Kevin Durant hasn’t even officially signed with the Golden State Warriors yet, but the Oklahoma City Thunder already are speeding toward a future of mediocrity without their former league MVP.
Their other star, point guard Russell Westbrook, is one of the five best players in the NBA, but he’s also going to be a free agent after this upcoming season. Westbrook reportedly won’t consider signing an extension with OKC before testing free agency next summer, and in the overall shock of Durant actually abandoning the only franchise he’s ever known, the Thunder reportedly will consider trading the five-time All-Star so they aren’t left with nothing should he leave in free agency — a highly plausible scenario.
Of course, there are obstacles: What is Westbrook actually worth in terms of a return given his expiring contract? And is the potential risk of him leaving a new team after just one year worth giving up anything valuable for?
We took a look at 10 potential landing spots for Durant that would give Sam Presti the most value in return. For every team the risk vs. reward argument can be made, so for the purposes of these examples, we’re assuming either Westbrook stays or the team is comfortable taking that risk.
In no specific order:
Boston has assets galore, though as many have pointed out Tuesday, if those assets weren’t enough to acquire Jimmy Butler, why would they be enough for Westbrook, a much better player? In short, there’s two reasons: Boston reportedly turned down a few deals in which those assets actually would have been enough, and in OKC’s case, beggars can’t really be choosers. Despite a loaded 2017 draft class, Boston would be wise to move both their 2017 Brooklyn Nets pick swap and 2018 draft selection — at bare minimum — to acquire a player of Westbrook’s talent for the long haul.
Los Angeles Lakers
It’s no secret Westbrook likely wants to go to L.A. at some point in his career. The 26-year-old grew up in a Los Angeles suburb and attended UCLA with Kevin Love. The big question here is why the Lakers would want to trade assets for Westbrook if he’s going to sign there next summer. But here’s the thing: while their young core should get better, they still have picked second, second and seventh in the last three NBA drafts. Their 2017 first-rounder is only top-two protected this season. Any higher finish or unfortunate bounce of the ping pong balls sends that pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. Moving D’Angelo Russell and that pick (plus an extra for OKC’s insurance purposes) isn’t a bad proposal to ponder.
Bradley Beal is locked up at shooting guard, but John Wall isn’t a bad consolation prize for moving Westbrook. Throw in Otto Porter Jr. and a few picks and you’ve got a decent return.
The Wolves didn’t even want to give up Zach LaVine for Jimmy Butler at the trade deadline, let alone Andrew Wiggins. But, again, Westbrook is a much different player. Butler is an All-Star; Westbrook is an elite generational talent. Some combo of LaVine, Wiggins and No. 5 overall pick Kris Dunn could be an enticing offer — and one the Thunder have to consider.
Justise Winslow is the only enticing player on Miami’s roster, but unloading Chris Bosh’s contract and attaching a few draft picks with Winslow for Westbrook and Kyle Singler’s contract isn’t a bad start to a rebuild. And, who knows, maybe Westbrook would even consider staying in South Beach.
It’s New York, and once those Boston picks are out of the way they can start dealing first rounders again. (We’re only kind of kidding.) A pick swap in 2019 and sending your own outright selection in 2020 seems silly when you realize they’d only make their own first-round pick once (2015) over a seven-season span, but it’s a price you have to pay if you can get Westbrook. The Nets don’t offer much in the way of prospects or even immediate return, but they can absorb the contract into their seemingly endless cap space and send OKC a trade exception. Plus, it’s New York (ish) so Westbrook might actually want to stay. It’s a long shot, but if everyone else says no, it’s (kind of) better than nothing.
It’s a big market, Westbrook immediately gets to team up with another All-Star in Butler, and Chicago can offer young assets like Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis and Tony Snell.
Indiana might as well be basketball mecca, though basketball might literally be the only thing that appeals to Westbrook in the midwest. Still, a chance to play with Paul George could be appealing. A package of Jeff Teague, Myles Turner and draft picks isn’t a bad kick start for OKC.
It doesn’t feel like Westbrook would ever stay there, but maybe a swap with Gordon Hayward, whose contract also is expiring, could be appealing. The Thunder probably would have a better chance to re-sign the former Butler University star than Westbrook, but Utah also has a roster chock-full of young, appealing players like Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors.
Los Angeles Clippers
So this one would have to be a real basketball trade, but even if one of L.A.’s three All-Stars get moved in order to acquire Westbrook, there still are two more to team him with. Chris Paul likely would be the one to go considering the two play the same position, so consider this mega-blockbuster: Westbrook to L.A., Paul to the Cleveland Cavaliers (and buddy LeBron James) and Kyrie Irving to the Thunder. It’s essentially a winning scenario for everyone involved, gets Westbrook where he wants to go, and provides the Thunder with a true star to build around in the post-Durant/Westbrook era. It’s so crazy it just might work.
Thumbnail photo via Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports Images
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