Woj: I Think the Bulls Will Be a Front-Runner to Sign Russell Westbrook
The moment the Los Angeles Lakers traded Russell Westbrook to the Utah Jazz, the buyout market conversations started.
Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes wasted very little time connecting the veteran point guard back to the Chicago Bulls, stating that the franchise would be interested in his services should he become available. Fast forward two days, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has taken things one step further. According to the NBA Insider, the Bulls might as well be considered the “frontrunner” to sign the former MVP.
Here’s what he said in a Friday appearance on ESPN’s NBA Today:
“If he gets out into the buyout market, listen there is significant interest in Westbrook. I think one team you will got to watch, and I think will be a frontrunner, is the Chicago Bulls,” Wojnarowski said. “Billy Donovan certainly coached Westbrook in Oklahoma City, and you go further down his bench, Mo Cheeks and Josh Longstaff, there is a staff of former OKC assistants that all had good relationships and worked well with Westbrook with the Bulls. And, certainly, you can see how he fits just bringing some energy and some fire to that team’s bench.”
NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson even dropped a comment this afternoon reiterating the Bulls’ potential interest:
Two things about Woj’s report: (1) The coaching connections make all the sense in the world and are a perfectly valid reason to believe that Westbrook could have a genuine interest in Chicago. (2) The fit isn’t that cut and dry, Woj.
Speaking to the former, Billy Donovan coached Westbrook for four seasons, including his MVP campaign during the 2016-17 season. If anyone does know what he can bring to the table and how to best use his skillset, it likely is Donovan. Not to mention, if there was any coach out there that Westbrook would trust to put him in a position to succeed right now, it would likely be Donovan.
There is at least some reason to believe that Westbrook can come to Chicago and buy into the role the Bulls need him to play. He’s already learned to accept a bench role with the Lakers, and perhaps he’ll be even more accepting of a lesser all-around role under Donovan.
Having said that, recent history has shown that Westbrook is who he is. If he signs with another team this year, it would be his fifth team in as many seasons. While he may have been forced to accept a smaller role over the past year, he hasn’t necessarily “changed” as a player. The guy is still an extremely high-usage and ball-dominant talent who plays downhill and cannot shoot a jumper to save his life. In fact, his PSA (points per shot attempt) has ranked in the NBA’s 30th percentile or lower the past three seasons, per Cleaning the Glass.
The biggest issues for the Bulls this season have revolved around a lack of 3-point shooting, consistent defense, and predictable offense due to an over-reliance on isolation possessions. Westbrook doesn’t help fix any of that. He’s a 29.6 percent 3-point shooter, a recently below-average defender, and a player who’s averaged the 16th-most ISO possessions per game this season.
Is he someone who always plays with a sense of urgency and has a keen sense of helping feed his teammates the ball? Yes. He’s averaged 8.4 assists and 7.3 rebounds over his career. But that doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily help this team more than he’ll hurt them. Again, unless he evolves into a player who is always looking to pass-first and commit fully on the defensive end. He has yet to do that.
Look, if the Bulls add Westbrook, I’m not going to lose my mind. I’ve pretty much chalked this season up as a lost cause, so a little more chaos (or a shot in the dark … whatever you want to call it) isn’t going to phase me. But I highly doubt that Westbrook significantly solves any problems for this team. If anything, he could only cause more.
Let’s also remember that the Bulls aren’t currently in a position to even sign Westbrook. Since the team didn’t send out any players yesterday, they would have to waive a current roster member to open up the space. On top of that, they are only $1.7 million away from the luxury tax. If I understand all the details correctly, if the Bulls were able to sign Westbrook to the veteran minimum deal, it would at least be prorated and likely keep them under the cap. However, if they were to waive someone and a team didn’t claim that player, that’s money they’re still responsible for paying, and thus it would carry them over the luxury tax. So, yeah, it’s going to be really complicated for the Bulls to move the right pieces around and stay under the tax. And we all know how important that is.