The Thunder have reportedly put Russell Westbrook, and the list of potential suitors is starting to filter out. You can understand the motivation to move Westbrook if you’re OKC, which is no longer in a championship-chasing space after trading Paul George to the Clippers for a slew of future draft picks and point-guard-of-the-future Shae Gilgeous-Alexander. Westbrook’s contract — or his game, frankly — just doesn’t fit into a rebuilding project.
Westbrook has three more years left on his deal for $124 million, plus a $47 million player option for a fourth year. The question is: How many teams would be interested in adding Westbrook at that price? And of those teams, how many have a package to offer that would even pique OKC’s interest? Here are five deals that could make sense at first glance.
1. Detroit Pistons
This would be a very, very, very risky play for the Pistons, who already have Blake Griffin on the books for $71 million over the next two years, plus a $39 million player option in 2022. Throw in Andre Drummond at $27 million this coming season and a $28.7 million player option next summer, plus Westbrook’s $40 million-plus average annual salary through the next three years, and you are all-in on a strange mix of core players that is surely talented but somewhat ill-fitting. Griffin and Westbrook aren’t getting any younger, either.
Would this really be a championship contender? Probably not. But in the East, you can convince yourself you have a shot to go to the Finals with three All-Star players, including a former MVP. This would be a pure talent play — figure out the money and the fit later.
How would a potential deal work? The Pistons could send OKC Reggie Jackson and Tony Snell to make the money work (Jackson expires after this year while Snell has a $12 million player option in 2020), Luke Kennard as the young prospect, and a future first-round pick. The next team we’re going to look at — the Heat — have better young prospects to offer than Kennard, so Detroit might have to throw multiple first-round picks in should Miami get aggressive.
That is a big price to add a gigantic salary to a team that probably still isn’t a real contender, but teams are starved for stars these days. We’ll see.
2. Miami Heat
The Heat could offer the Thunder Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, this year’s No. 13 overall pick Tyler Herro and possibly Goran Dragic‘s expiring deal to make the money work. That is three really good young players to add to the trove of draft picks the Thunder just acquired, and from Miami’s standpoint, you pair up Westbrook and Jimmy Butler in a suddenly wide-open Eastern Conference with Kawhi Leonard gone to the West.
The Heat have been lingering in no-man’s land for years. They finally just got off the Hassan Whiteside contract, and Dragic comes off the books next summer. James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk have player options, and at least with Olynyk there’s a real chance he declines that to pursue a longer-term deal. Johnson would at least be tradeable on an expiring deal.
The point is, the Heat would have some flexibility to add a third star to Butler and Westbrook in 2020 and really make a statement in the East. The Heat are just coming out of salary-cap hell, and adding Westbrook is certainly risky. But he and Butler together would seem to fit Pat Riley’s star-player desires and Miami’s hard-nosed culture.
The Wolves could send OKC a package centered around Andrew Wiggins, with perhaps Jeff Teague on an expiring deal as the salary filler. Minnesota would probably be hesitant to include Josh Okogie, but it could do it and move forward with a core of Karl Anthony-Towns, Westbrook, Robert Covington and this year’s first-round pick, Jarrett Culver. You can talk yourself into that being a playoff team, and perhaps more than that if Towns and Westbrook click and Culver pops the way many people think he can. You can also say Minnesota would be better off waiting for D’Angelo Russell potentially coming available, or perhaps Kyle Lowry now that Kawhi has left Toronto.
For the Thunder, yes, Wiggins is a huge overpay at this point, and if you’re getting off Westbrook’s deal, you’re probably not looking to add another, perhaps even worse salary anchor. But you’re still selling yourself on Wiggins’ upside to perhaps pop late in something of a Victor Oladipo fashion (though Oladipo was better in his early years than Wiggins has been). You have two years at least for Wiggins to figure it out, as the timeline is slowed down and the future draft picks gained in the George trade are something of a five-year plan.
This isn’t a terribly attractive deal for OKC on paper, but again, the market for Westbrook probably isn’t going to be red hot.
There are a couple ways Orlando, which remains in need of an impact point guard, could go about this. The first package would include Aaron Gordon, along with Markelle Fultz and D.J. Augustin. The Thunder get Gordon, who is locked up for the next three years on a pretty team-friendly deal at an average annual salary of about $19 million, and take a shot on Fultz. If he somehow comes out of his funk and rediscovers his game, the Thunder win huge. If not, the Thunder have added Gordon and cleared their books of Fultz and Augustin by next summer.
The other avenue would be for Orlando to hang onto Gordon and put Evan Fournier in the deal to make the money work. To entice OKC to accept a package without Gordon, the Magic add Mo Bamba to the deal and perhaps a future draft pick. Now the Thunder are taking a shot on Fultz, and they get Bamba on a rookie deal with the inside track to re-signing him long-term on a schedule that fits with all those future draft picks they just got for George.
Keeping Gordon is probably the more attractive offer for Orlando, which would move forward with Westbrook, Gordon, freshly re-signed Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross and Jonathan Issac, who has a ton of potential and makes losing Bamba — a somewhat redundant player — plenty palatable. That’s a pretty darn good team in the East, and they’re all locked up for at least three more years.
5. Houston Rockets
This doesn’t seem likely, but you know the Rockets are always looking to make the big splash. Clint Capela and Eric Gordon would have to be involved in any deal to make the money work, and Capela would have to be the main lure as he’s under contract through 2022-23 while Gordon expires next summer. Houston would almost certainly have to throw in a first-round pick and still figure out another contract to add to make the deal work financially.
Capela might be an attractive centerpiece for OKC given his fairly team-friendly contract, and the fact that the Thunder would have time to let a rebuild come together with him locked up for four years. I’d still say there are far more attractive offers out there for the Thunder, but let’s say they did accept a deal like this with Houston — does it even make the Rockets better?
You lose Capela and Gordon (your only real 3-point threat outside of Jame Harden and Chris Paul), and you add a player in Westbrook who can’t shoot and needs the ball in the exact same way Harden and Paul need it to be at his best. Harden and Paul wrestling for possession time is one thing; adding Westbrook seems like way to many cooks in the kitchen.
But again, it’s a star player. Figure out the fit and the money later. Houston feels just desperate enough to keep its championship window open, at least on paper, to take a swing like this.