Russell Westbrook will always be synonymous with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but his days as the face of the franchise could be numbered:
ESPN story on Russell Westbrook welcoming idea of Oklahoma City searching out a trade that would end his Thunder career: https://t.co/EJK30AbAl8
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 8, 2019
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Thunder (and Westbrook) seem to be receptive toward a trade that would make for a split between the franchise and its star. And so far, Miami is one team to have expressed an interest in Westbrook – an interest that appears to be mutual (Wojnarowski hints at Miami being Westbrook’s preferred destination).
The thought of Westbrook wearing another NBA uniform would have been unthinkable a week ago at this time. But Kawhi Leonard’s move to the Los Angeles Clippers pushed Oklahoma City to move top-5 MVP vote-getter Paul George in a bonkers trade that inched the Thunder toward a rebuild. And rather than rebuild around a 30-year-old Westbrook, OKC looks to be embracing a full-on tear-down.
Whenever a star goes on the market, Bulls fans are going to wonder if this is the one in which the team would be willing to roll the dice. After all, the NBA is a star-driven league. And while the Bulls have a handful of nice pieces, they don’t have the type of star-power that could push them over the top. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy, straight-forward answer here, but let’s at least work through the considerations before coming anywhere close to an answer.
At the highest level, yes, the Bulls should be interested in trading for a player of Westbrook’s caliber. Acquiring a star for the core is the move that could really kickstart the Bulls’ rebuild. But a big, immediate concern is if this is the right time.
Earlier today, John Paxson mentioned that “the reality is we need Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter, Wendell Carter, guys that are here, we need them to be better players,” if the team is ever going to succeed over the long haul. In other words, the Bulls may need a star, but they will also need their own players to be good for any sort of sustained success to take hold. And, of course, once you demonstrate some success, it’s a lot easier to lure other stars in the future.
Another, more important question is “What is it going to take?” If a deal for Westbrook can be done without mortgaging the future and/or dismantling the core, Chicago should approach Oklahoma City. At minimum, there is nothing wrong with simply kicking the tires on a star when he could possibly be had for draft picks and spare parts. Then again, I said this wasn’t going to be easy. So let’s continue.
Westbrook has an estimated $171.2 million spread over the course of the next four seasons. If that makes you uncomfortable, then it’s not going to be any easier when I share that those four years are in his age 31, 32, 33, and 34 seasons. It’s tough to envision paying Westbrook — a guard whose game is centered around athleticism and quick-twitch ability — more than $47 million in his age 34 season.
But still … it’s Russell Freaking Westbrook: An 8-time All-Star, two-time scoring champ, two-time assist champ, and a player who has averaged a triple-double three years running. Oklahoma City’s front office would surely aim high early in negotiations. HOWEVER, factoring in Westbrook’s contract, age, style of play, and injury history would probably limit his trade value, too. It’s a primary reason we’re having this conversation in the first place.
The pros of adding a player of Westbrook’s caliber are undeniable, as is the upside of adding a talented player in a league that appears to be as open as ever. Imagine teaming Westbrook and Zach LaVine in what would be an ultra-dynamic backcourt. Think about what adding a star could mean, especially one who could create for shooters like LaVine or Lauri Markkanen. There is some real upside here if you put your mind to it.
But it would be wrong to ignore the cons and the risks that would come with this type of acquisition. Trading for Westbrook would shut the door on the team having post-2020 free agency flexibility. And there is real risk in acquiring a guard whose shooting has never been a strength and is on the decline in a league where teams perimeter shooting thrive. On top of that, there’s at least some concern that a player like Westbrook could be a little too ball-dominant on a team with a bunch of young players trying to develop. Last season, for example, Westbrook had a 30.1% usage rate, which is pretty high – Harden led the league with 39.6%, while other guard qualifiers include Devin Booker (32.0), D’Angelo Russell (31.1), Lou Williams (30.8), Kemba Walker (30.8), and LaVine (29.8). If he can strike a better balance to his game, I’d be more confident about his addition to this team *right now*.
In the end, trading for Westbrook is a unique opportunity, one in which the Bulls could possibly keep their core and take a shot in what looks to be a rare buy-low situation.
At some point, the Bulls have to acquire a star. And based on recent history, they’ll need to be creative to do so. Most likely, it will have to happen through a trade. But if Miami wants Westbrook and the feeling is mutual, any conversation we have about the Bulls jumping at the chance to acquire a star will have to wait for another day.