Coming into the 2011 NBA Playoffs, everything seemed rosy in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant had fully blossomed into one of the most dangerous scorers in the league, coach Scott Brooks was a Coach of the Year candidate and role-players like Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Eric Maynor were playing well.
Maybe the most exciting part of the equation was that Russell Westbrook had emerged as arguably the most exciting young athlete in the game.
Westbrook often rivaled Durant in terms of scoring acumen, and he had proven to be a magician with the basketball.
In the 2011 NBA Playoffs though, things went south.
Suddenly, Westbrook's shots weren't falling as much. His driving lanes were being cut off, and there were games where he seemed to be forcing his shot, which not only hurt his scoring, but Durant's as well.
Now, there is talk that the Thunder may look to sell high on Westbrook to bring in a more traditional pass-first point guard to team with Durant.
Even with his inconsistent performance in the postseason, there will surely be significant interest in Westbrook's services. There is certainly no denying his incredible talent. It will just be about matching him with the right team.
The most concrete rumor regarding a possible trade partner for the Thunder is a proposed swap of Russell Westbrook (and some spare parts) to the Hornets for Chris Paul. The Internet has been buzzing about this rumor, but it has been refuted by Hornets GM Dell Demps and Thunder GM Sam Presti.
This possible trade really does make a lot of sense though.
The worry though is that the Hornets ask him to do so much that eventually his knee won't be able to hold up.
That won't be as big an issue in Oklahoma City where they won't ask him to do nearly as much offensively. He can simply bring the ball up and do what he does best: find open teammates.
It would work well for the Hornets and Westbrook as well. The Hornets aren't as much of an immediate contender as the Thunder are right now, so Westbrook would give them a more long-term solution at point guard to build the team around.
During the building process, it will be up to Hornets coach Monty Williams to get Westbrook to buy into his message and get him to grow into the role of a true point guard.
After dealing Deron Williams midway through this past season, the Jazz are now in the market for a point guard to replace him. Devin Harris is a solid player, but if he was going to be a franchise point guard, he would be one by now.
Any trade involving Westbrook heading to the Jazz would probably have to include the aforementioned Harris, and that would likely be alright with the Thunder.
Harris would form a nice point guard platoon with Eric Maynor. Maynor played well in the postseason as a change of pace from Westbrook. He could move into a bigger role, and Harris, who is a similar player to Westbrook in terms of skill set, could provide much of the scoring spark Westbrook gave the Thunder.
Moving Westbrook to Salt Lake City might be just what he needs to take the next step in his point guard development. Even after the resignation of Jerry Sloan as head coach, the Jazz continued to run the same disciplined pick-and-roll offense they have run for years.
A point guard has to fully throw himself into that offense to be successful. It might be that level of commitment that Westbrook needs to become a well-rounded point guard.
Russell Westbrook might not find a better match stylistically than the Warriors. They love to get up and down the court quickly, and they score many of their points on fast breaks or in transition.
Any trade sending Westbrook to the Warriors would likely have to involve either Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis, and that might be better for what the Warriors are trying to do now.
New head coach Mark Jackson has said the team will have a new commitment to defense, and neither of those players are known for their defensive prowess. Westbrook isn't the second coming of Gary Payton, but he is a willing defender, and he has the quickness and strength to be an elite defensive player.
With no significant point guard prospect coming back in the deal, the Thunder would have to turn the offense over to Eric Maynor, but given how well he played in the postseason, that may not be such a bad thing.
A trade for Russell Westbrook would increase the team's profile as a title contender in the Eastern Conference and would show Howard they are committed to winning both today and in the future.
Westbrook would give the Magic a perimeter scoring threat like they've never had in the Dwight Howard era.
In return, the Thunder may very well ask for the Magic's embattled point guard, Jameer Nelson. Management and fans in Orlando desperately wanted Nelson to grow into a star point guard in the league, but I think at this point that ship has sailed.
On a team with less need for him to be a scoring option, Nelson could still flourish. With Durant carrying the scoring load, Nelson would be able to focus on finding him open in space and hitting the occasional open shot himself.
The Hawks are a team that is trying to find their way over the proverbial "hump." They are a perennial playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but they are never really serious contenders.
Trading for a player of Westbrook's caliber could change that.
Mike Bibby has likely been the steadiest point guard the Hawks have had in recent memory and Westbrook would be a huge upgrade over him.
Coupling Westbrook with All-Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford, the Hawks could have a trio that would stack up well with any other trio in the NBA.
Several players would have to head back to Oklahoma City in the trade, and the most likely player to be the centerpiece of the deal would be Josh Smith. Smith is a maddeningly inconsistent player that alternates between flashes of brilliance and flashes of being one of the most inefficient scorers in the league.
Smith would give the Thunder a player who could score from the perimeter, get to the basket at will and defend the opposing team's best scorer. He would basically give the Thunder what they had hoped Jeff Green would grow into before trading him to the Celtics.