Houston Rockets fans look away. What seemed like an ordinary Wednesday night across the NBA came to a screeching halt as reports surfaced that Russell Westbrook was requesting a trade out of Houston. Worse yet, further reports came out about several Houston role players being unhappy with their role and the direction of the franchise. Players, including Westbrook, have thought that Houston was too “star focused” and that the brand of basketball they were playing was not sustainable for winning. Role players around were turned off by their contracts, and even Austin Rivers got yelled at by James Harden for simply standing on the bench. I guess if there’s any positive to take away from Wednesday night for Rockets fans it’s that James Harden still wants to be there. Or does he? Who really knows after all that went down.
With that being said, it’s clear that Russell Westbrook doesn’t want to be in Houston any longer. With three years and over $132 million left on his contract, Westbrook is not going to be easy to move, but some possibilities remain. Here are three potential Russell Westbrook trades.
Pistons Receive: Russell Westbrook
Rockets Receive: Khyri Thomas, 2021 Top 10 Protected First-Round Pick
Yes, you heard that deal right. A former second-round pick and a protected first for Russell Westbrook. Maybe I’m misjudging what the market will be for the former MVP, but at his age and the future money he is owed, I don’t see a bidding war ensuing. So, that leaves us with offers like this one.
The Pistons are set to have an abundance of cap space this offseason with a lot of expiring contracts. With Blake Griffin still on the books for two more years, why not get funky? Russell Westbrook would get his wish to take over control of an offense again, and a Westbrook/Griffin pairing is good enough to get the Pistons into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The way things stand today, the Pistons seem stuck in mud. They aren’t good enough to compete for anything above the eight seed, and they aren’t bad enough to be picking in the top three or four in the draft. This move would at least excite the fans and get the Pistons back into the playoffs, and it comes at a very low cost.
As will be the case for almost all of these trades, on Houston’s side, this gets them off the Westbrook contract and allows them to regain a first-round pick that they traded away when they acquired Russ.
Hornets Receive: Russell Westbrook
Rockets Receive: Terry Rozier, 2021 Top 10 Protected First-Round Pick
Houston fans cannot be happy. One year after giving up Chris Paul, two firsts, and two pick swaps for Westbrook, they are seeing trades like this. Yikes. For the Hornets, the Terry Rozier experiment was a rollercoaster ride. Despite averaging 18 points per game on 40.7% shooting from deep, Rozier was too inconsistent when asked to be the main guy in Charlotte. In the 63 games he played, Rozier posted 10 or fewer points in 12 of those contests. Along with that, the emergence of Devonte’ Graham cannot be understated. So, Rozier seems like a sneaky guy that could be on his way out of town this offseason.
As for the acquisition of Westbrook, the Jordan connection is there. Michael Jordan is obviously the central voice in the Hornets organization, and Russell Westbrook is signed with Jordan brand. Since MJ took over majority ownership of the Hornets in 2010, the Hornets have lost over 58% of their games. With some nice young pieces and the third overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Charlotte’s future looks bright. However, they are without a main contributing veteran. Russell Westbrook could come in and inject some life into the franchise. People will be hard pressed to find a player that plays with more passion than Russell Westbrook. Bringing in Westbrook would likely vault the Hornets back into playoff contention in the East, gaining some valuable playoff experience for the young guns.
For the Rockets, they once again get off Westbrook’s contract and gain a pick. However, I think Terry Rozier would also fit in really well in Houston. Rozier is comfortable playing off the ball, and I think he would fit in nicely next to Harden. Rozier could slide into the starting lineup alongside Harden and defend the opposing team’s best guard every night.
New York Knicks:
Knicks Receive: Russell Westbrook
Rockets Receive: Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, 2021 Top 10 Protected First-Round Pick
Unlike the Pistons and Hornets, the New York Knicks are a team that comes up frequently when discussing Russell Westbrook trade scenarios. With Leon Rose and Tom Thibodeau coming into New York, all signs point to the new leadership group wanting to win quickly, instead of looking at a longer rebuild. Russell Westbrook would fit right into that equation. Westbrook plays with the kind of passion that would allow Tom Thibodeau to sleep softly at night. He’s considered a star around the NBA, and New York is a city that needs a star. Knicks fans would welcome him in, and I’m sure they would be glad to see more winning basketball at Madison Square Garden. The contract could provide issues for the Knicks if they have their eyes on other stars in the immediate future, but if last summer was any indication, stars currently don’t have their sights set on New York, so Russ might be their best option.
For Houston, the story is the same. Wayne Ellington is still a good enough shooter to get 10-12 minutes a night, especially in Houston where they love to let it fly. Elfrid Payton is a name. I’m not really sure what I think of Payton at this stage of his career, as his numbers imply that I should like him more than I do. If you have a grasp on Elfrid Payton let me know, because to me, his numbers don’t accurately reflect the kind of player he is, and that’s not a compliment. For Ellington and Payton, if they don’t fit what Houston is trying to do, they can always use their expiring contracts in a separate deal to a team that might find Payton’s numbers attractive.
Other teams to watch: Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers
Now, will any of these exact trades ever come to fruition? Probably not. Will the Rockets actually be able to trade Russell Westbrook before next season? These are valid questions, but when I look at the most likely Westbrook trade scenarios, I think about the teams that need some sort of jolt. Teams that are looking for the face of a franchise that hasn’t gone anywhere in the recent past. Russell Westbrook can be that face. He’s not going to win you a championship as the main option on your team. He’s probably not even going to win you a championship as the second option on your team. But, he will put fans in the stands and win enough games to make your franchise relevant again.