Russell Westbrook Trade Rumors: Knicks 'Less Inclined' to Absorb Large Contracts

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2020

Houston Rockets' Russell Westbrook yells as he runs onto the court before an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The New York Knicks reportedly may be out on Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook because of their reluctance to take on large, long-term contracts.

According to SNY's Ian Begley, the Knicks are "less inclined" to take on a significant salary over multiple years since it would impact their salary cap flexibility. Begley pointed to the fact that New York didn't match the Charlotte Hornets' four-year, $120 million offer to Gordon Hayward in free agency as an example.

The Knicks are one of the main teams that have been linked to Westbrook, who could be on the move after just one year in Houston.

In an effort to be players in the Western Conference after watching the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers get much better last offseason, the Rockets dealt veteran point guard Chris Paul and multiple first-round picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Westbrook.

As expected, the 32-year-old Westbrook was productive alongside James Harden, averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game. Unfortunately for the Rockets, the trade didn't work out as well as hoped, with Houston  ousted in the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

Given their playoff shortcomings and the fact that both head coach Mike D'Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey are now out of the picture, there have been rumblings of some significant shake-ups coming out of Houston.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that Harden rejected a contract extension from the Rockets that would have paid him $50 million annually because of his desire to get traded, specifically to the Brooklyn Nets.

Wojnarowski suggested there has been no significant movement on that front, as the Rockets need not have a sense of urgency with Harden under contract for at least two more years.

Like Harden, Westbrook is under contract for at least two more years, and possibly three if he exercises his player option. Should that happen, any team that rosters him will be on the hook for over $130 million.

In recent years, the Knicks have clearly made a conscious effort to avoid taking on that type of long-term money via trade or free agency. Last offseason, New York made several signings, but most of them allowed the organization to part ways after one season at a minimal cost.

This offseason, New York has signed guards Alec Burks and Elfrid Payton and center Nerlens Noel to one-year deals/ Guard Austin Rivers joined on a three-year deal, although the second and third years aren't guaranteed.

The Knicks seem intent on building around young players such as RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox while leaving room to sign a franchise-changing player or two if that opportunity comes around.

Westbrook may have been that player at some point, and the one-time NBA MVP could have a significant impact on the Knicks, but he isn't likely to make them much more than a fringe playoff team, which may not make him worth the risk from New York's perspective.