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An NBA team should trade for Russell Westbrook

Scott Davis   

An NBA team should trade for Russell Westbrook
  • Russell Westbrook reportedly wants to be traded.
  • Westbrook's trade market is reportedly sparse due to concerns about his age, contract, and on-court fit.
  • A team should still trade for Westbrook, an All-Star, still near his peak, capable of helping a team win, and likely to come at a reduced cost.
  • The opportunity to trade for a star player at a reduced cost doesn't come around often, and rebuilds come with no guarantee of landing a player as good as Westbrook is now.

Russell Westbrook wants the Houston Rockets to trade him, as first reported by The Athletic's Shams Charania.

Trading for Westbrook is difficult. He has three years, $132 million remaining on his contract. The final year of the deal is worth $47 million, which he would make when he turns 34 years old.

Westbrook is also a tricky on-court fit. Since 2014-15, he is the only player to shoot below 31% on over 2,000 three-point attempts. He's a ball-dominant guard who can't spread the floor, does little off the ball, can negatively impact a defense, and has been accused of stat-hunting.

For all of Westbrook's physical marvels, he is 32, with several surgeries in his past. His game is built on explosive athleticism and doesn't figure to age well.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski described the trade market for Westbrook as "slow developing."

Someone should go get him.

Westbrook isn't washed up yet

Though there are warts to his game, Westbrook remains an All-Star talent.

Westbrook is known for his scoring and triple-doubles, but he has also had an impact on winning. Since 2010, Westbrook ranks fourth in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) among players who have played more than 500 games, fifth in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), and sixth in Win Shares.

Of course, past results don't indicate future performance, but Westbrook hasn't shown any serious signs of falling off.

Westbrook may not explode to the basket for as many rim-rattling dunks as he did at his peak, but last season, almost half of Westbrook's field goal attempts came from 0-5 feet. He shot 60.2% on those attempts, better than he shot in 2017-18 and 2016-17, his MVP season.

As last season went on, Westbrook gradually eschewed three-pointers in favor of shots at the rim, in the paint, or midrange. After January 1, Westbrook shot just 66 three-pointers vs. 387 shots from 0-8 feet over 27 games.

From January 1 to March 11, Westbrook averaged 31.8 points on 52% shooting, with 7 rebounds and 8 assists per game. The Rockets had a 4.2 net rating with Westbrook on the floor during that stretch, the best mark among their consistent rotation players.

Though The Athletic reported that Westbrook didn't enjoy the role, he was effective as a second ball-handler next to James Harden, often attacking unbalanced defenses or leading the Rockets' second unit.

How much of this was a function of the Rockets' offense vs. Westbrook's own development is unclear. But Westbrook can still be impactful when he is healthy and disciplined in his approach.

Players like Westbrook don't come around often

ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported that the Rockets might have trouble getting equal value back in a deal for Westbrook. They may have to sweeten a deal or take back an unsavory contract.

There are NBA teams that should jump on this — the opportunity to get an All-Star at a reduced price doesn't come around often.

The final year of Westbrook's prime may be painful, but he figures to give a team at least one season of elite production, and maybe two. The chances of drafting such a player or finding another one available at Westbrook's price is unlikely.

Take the Charlotte Hornets, who are rumored to be interested in Westbrook. The Hornets have made the playoffs twice in the last ten years. They have averaged 33 wins per season over the last four years. Their best player of the decade, Kemba Walker, left in free agency for nothing in return.

The Hornets could argue that they are better off developing their young core of Devonte Graham, Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, plus this year's third overall pick.

They should also ask themselves if that core of players all hit their ceilings if that gets them to something better than adding Westbrook at a discount. Westbrook would add star power, relevancy, and extra wins to a team that has been mediocre for much of its existence.

Critics would argue that Westbrook would not elevate the Hornets beyond a low playoff seed. It's worth asking if the Hornets are likely to get there or better without him.

The Orlando Magic, a team stuck at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race without much of a future, should also weigh whether trading for Westbrook changes their team's trajectory.

The New York Knicks are a possible trade partner and logical fit, with their lack of a point guard and desperation for a star. There are segments of the basketball world that believe the Knicks should avoid Westbrook, given their history of trading for expensive stars on the backend of their careers. The Knicks' decade has been a series of starts and stops, and they might be better off seeing a rebuild through.

But it also stung the Knicks when Kevin Durant, having spurned them in free agency for the Brooklyn Nets, said the Knicks are not "the cool thing" for NBA free agents. Adding a player like Westbrook would give life to a floundering franchise on the court and off.

The concerns about adding Westbrook are valid. But there are very few perfect situations to add star players.

If the goal is to win games and add good players, someone should trade for Westbrook and accept the benefits and live with the downsides.


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