The Boston Celtics are on the prowl for an(other) NBA superstar. The latest target: Russell Westbrook.
According to Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, NBA general managers seem to believe the Oklahoma City Thunder will trade Westbrook before the season starts instead of watching him leave for nothing like Kevin Durant did on The Fourth of July. If he’s traded — and that’s a big if — Howard writes that those GMs believe Boston is the most likely destination.
But how is that going to happen? Westbrook is one of the five best players in the NBA, an All-Star and an All-NBA selection. In short, he will cost a lot, both in salary cap space and assets surrendered.
In theory, Boston is aided by the fact that Westbrook is an impending free agent next season. Without a contract guarantee, his price understandably should be lower. But then there’s the Wednesday report from the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett, who writes that the Celtics would need a considerable contract guarantee from Westbrook — like the one Kevin Garnett gave the team in 2007 — before unloading their treasure trove of assets to acquire him.
So assuming that happens, what would Boston have to give up for Westbrook and his $17.7 million contract? We took a closer look at a few packages Danny Ainge might offer Sam Presti.
What the Thunder receive in any potential Westbrook trade depends on what they want to start their rebuild. With a booming salary cap, there never has been more available space to teams than right now. But if the Thunder opt for more of it, simply sending the expiring contracts of Amir Johnson ($12 million) and Jonas Jerebko ($5M) would nearly match Westbrook’s dollar amount.
The Celtics could throw in some draft picks or prospects to sweeten the return but retain their most valuable assets — like their two Brooklyn Nets draft picks, for example — to keep the core group together and improve their chances of winning. With a rich and talented free agent class next season — including Oklahoma City resident Blake Griffin — that cap space could prove invaluable.
Maybe the Thunder aren’t interested in simple cap space. The Celtics can offer that but also sweeten the pot with their plentiful assets. Something along the line of that Johnson/Jerebko deal, but include something of value: The Nets picks.
The 2017 NBA Draft is loaded with talented, franchise-altering players. Some experts have gone so far to say that only Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram — the first two picks in this year’s draft — would be taken in the top 10 next season. The Nets very well could be terrible next season, meaning that 2017 pick swap could reel in Harry Giles or another cornerstone prospect in the top three. These alone might be worth more than anything else the Celtics have to offer.
Boston is a playoff team and now has two All-Stars in Isaiah Thomas and newly signed Al Horford, as well as a lot of very good players who would thrive in rotations on championship teams. But there’s no superstar to offer in return for Westbrook, and there are better prospects out there to be had (we’re looking at you, Los Angeles Lakers). That said, the last time Westbrook played a season without Durant, his team missed the playoffs.
The Celtics have a postseason core in place, so maybe a few of those pieces would pique OKC’s interest. Boston definitely doesn’t want to depart with any of its core four — Thomas, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart — but for a player of Westbrook’s caliber, they just might. Something like Thomas ($6.5M), Crowder ($7M) and Smart ($3.5M), plus the 2018 Brooklyn pick and one or two of Boston’s other plethora of first-rounders over the next several seasons, might be the best offer Presti actually receives.
Most likely scenario
The Celtics don’t want to overpay, and the latter offer we just suggested is a steep price. You can fill a roster with role players, sure, but Boston’s core is very, very good. The team believed without Horford that it could reach the Eastern Conference finals, and with some health and a bit more luck, it might have. If at all possible, the C’s won’t completely break that up. That said, Presti is stuck between a rock and a hard place after a bust of a trade return for James Harden and losing Durant for absolutely nothing.
Ainge and the C’s likely would push for something along the lines of Johnson, Jerebko and picks besides Brooklyn’s. Presti will push for Thomas et al. If a deal gets done, it probably will be somewhere closer to the middle. Maybe that middle includes just one of the core four but adds in other players with promise on cheap contracts, such as Jordan Mickey, James Young or Terry Rozier.
Even with Westbrook’s number on the books, the Thunder currently sit at just $68 million in guaranteed contracts. Losing $17 million makes them that much further from the NBA’s salary floor of $84 million next season. In other words, OKC likely wants to take on money in return, if possible. That means Johnson, who earns the second-highest paycheck in Boston after Horford, almost certainly will be involved in any deal.
As you can see, there are a number of factors involved, which makes predicting any potential trade as tricky as predicting the path of a plinko on “The Price Is Right.” But here’s a shot in the dark: Johnson, Smart, Rozier and Young, plus Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick and Memphis’ 2019 first-round pick, for Westbrook.
OKC would receive a veteran on an expiring deal in Johnson, a ferocious defensive stalwart combo guard in Smart, a point guard with impressive potential in Rozier and a still very young wing project in Young, plus a probable lottery pick in 2018 and another first-rounder in 2019. Boston would shed $19.2 million in salary, take on $17.7 million, keep its core and the more valuable Nets pick, and get its All-Star.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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