According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, the Knicks were focused on maintaining salary-cap flexibility for 2020 and 2021, which would have been made more difficult by taking on the four years and $170 million remaining on Westbrook's contract.
Instead, OKC sent Westbrook to Houston for point guard Chris Paul, two first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 and the right to two first-round pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.
After the Knicks failed to land a big name like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard in free agency, there was some thought that they would be active on the trade market, but New York decided to go for short-term value signings instead.
Of the Knicks' seven free-agent signings, six signed deals with a length of two years or less. Only power forward Julius Randle signed a longer-term deal at three years, $63 million.
Marcus Morris signed a one-year, $15 million contract, while Wayne Ellington and Bobby Portis' second years in their two-year deals are team options ($16 million total for Ellington, $31 million total for Portis).
New York also made the second year in the contracts of Elfrid Payton ($16 million), Reggie Bullock ($4.7 million) and Taj Gibson ($20 million) partially guaranteed, meaning the team can walk away after one season without much penalty.
By handling free agency the way they did, the Knicks left the door open to making big signings in 2020 or 2021.
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Acquiring Westbrook would have ruined that plan, although it would have given the Knicks an eight-time All-Star and one-time MVP who has averaged a triple-double in each of the past three seasons.
Westbrook may have made the Knicks immediately playoff contenders, but his ball dominance also could have hurt the growth of young players like RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina.
While Westbrook would have been the unquestioned go-to guy in New York, he will instead share the spotlight with James Harden in Houston as the Rockets look to make a last-ditch championship effort in the wide-open Western Conference.