The Lakers and Celtics are both looking to assemble super teams right now, and almost every big name under the NBA sun is being mentioned in trade rumors – including Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook being traded out of Oklahoma City this summer is far-fetch for sure, but it is possible. The likely 2016-17 MVP had to sit back and watch Kevin Durant win a title with the Warriors earlier this month, and the odds of a super team forming in OKC this summer are slim to none (and slim just opted out of his contract). The Blake Griffin to Oklahoma City free agency rumors have subsided recently, but even if the Thunder somehow squeezed Griffin under their cap – that team wouldn’t even come close to being able to compete with Golden State.
The NBA has always been a league of haves and have nots, but never more than it is today. There are really only a handful of haves and the 25 other have-nots should all be gearing up to do what the 76ers did the past four years – tank, tank, and tank some more.
Thunder GM Sam Presti will have to pick one of two paths in the next few weeks. Is trying to be a “have” and compete with the Warriors realistic? Or is it time to finally rebuild and be a “have not?”
Westbrook is eligible for a “super max” deal this summer that would make him the highest paid player in NBA history. He can sign that deal with the Thunder on July 1. All has been quiet on that front as of late, but for good reason.
“The rules are that you can’t have that conversation until July 1, and you know, when that time comes, we’ll sit down, we’ll have conversations with him about what that opportunity presents,” Presti said at his end-of-season press conference. “And you know, we’re obviously hopeful that he remains really excited about being a part of this organization for the remainder of his career.”
Westbrook can opt out of his current contract in the summer of 2018, so if he does not sign the extension with the Thunder immediately, then it’s going to be another brutal Fourth of July weekend in Oklahoma City. The longer Westbrook waits, the more pressure there will be on Presti to do something.
Presti famously traded James Harden for quarters on the dollar, and then got nothing in return for Durant. If he was to get nothing in return for Westbrook, then he’d not only get fired by the Thunder – he’d have a tough time getting an NBA GM gig ever again.
Many will say that Presti could just wait until the February 2018 trade deadline to trade Westbrook if he’s being difficult about his contract. But in the NBA historically, you get much more in return during the summer than during a rushed trade at the deadline. A deadline deal would be seen as a panic trade, and other GMs would attempt to exploit Presti in that type of situation.
Where are you going?
If Westbrook does not re-up with OKC quickly, expect two teams to leap into the rumor mill: you guessed it, the Lakers and Celtics.
Why the Lakers would make sense: Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson cleared over $22 million in cap space with the D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov trade Tuesday as they clearly have their focus on the summer of 2018. Here is what the Los Angeles Times wrote about the situation Wednesday: “[The summer of 2018] has been the Lakers’ target for overhauling their roster through a talented free agent class with ties to Los Angeles. That class will include [Paul] George, who is from Palmdale, LeBron James, who has a home in Brentwood and business relationships in Los Angeles, and Russell Westbrook, a Los Angeles native who played at UCLA.”
The Lakers are willing to wait this thing out, but if they want to be proactive - what better way to lure LeBron to LA next summer than to already have the pieces in place this year?
If Westbrook does not sign with the Thunder immediately, the Lakers could turn around and offer Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball (who they will likely take in the draft on Thursday) and future picks in exchange for Westbrook.
That’s a lot, and the Lakers have said that they don’t want to part with Ingram – but when the reigning league MVP is on the table, anyone and any pick is tradeable.
Why the Celtics would make sense: Danny Ainge loves him some assets but even he would part with all of them to get Westbrook.
Last summer there was some initial trade buzz involving Westbrook and the Celtics, with Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck even writing the following on July 13, 2016:
“What I’m hearing here in Las Vegas from some GMs is that, not only do they think that Westbrook will get traded, that it will be sooner than later – probably before the season starts – and that the most likely destination right now would be the Boston Celtics.”
Of course, that did not happen. But GMs circle back to old trade conversations all the time.
Ainge has long coveted Westbrook and tried to swing this deal for him in 2011, according to Chris Broussard: Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green for Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins.
Funny how things work out, but at the time Celtics fans were mostly against this trade. See OKC fans, Presti isn’t a complete dummy.
Will Westbrook leave OKC?
The odds of Westbrook leaving the Thunder via trade or free agency are low. Westbrook pledged his allegiance to OKC last summer and he is a beloved figure there. Here is what they are saying about the situation in OKC (via NewsOK.com):
“With many key moments on the horizon that will determine the future of this franchise, lots of questions have to be answered by Sam Presti and his wire-framed, well-coiffed friends in the Thunder front office. But none is bigger than this – what does Russell Westbrook think?
Even though he has said he leaves the front-office decisions to the front office, he has to have thought about the situation. This is his career. This is his livelihood. It’d be foolish to think Westbrook hasn’t pondered what the Thunder would need to do to compete with the Warriors and what the franchise’s chances are to be a contender, both in the short and long term. This guy, after all, has a burning desire to win a championship.
“Obviously, I want to be a great player, and I want to win,” Westbrook said during the Thunder’s exit interviews in April. “What’s most important is make sure that us as a team, we win a championship. I’m going to do whatever I need to do to make sure that we have an opportunity to be able to do that.”