If the Okalahoma City Thunder fail to win the 2012 NBA Championship, young playmaker Russell Westbrook will be wrongly painted as the fall guy. The narrative has been in place for over two years: Westbrook is immature and he is unwilling to take a secondary role to Kevin Durant.
Out of this criticism comes opportunity. The Thunder can come away from the 2012 Finals even stronger by trading Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins for Dwight Howard.
Win for the Magic
The return for Howard is too good to be true. The best match to date for Howard has been the Lakers and young center Bynum. This trade trumps the Lakers offer and gives the Magic two young talents to build with and market.
The Orlando Magic would present a starting lineup of Westbrook at PG, Richardson at SG, Turkoglu at SF, Ibaka at PF and Perkins at C. At worst, this version of the Orlando Magic would be a playoff team. At best, this team would be home for at least the first round of the playoffs.
The team retains some flexibility as it can still use the amnesty clause on Turkoglu and could sign and trade Jameer Nelson to a point guard needy team.
Win for Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is Joe Johnson 2.0. Johnson used free agency (sign and trade) to move away from a championship contender and a secondary role to a playoff contender and a lead role. Westbrook will have effectively done the same thing via trade. Westbrook is simply a better player than Johnson was at the same point in time.
Westbrook may not have wanted to be traded and may sulk initially because he is the type of competitor that will be looking to prove everyone wrong. The right coach can harness his aggression and unleash his full potential.
Should the Magic exceed expectations and make it to an Eastern Conference Finals in the first year or two with Westbrook, he would be the big winner of the trade.
Win for the Thunder
The best defensive player in the league and someone that can command a double-team in the low post combined with the best offensive player in the league make this an easy sell. Trading away three starters will mean a couple of additional roster moves need to be made:
- Signing a complimentary player like Kris Humphries to play PF for reasonable terms
- Signing Jason Kidd to start at PG for the veteran minimum makes sense
- Keeping James Harden as the sixth man would be unpopular but wise
Depending on matchups the Thunder's crunch time lineup would feature Howard, Durant, Harden and two of the Sefolosha, Kidd, Humphries mix. That is a team that can crash the boards, hit the big three and defend out to the three-point line.
Howard to Thunder
Win for Dwight Howard
The one thing that the last 12 months has shown is that Dwight Howard is a nice guy and he probably had some bad advice on "managing his brand". Howard can erase the past year with a championship in Oklahoma City. The Thunder would be the favorite to win the title.
Durant and Howard can and would be able to coexist on the basketball court because their skills are complimentary. They can exist off the court because Durant would work well with anyone.
This is a trade that few would have the guts to make, but I think that this is a great move for both franchises.