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Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Rockets Guard Russell Westbrook

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2020

Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks in New York, Monday, March 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Though it took a few extra months to get there, it's officially trade season in the NBA

"Russell Westbrook wants out of Houston," Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium tweeted Wednesday.

One day before, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks might want to take on the former MVP.

Dealing for Westbrook won't be easy, though. Even interested suitors likely see the remaining three years and $132.6 million left on his contract and feel a little uneasy.

That's a monster commitment, especially as the game seemingly makes it harder to build around Russ every year. He's a ball-dominant guard (close to the most ball-dominant ever, actually) who's never had an above-average three-point percentage and hasn't had an above-average true shooting percentage since 2016-17.

This season, the Rockets were plus-2.4 points per 100 possessions with Russ on the floor and plus-3.3 with him off. That isn't terrible, but any degree of a negative net-rating swing isn't ideal if it's coming from your $40-plus million player.

That impact shifted a bit after Houston traded Clint Capela and completely overhauled how it played to suit Westbrook. But if that's what it takes to make him a positive player going forward, the asking price becomes even tougher to justify.

Still, Westbrook averaged 28.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists per 75 possessions with a 59.2 true shooting percentage when he played without a traditional 5 in 2019-20. His career-high true shooting percentage for an entire season is 55.4.

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If a team can coax that version of Russ into playing every game, he might be worth the gamble, even at age 32 and with that terrifying contract.

So, what exactly would it take to get him?

           

New York Knicks

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Deal: Wayne Ellington, Bobby Portis, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox II and a 2021 second-round pick for Russell Westbrook

The Rockets may have visions of first-round picks dancing in their heads, but those may be tough to secure in a Westbrook trade. Again, that contract is a nightmare.

If the Rockets hadn't already spent almost all their draft capital to acquire Russ last offseason, teams might actually be asking them for sweeteners for taking on the rest of his deal.

Even without high-end draft considerations, this particular trade helps Houston on a few fronts, though.

New York is loaded with salary-matching fodder. Wayne Ellington, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina and Reggie Bullock are all on expiring contracts. That means the Knicks can easily piece together packages for big contracts around the league.

Ellington and Portis don't move the needle much (if at all) for the Rockets in the short term, but those expiring deals would bring financial flexibility after next season. And though Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox II have failed to live up to their draft positions thus far, they're still young enough to be considered prospects. Perhaps the Rockets coaching staff could draw out the potential that New York couldn't.

Meanwhile, the Knicks would be taking a risk here. Westbrook would make their cap situation much more difficult over the next three seasons, and a decline could be on the way.

But if he has a few elite seasons left in him, he might be able to bring some excitement back to the Madison Square Garden, home to the league's worst team over the last two decades.

            

Los Angeles Clippers

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The Deal: Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Ivica Zubac, Rodney McGruder and Mfiondu Kabengele for Russell Westbrook and a 2021 second-round pick

This may look like a pretty ridiculous haul for Westbrook. It kind of is. But if the Clippers really are interested in him, they'll have to ante up just about every salary-matching deal they have (unless Paul George is on the table, which shouldn't be the case if Westbrook is the target).

The huge boost in depth, return of a traditional center and a young(ish) prospect for Houston makes the deal unbalanced without any draft picks, but the Rockets are about as tapped out as a team can get on those. If they want this much, they might have to attach a sweetener to Westbrook's gargantuan deal.

For L.A., this is a scarier proposition than the Knicks trade is for New York. It would strip the roster for a player who may not be a great fit alongside Kawhi Leonard and George, both of whom demand possessions.

And if things don't go well, the star forwards can opt out of their deals and enter free agency in 2021, leaving the Clippers with Westbrook and whatever minimum deals they sign this offseason to replace the haul headed to Houston.

It's tough to get a great feel for why L.A. might be interested in acquiring Westbrook, other than the notion that talent eventually figures things out.

           

Detroit Pistons

Michael Wyke/Associated Press

The Deal: Blake Griffin for Russell Westbrook and a 2021 second-round pick

Once again, the Rockets are the team throwing in a draft pick in this deal. Even with questions surrounding Blake Griffin's long-term health, his contract ending one year earlier holds some value. The second-rounder balances that out.

Is it enough to convince the Detroit Pistons to abandon the rebuild they kickstarted by trading Andre Drummond earlier this year?

The Pistons shouldn't feel desperate to make the playoffs. Griffin just took them there in 2019. But a two-man game with Westbrook and Christian Wood, one of this offseason's top available bigs, would almost certainly have Detroit in the hunt for the postseason in 2021.

The Pistons were plus-2.7 points per 100 possessions with Wood on the floor in 2019-20, compared to minus-8.3 when he was off. And his ability to space the floor (38.6 percent on 2.3 three-point attempts per game) would fit well with Westbrook. He can pull centers away from the lane for Russ' drives.

On the Rockets side, beyond lopping the last year of Westbrook's contract off the salary table, it would also give them a player who'll fit better alongside Harden when healthy.

Griffin needs the ball as well, but he doesn't dominate it the way Westbrook does. And he has plenty of practice playing with an elite pick-and-roll ball-handler thanks to his days on the Clippers with Chris Paul.

The defense of a lineup headlined by Harden and Griffin would likely be below average, but Westbrook isn't exactly a defensive stalwart, either.

This trade would balance Houston's roster. And if the additional price is a second-round pick in a weak draft, it's worth it.

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