Russell Westbrook has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Rockets. So which team should bid for his services? The Crossover staff debate potential landing spots.
I don’t know that there is a natural landing spot for Westbrook. He’s 32 with $132 million left on his contract over the next three seasons. Teams won’t be lining up. I could see Charlotte making a run at him, though. The Hornets are desperate for star power. Westbrook has it. They struggled mightily to score in the half court last season. Westbrook can help with that. A three-guard rotation of Westbrook, Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham could put up some points. And remember: Westbrook has a massive long-term deal with the Jordan brand. The Hornets’ owner: Michael Jordan. The Hornets have some big expiring contracts (Nic Batum, Cody Zeller) they could toss into a deal to make it work. It’s not a flawless fit, but Charlotte may be one of the few teams willing to roll the dice.
The market for Westbrook is going to be limited by his massive contract, but I think the prospect of a trade to Charlotte makes sense for all parties. At this stage of his career, Westbrook won’t transform the Hornets into contenders, but I think he’s capable of helping them get to the playoffs, and, realistically, the Hornets won’t sign marquee free agents in the next few years. I understand the counterpoint here, but I also get that it may be more appealing for Charlotte to try to claw out of the middle of the pack in this fashion, rather than bottom all the way out and maintain a frustrating cycle. There’s also probably no other way for the Hornets to get much value out of Batum’s contract (he has an option for next year he’ll certainly use). Houston, on the other hand, probably views that deal as a pathway to financial flexibility, and I’d assume it’d also take back Rozier. This is not a trade that would greatly boost the fortunes of either team—perhaps the opposite, in some ways—but there’s a practicality factor here that adds up. The Rockets, of course, may be in trouble no matter what.
I’m still of the opinion that Westbrook can help a playoff team, though the exact landing spot is hard to find. Perhaps the Pistons are a match. This is a franchise that continues to search for a legitimate point guard, and there’s some talent at hand with Luke Kennard and Christian Wood, if the young forward re-signs. For a franchise desperate to make the playoffs, perhaps taking on the remainder of Westbrook’s contract is worthwhile.
The flip side of this scenario is more interesting. Blake Griffin provides both legitimate size and stretch, and he’s evolved in recent years into a legitimate playmaking force. If healthy, he could be an ideal piece to complete Houston’s small-ball lineups. The Rockets don’t have a perfect answer after jettisoning a slew of draft picks to acquire Westbrook. But at this point, flipping Westbrook for Griffin could be a worthwhile pivot.
According to The Athletic, Westbrook desires more team-wide accountability, discipline and structure, which he feels more closely embodies the culture in Oklahoma City. So how about the Rockets ship him to another team that is not in the national spotlight in which he might thrive: the Pacers? It seems as if Victor Oladipo wants out of Indiana, and, in this hypothetical, the Pacers could look to swap their current apparent disgruntled star for another frustrated star. Indiana would get a backcourt partner for Malcolm Brogdon and a pick-and-roll partner for Domantas Sabonis. They would remain in contention for a playoff berth—something that has always been important to Indiana’s ownership group—and float in and out of national conversations. Would Westbrook have a better chance of winning a title in Indiana compared with Houston? No. But at least he’d get the fresh start he wants.
For a future Hall of Famer, it is really hard to find a good landing spot for Westbrook. That is due to his contract and his lack of shooting ability. My joke answer is the Knicks, because it seems on brand for them to land a big name that won't really help them moving forward, and Russ would give their fan base something to latch on to. As for contending teams? The Heat and Clippers stand out to me. I don't know how feasible a trade is for either, but the Heat have the shooting necessary and the Clippers do need a lead guard, even if Chris Paul would be a better fit. Ultimately, I'll say the Heat because I trust their coaching and structure and as good as they were last season they could still use more talent. But there really isn't a natural, no-brainer Westbrook fit.