According to ESPN, Russell Westbrook may be joining Kevin Durant on the way out of Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma City Thunder received some shocking news on July 4 as Durant announced that he would be leaving the only team he has ever played for to join the Golden State Warriors in free agency. Although Durant had many suitors, not many believed that he would actually choose to leave the Thunder.
Despite nearly eliminating the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, Durant decided that he would have a better shot to win that elusive first NBA championship by spurning Oklahoma City for Golden State. With how much he’s done for the Thunder and Oklahoma City, it really leaves the organization and city in a bit of disarray.
The burden of picking up the pieces left by Durant in Oklahoma City will be left to general manager Sam Presti. His first order of business will be to figure out what to do with Westbrook. The Thunder’s star point guard is a free agent after next season, and there’s been a lot of talk about his interest elsewhere.
Obviously, Presti’s goal should be to try and lock up Westbrook in Oklahoma City, but there’s a good chance that Russell would rather hit free agency next offseason and capitalize on an even larger contract from an expected rise in TV money for the NBA. If Westbrook isn’t interested in signing a long-term extension right now, Bleacher Report is reporting that the Thunder could look to trade Russell.
Report: Thunder want Russell Westbrook extension, could explore a trade if no deal reached https://t.co/WuBaHRZDEY pic.twitter.com/sBaAm4tCp7
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 4, 2016
Although it would certainly be a shock to the system of any Oklahoma City Thunder fan in the world, the reasoning for a Russell trade makes sense. With Durant in Golden State, the Thunder’s chances of winning the NBA title in 2016-17 take a major hit and therefore letting Westbrook play out the final year of his contract doesn’t benefit the team one iota.
Russell Westbrook is one of the top five players in the NBA, and would bring a huge haul back to the Thunder in a trade. By engaging in trade talks this offseason, Oklahoma City could get high-dollar for Russell instead of losing him for nothing next offseason. A Westbrook trade would help the Thunder potentially skip a long-term rebuild and retool sooner rather than later.
As for which teams would be interested in trading for Westbrook, the list should be nearly endless. Last season, Russell averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds, but his numbers skyrocket when Durant hasn’t been on the floor. Given a chance to run a team without Durant, Westbrook has the opportunity to reach a level never seen before.
The Los Angeles Lakers have always been mentioned as a natural destination for Westbrook should he ever leave Oklahoma City. Russell went to UCLA, was born in Long Beach and would likely love to return home. The Lakers could offer D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and their 2017 first round draft pick for Westbrook which would be quite a haul for the Thunder.
#Thunder can’t afford to lose @russwest44 for nothing like KD. @Lakers in prime position. Russell & Randle appealing young talents for OKC
— Lyle Spencer (@LyleMSpencer) July 4, 2016
The Boston Celtics have plenty of assets to make a deal as well. Danny Ainge could offer Jaylen Brown, two first round picks and a couple other players for Russell Westbrook. With newly-signed Al Horford and star point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics would instantly become threats to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.
According to Fox Sports, the biggest benefit of a team trading for Westbrook now is the ability to offer him more money next offseason than any other team in the league. With the way the NBA’s CBA reads, whichever team that Russell is on next season will be able to offer him the largest contract in free agency. That would be a huge plus for any team looking to keep Westbrook long-term.
With Kevin Durant in Golden State, Russell Westbrook’s situation instantly becomes the most talked about of the NBA offseason.