With the recent departure of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors, many people are beginning to wonder if Sam Presti, who is known to trade stars in the last year of their deal will trade Russell Westbrook for assets to begin a new rebuild in the state of Oklahoma. In this article, I will discuss whether this is plausible, and if so what potential trades could be made to make a deal happen.
Even without Kevin Durant, the Thunder are capable of being a top four team in the Western Conference. Westbrook will likely put up insane numbers, ones which could lead to a second unanimous MVP in league history. Even with that being said, Westbrook will not be able to lead this team past the Golden State Warriors in a seven game series.
This now makes for a tough decision for Sam Presti. One has to believe Durant was in contact with Westbrook during his decision to sign in free agency, and multiple sources revealed Westbrook was not certain about signing an extension in Oklahoma City. With this uncertainty, Durant did what was best for him to win a championship. Presti will now have to make a decision with Westbrook likely to test the waters next offseason, whether or not it is worth pursuing a trade.
Presti has already traded Serge Ibaka and James Harden in the last year of their deals. The Harden deal can still be looked at questionable, with none of the assets making a huge difference besides Steven Adams. Serge Ibaka gave the Thunder a solid two-way shooting guard, a good energy rookie, and a veteran stretch-four. We will have to wait to see how this trade pans out during the season, but looks to already be a win for the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook will have all other 29 teams calling to see what it would take to secure Westbrook, who is an undisputed top five player in the league. The only problem surrounding a potential blockbuster deal will be whether or not Westbrook will agree to sign an extension with his new team, and not pursue free agency.
So far, the five teams to be the most interested in a blockbuster Russell Westbrook trade have been the Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, and Boston Celtics. Almost all of these teams can give a great package for the Thunder to start a new era in. With the Thunder having an incredible set of role players, it is hard to see them not prioritizing young stars with potential over middle of the pack guys, and draft picks.
Philadelphia obviously have the best players to pick from for a rebuild in Oklahoma City. The only player you could imagine that is off the boards is Ben Simmons, who is already showing his immense potential in summer league. That gives the Thunder the opportunity to pursue a deal surrounding Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, or Nerlens Noel, and some draft picks. If the Thunder were to strike a deal with the 76ers, the Thunder would likely ask the 76ers to take on the salary of Enes Kanter to free up their books, as well as open up their frontcourt to one of the new additions. With the plethora of draft picks Philadelphia accumulated in the past few years, the Thunder could rebuild quickly on the fly. A tandem of Westbrook and Simmons could be very appealing to all of the star free agents entering free agency next offseason.
Minnesota is an interesting team to ponder a Russell Westbrook trade. Would they be willing to part with Andrew Wiggins or Karl-Anthony Towns? These are the two best young players on a team looking to add a develop star, but I do not see the Timberwolves being willing to part with either of them. This leaves you with Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng as the only interesting trade pieces. Dunn and LaVine plus a few draft picks, and I would be sold for the Thunder. LaVine would flourish in the free-flowing offense in Oklahoma City, while Dunn would be a great building piece for the future. If Peski could unload the contract of Enes Kanter as well, I do not think he would need multiple draft picks to make this deal happen.
The Los Angeles Lakers know that Russell Westbrook has a lot of interest in playing for them, but are they willing to wait until free agency to make it happen. From what their management has done so far this offseason, I would say no. I do not think the Laker’s management is crazy enough to package both Brandon Ingram and D’Angelo Russell away, but those are the only two players the Thunder would want. With many of their future picks still owed to other teams, the Lakers will likely have to roll the dice, and hope they can convince Westbrook to come in free agency, as they cannot ship away their only two stars for a potential one year deal.
Houston is always looking to make a big trade, and they would be willing to roll the dice again with the Thunder to try to take another star from them. The only problem for the Rockets now is their lack of assets. Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Sam Dekker, none of these players are worth giving Westbrook up for. Even draft picks would not be worth it, as a duo of Westbrook and Harden would make constant playoff appearances, and make drafting a replacement star very difficult. Houston, much like Los Angeles will have to wait till free agency to try to lure Westbrook to a new team.
The Boston Celtics were able to land a big time free agent for the first time in ages, and could be looking to continue adding established talent to knock off LeBron. Boston has the talent and draft picks to make nearly any deal possible for any superstar, and Presti is the perfect GM to dangle these in front of. A package surround Jaylen Brown, Avery Bradley, and a few draft picks could have the Thunder considering the deal. With Boston owning the right to swap picks with the Nets, who look to be just as terrible as last season, Presti could be looking to all the star power in next year’s draft, and find the deal worthwhile. With the 2017 Draft having projected stars at every position, this would give Presti the freedom to handpick the path for the team in the future. Boston should be able to convince Westbrook to sign as well, as the trio of Westbrook, Thomas, Horford, and the depth surrounding them would be good enough to knock off LeBron, and make repeated finals appearances, and would give him the opportunity to take it to Durant and the Warriors on the biggest stage.
It will not be easy for any team to convince Presti to part with Westbrook, especially so soon after losing Durant, but Presti is smart, and knows if he does not stand a chance to resign Westbrook, he will deal for future assets. The only three plausible teams I see making a deal happen, are the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and Minnesota Timberwolves. Westbrook would make any of these three teams instant contenders, especially in the Eastern Conference. The best chance to see Westbrook be traded will likely be during the season after Presti sees what he gets out of Westbrook, and whether or not he can convince Westbrook to sign an extension before free agency.
By: Mac Crowe, @Mac_Truck17