For as long as Russell Westbrook plays in the NBA, he will be linked to the Los Angeles Lakers. Westbrook is an LA native, and like Paul George, the idea of hometown boy making good with the marquee franchise in the NBA will always be out there.
A while back, we discussed the idea of the Thunder being forced to trade Westbrook this summer in fear of watching him walk out the door in 2018 (and getting nothing in return) ala Kevin Durant last year. The Lakers are an obvious landing spot if chaos ensues.
Here is an update on Westbrook’s situation, which will come into focus on what is shaping up to be one of the wildest weekends in NBA off-season history.
ESPN’s Royce Young wrote a glowing piece on the reigning NBA MVP this week and has a hunch that Westbrook will waste little time in re-signing with the Thunder.
“Those close to Westbrook fully expect him to take the Thunder’s offer, quite possibly at 12:01 a.m. [on July 1] and stabilize the franchise and present a clear road map. Westbrook signed an extension last summer and invoked the word ‘loyalty’ for a reason. He wanted to make a statement – a public declaration – and take on the burden of leading the franchise forward.
“He likes the existing roster and has a close relationship with [Sam] Presti and [Troy] Weaver. He has built a strong bond with head coach Billy Donovan. He knew what he signed for an, with the Thunder coming off a successful first post-Durant season and with the pieces in place to improve the team, there are a lot of reasons to commit again.”
That last part is very pie-in-the-sky, and very “pro-Thunder.”
The fact of the matter is, Oklahoma City has an ugly cap situation and it has zero chance of signing Oklahoma home boy Blake Griffin outright. They would need the Clippers to do a sign-and-trade, much like they did with Chris Paul this week, to make the deal work. The problem is the Thunder don’t have the type of assets the Rockets just gave up, particularly when it comes to draft picks. Oklahoma City can’t offer one of its own first round picks in a trade until 2022 (league rules and outgoing picks in previous trades).
Griffin would also have to be hell-bent on going to OKC, and he has given no indication so far that that’s the case.
It’s quite possible that Westbrook waits to see if the Thunder can make a deal for a big name sidekick until the Fourth of July on Tuesday. If all the big names go elsewhere (which seems likely) Westbrook may finally get fed up with the situation in OKC. Yahoo! Sports also discussed Westbrook’s situation this week, and painted an ugly picture for the Thunder – even if Westbrook re-signs.
“If Westbrook signs this, the Thunder can get on with the business of improving its roster – which will be next to impossible. The Thunder are capped out and have to re-sign restricted free agent Andre Roberson. Sam Presti is a smart man, but his hands are mostly tied due to some of the big contracts on the roster (ones that would have been no issue if Kevin Durant had stayed). The Thunder will make moves around the edges, but it’s going to take time to do anything substantial.
“If Westbrook doesn’t sign this, more than just red flags will go up in OKC – this will be sirens and flashing red lights. The Thunder will be forced to think about trading Westbrook, or finding a way to keep him happy and in house. They will basically be right back to where they were last summer.”
For what it’s worth, the Thunder drafted a 2-guard out of Australia in the draft named Terrance Ferguson. Folks would have flipped if OKC drafted one of the many point guards available in the draft as that would have screamed “Westbrook insurance.” But Ferguson is a spot-up shooter who moves the ball well – exactly what the Thunder need.
The Lakers speculation
The Westbrook to the Lakers speculation took a hit when the team drafted Lonzo Ball. It doesn’t seem like the Lakers would flip Ball in a trade at this juncture given all the good will of the past week. But as we’ve said before, if the reigning MVP is available in a trade – anyone and everyone is on the table.
In this guard-oriented league, Magic Johnson probably wouldn’t shy away from pairing Ball and Westbrook together if the opportunity arose. Look at what just happened in Houston. The Rockets are banking on James Harden and Paul George being able to work off one another. Ball is a gifted passer, and might actually complement Westbrook well.