Trading a Star: Why Oklahoma City Needs to Trade Russell Westbrook to Win
After watching the first two games of the Western Conference finals, it's obvious that the Oklahoma City Thunder are overmatched. They handled the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers in the first two rounds, but something is seriously lacking in this supremely talented squad. Even though they have the best scorer in the game, three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, they won’t be able to win a ring with the team they have now.
OKC has three scorers that need more shots per game than they can get. One of them needs to go in favor of a traditional point guard or scoring post presence. Kevin Durant has won the past three scoring titles in the NBA and has come up big in clutch situations in his young career—obviously he is the centerpiece to build the organization around. He isn’t going anywhere.
James Harden is the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year. He provides a well-rounded, low maintenance scoring threat that can go off for 30 points like he did against San Antonio on Tuesday. He complements Kevin Durant nicely because of his ability to penetrate and kick as well as score and play lock down defense.
Then there’s Russell Westbrook. No question, he is one of the best players in the NBA right now. The two-time All-Star averaged nearly 24 points per game alongside the scoring champion, showing the amazing capability the guard has to score. But his style of play does not go well with Durant.
Possession after possession, Westbrook pulls up for a quick free-throw line jump shot early in the shot clock and prevents development of team-oriented basketball. Even though he can (and has) made those shots, those shots will inevitably stop falling when it comes time for a deep playoff run. The lack of chemistry in passing shines through painfully. You know it’s bad when the announcers voice their annoyance at Westbrook’s prolonged dribbling without purpose.
Which, if any, of their "Big Three" should OKC trade?
Looking at their counterpart in the conference finals, you can see exactly the power of chemistry in a well-built team. San Antonio has a near perfect blend of talent, experience and team chemistry that led them to win their first 10 games of the postseason. So who should the Thunder trade for?
The reality is they are in an excellent position. Russell Westbrook’s talent will command a top player in return, so they should be able to fill one—if not both—of their aforementioned needs (traditional point guard or scoring post presence) to become a perennial championship threat.
Dwight Howard seems to want out of Orlando (again). He would certainly fit the bill by adding another incredible defensive presence in the middle. David Lee from Golden State has been performing at a high level and a three team trade putting Lee in an OKC jersey could help. (Golden State probably doesn’t want Westbrook, a glorified version of recently traded Monta Ellis.) If New Orleans for could be convinced to trade their top pick in the draft for a deal involving Westbrook, Anthony Davis from Kentucky might not be a bad idea either.
In terms of the other approach, there are some point guards that could help get the Thunder over the hump. Deron Williams would be great, but he is being entertained by other teams that probably have more realistic chances of courting the premiere point guard on the market. John Wall would probably welcome a change of scenery from the losing culture of basketball at the nation’s capital. Durant would welcome the chance to help increase his already solid career average of eight assists per game.
Other excellent options include free agent point guard Goran Dragic, who averages 18 and eight in his 28 starts in 2012, as well as free agent Roy Hibbert, who gained national respect in the Pacers' playoff run this year.
The Thunder have plenty of options; they just need to test the market for Westbrook. As good as he is, the Thunder will only be a conference finals team with him on the roster.
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