million in 2021-22 and $46.7 million in 2022-23. Teams looking to acquire the former MVP might have to get creative to match salaries, but Westbrook is the type of player that could take a fringe playoff team to the next level.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some potential trade destinations for the Thunder's star guard.
New York Knicks
It is widely believed that the New York Knicks were losers in free agency when they failed to land any of the big names available, and those opinions aren't necessarily wrong. But when you take a step back, you'll see the role players they signed could be helpful as long as the team adds another star to the duo of Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, plus prospects on the rise in Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox.
Unfortunately for New York, they can't trade any of the players they signed this offseason - Randle, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis - until December. The younger players on their roster don't make enough money to add up to Westbrook's massive contract and they don't have the cap space to take on that salary unless they rescind some of those offers.
The idea of adding Westbrook to the Knicks makes sense. It would give the 2017 MVP a chance to go to the Eastern Conference and compete alongside young and talented players while remaining the star of the show. New York would would just need the Thunder to wait until December.
Who knows what the Knicks' record would be at that point of the season or if they'd be in striking distance of a bottom playoff spot, but if they were, Westbrook alongside Barrett, Randle and (if they didn't have to use him as trade bait) Robinson is an enticing core.
This is a fun scenario to think about. Pairing Westbrook with Jimmy Butler would give the Heat one of the hardest playing, most competitive duos in the entire NBA.
Defensively, they'd be a nightmare for opposing backcourts. Offensively, they would be flying in transition and relentlessly attacking the rim, with a nice lob option to Bam Adebayo. Shooting would certainly be a concern, but rookie marksmen Tyler Herro has been great in Summer League. Acquisitions like Meyers Leonard would help, too.
The Heat are another team that would have to get crafty in order to make this work - a third team would likely have to be involved because Miami is hard capped after the sign-and-trade for Butler.
But if they could find a way to make this work, a Westbrook/Butler backcourt would be must-see TV with the energy they bring night-in and night-out. The Heat would be one of the most exhausting teams to play every time they step on the floor.
This is another intriguing Westbrook destination.
The Pistons were carried to the playoffs on the shoulders of their frontcourt duo of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, both of whom had career years. And even with how well those two played, they were driven out of the playoffs in the blink of an eye because they simply did not have the talent to compete with Milwaukee - although it's worth noting that Griffin was basically playing on one leg, forcing him to sit out two of the four games.
Adding Westbrook to that duo doesn't solve their shooting issues, but it gives them another serious scoring threat that defences will have to worry about. Spacing might be a bit of an issue as well, but Griffin proved time and time again last season that he's more than capable of stepping out and playing from the perimeter. Plus, a Westbrook and Griffin pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop would give opposing defences fits trying to switch between those two supreme athletes.
Westbrook would give Detroit a chance at potentially ending its 10-year drought of failing to advance out of the first round of the playoffs.
Westbrook and James Harden teaming up would be the reunion we didn't know we needed.
If this trade were to go through with both Harden and Chris Paul still on Houston's roster, the Rockets may have to submit a request to play with more than one basketball at a time. Three ball-dominant guards might be a headache for the Rockets to figure out, and yet they could be a three-headed monster that keeps opposing teams guessing.
Westbrook and Harden have co-existed in the past - it was before either of them were MVPs, but they still made it work. Trying to stop Westbrook from going to the rim without being able to help off of Harden makes things incredibly difficult for defences. When Harden has the ball in his hands, with all the attention defences have to pay him, a solid-cutter in Westbrook could have a field day slashing to the basket.
Westbrook and Paul also have the potential to lock down any backcourt in the league.
Westbrook and Harden had the two highest usage rates in the league two seasons ago and both ranked in the top-10 last season. Playing alongside each other gives the duo an opportunity to lighten the load and ease the gauntlet of an 82-game season.
The Timberwolves missed out on an opportunity to land a point guard in free agency when they couldn't reel in D'Angelo Russell. This would be their chance to take a home run swing and go get a star guard to pair with their franchise player in Karl-Anthony Towns.
Defensively, Westbrook would pair nicely with Josh Okogie, who had a solid season on that end of the floor as a rookie. On the offensive end, he would give Towns a pick-and-roll partner that runs the set better than anyone else he's ever played with.
The Timberwolves have a few contracts that could make this deal work - Jeff Teague is an expiring contract, Gorgui Dieng only has two years on his contract and the Thunder could take a chance on putting Andrew Wiggins in a different situation if they are feeling risky.
Westbrook could give the Timberwolves the second star they need to make a push back into the playoffs in the West.
BetOnLine Westbrook odds:- Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) July 8, 2019
Oklahoma City Thunder 7/4
New York Knicks 2/1
Miami Heat 4/1
Detroit Pistons 6/1
Houston Rockets 6/1
Minnesota Timberwolves 7/1