Best landing spots for Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook
Westbrook was named league MVP in 2016. (Wikimedia Commons)

If you were living under a rock and didn’t here, the Thunder traded Paul George to the Clippers for a ridiculous number of draft picks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Galinari. George is joining forces with newly signed, reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. As a result, Russell Westbrook is suddenly all alone in Oklahoma City on a team leaning into a rebuild. I pegged him as one the biggest losers of free agency. There is no question Westbrook’s time in OKC is over. It is just a matter of time before he is suiting up for a new team. The fire sale is already on in Oklahoma City. Jerami Grant was shipped to Denver. More will likely follow.

But where will Westbrook call home next? That is the question right facing the Thunder and Westbrook himself. He is certainly controversial, but there is no question he will have a long list of suitors. When you have the chance to add a former MVP just entering his 30s, you take it. Here are the best fits for Westbrook.

9163126439_ba341593de_bNew York Knicks
2018-19 record: 17-65
Likelihood of deal: 6/10
Of course the Knicks are in this conversation. They are desperate for a superstar to build around. With plenty of young prospects to potentially send to Oklahoma City in exchange for Westbrook, New York seems like a very likely trade partner. Between Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Mitchell Robinson, there should be a package to entice the Thunder. There could be some hesitation from Westbrook to head to the Big Apple without another proven star. RJ Barrett could develop into one, but that might take a few years.

For the Knicks, it makes them a much more desirable free agent spot to court future stars. Essentially, New York would doing something similar to what Miami just did in acquiring Jimmy Butler to build around. However, because of NBA trade restrictions, this deal would not be able to go down until December or January when recently signed players like Reggie Bullocks and Bobby Portis would be trade eligible. New York does not have any high-priced veterans to match Westbrook’s contract before then. If Russ is willing to wait it out or the Thunder fail to find a trade partner before that deadline, expect the Knicks to be in the hunt for him.

orlando_magic_wordmark_logo_2008-currentOrlando Magic
2018-19 record: 42-40
Likelihood of deal: 4/10
The Magic probably don’t jump to mind when you think of a contender, but this team did make the playoffs last year and challenged the Raptors in the first round. Orlando desperately needs a point guard and Westbrook could fit well alongside Nikola Vucevic and Mo Bamba. Orlando has a ton of depth on the wing and in the front court, but needs a floor general to make them a challenger in the East.

On the Oklahoma City side of things, there are a few intriguing pieces the Magic could have to offer. If the Thunder want more draft picks, the Magic owns all of its first round picks for the foreseeable future. The other piece that could be significant is Aaron Gordon. The high-flying forward has the contract necessary to be involved in this deal. He also won’t turn 24 until September. Rumors have been there for a few years now that Orlando would be interested in moving Gordon. With youth and athleticism on his side, he could be a solid player for the Thunder to pair with Steven Adams and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as they lean into this rebuild.

chicago_bulls_wordmarkChicago Bulls
2018-19 record: 22-60
Likelihood of deal: 3/10
Here is the current list of players listed at point guard on the Bulls roster: Kris Dunn, Coby White, Ryan Arcidiacono. That is a group that could use a massive upgrade. This is an extremely young team that just signed a couple of veterans in Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young. It might seem like a bit of an awkward marriage to bring in Westbrook, but his playmaking ability would certainly be fun to watch with Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

However, one of those two players could be part of any deal the Thunder would pursue with the Bulls. I will be honest, I don’t see Chicago making this deal. Despite needing a proven point guard, this team is nowhere near contending and would probably be better off just letting its young core grow together. Sending Russ to an Eastern Conference team would be preferable for OKC, but Chicago is unlikely to send back the type of compensation the Thunder would be looking for in this deal.

minnesota_timberwolves_wordmarkMinnesota Timberwolves
2018-19 record: 36-46
Likelihood of deal: 2/10
Talk about a team looking for a playmaking point guard. Minnesota actually has a lot of the components needed to make a deal happen with Oklahoma City. Andrew Wiggins’ high-priced contract help make the finances work, and considering he is only 24, the Thunder might be interested in seeing how he would develop. They also have some young prospects in Keita Bates-Diop and Josh Okogie to help build a young core. The Timberwolves also own all of their own picks going forward.

Westbrook might even be interested in heading to Minnesota for a chance to team up with Karl-Anthony Towns. However, this deal starts to fall apart when you consider these teams are in the same division and taking on Wiggins’ massive contract isn’t really a move that makes sense for a rebuilding team. It runs through 2022, by which point, you would have to imagine the Thunder would picture themselves contending again. Both sides could find some benefits from it, but there are too many question marks to see it going through.

1024px-Dallas_Mavericks_Primary_LogoDallas Mavericks
2018-19 record: 33-49
Likelihood of deal: 6/10
While the Mavericks technically finished second to last in the West last year, Dallas has a couple of players that could team up nicely with Westbrook. Luka Doncic is one of the most polished rookies in NBA history and with Kristaps Porzingis coming back from injury, that could make for a fun “Big 3” in Texas. Mark Cuban is always looking to add more star power to his team and Dallas seems like it is building a team to start competing this year. Adding Westbrook would help accelerate the process.

The Mavs are lacking a ton of picks to send back to the Thunder in exchange for Westbrook, but with the expiring contract of Courtney Lee, they could package together a few things to give Oklahoma City cap flexibility going forward. Where it starts to get tricky is the recent addition of Delon Wright in a sign and trade. Considering how the roster is shaping up for Dallas, this deal might not be able to be consummated until trade restrictions are lifted for newly signed players. It is far from a guarantee, but I think the Mavericks would feel good about selling Russ on their future.

miami_heat_wordmarkMiami Heat
2018-19 record: 39-43
Likelihood of deal: 9/10
If there is a front-runner in these trade talks, it would have to be the Miami Heat. Fresh off the sign-and-trade deal to land Jimmy Butler, the Heat are hard capped, looking to the trade market for ways to improve this team. With Butler already on the roster, it would be easy to see Westbrook eager to team up with another star. Both seem to have a similar approach to the game, playing with relentless passion. It could be a match that thrusts Miami back into contention to at least reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

Pat Riley has shown zero reservation in shipping out draft picks in the past and seems to be against rebuilding, always opting to reload instead. Plus, selling Russ on South Beach will probably be easy. The Thunder already own a few Heat draft picks courtesy of the Paul George trade, but probably wouldn’t mind adding a few more. A package of picks, Goran Dragic’s and James Johnson’s expiring contracts, and 23-year old Justise Winslow could be enough to land Westbrook. A player like Patrick Patterson might be involved just to make the money work. It offers the Thunder a ton of cap flexibility heading into the 2020 offseason and a few more more high-upside prospects.

milwaukee_bucks_wordmark_2015-currentMilwaukee Bucks
2018-19 record: 60-22
Likelihood of deal: 5/10
Here it the real wildcard to the conversation. Milwaukee is coming off a stellar season where it posted the best record in the NBA and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. There are already rumblings though about what it will take to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee. Adding Russell Westbrook would probably be more than enough to convince him to re-sign. The Bucks like Eric Bledsoe a lot, but the chance to add a former MVP to pair with the reigning MVP is too good to pass up. Even with all the potential shooting restrictions this team could have, it would make Milwaukee the title favorite.

Where it begins to get tricky is regarding what the Bucks send back. Bledsoe cannot be traded until September because he signed a contract extension in the past year. He would be a good stabilizing presence on what will likely be a young team. Milwaukee also does not have a ton of draft picks to offer, but could send the Pacers pick they just acquired in the Malcolm Brogdon deal. DJ Wilson and Donte DiVincenzo are the only two prospects Milwaukee could ship out. Maybe the Thunder would like to take on Pat Connaughton’s expiring contract. The Bucks might not quite have enough, or even be interested in making that major of a shake up to its current group, but this would put them over the edge in the title conversation.

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Trends at the NBA trade deadline

This was one of the craziest trade deadlines in recent memory. I read somewhere that close to eight percent of the league’s player pool switched teams on Thursday. It was interesting to see teams who have been on the verge of being contenders drop out, or other look to bolster themselves for a playoff run. It became very clear which teams thought they had a shot and which teams were throwing in the towel this year to build for the future.

Out in the Eastern Conference we saw two teams really make a push to bolster their roster in hopes of making a playoff run. It is widely known that the East is weaker and that point was highlighted Thursday with Milwaukee and Miami landed two big name point guards. The Bucks snagged Michael Carter-Williams from the 76ers in a three-team deal. Miami acquired former Sun Goran Dragic also in a three-team trade.

For the Bucks, this is their chance to make a run at a top four spot in the East. Milwaukee currently sits just one and a half games behind Washington for the fifth spot in the conference. The Bucks could also catch Cleveland or Chicago who are only two and two and a half games ahead of Milwaukee respectively. Having home court advantage in the playoffs in the NBA can make a major difference who advances. Milwaukee’s lineup now will feature talented guards with MCW, Giannis Antetokounmpo and O.J. Mayo to carry this squad. This also bodes well for next season, as the Bucks will receive a nice boost with Jabari Parker’s return. This team now has a solid young core to build around in Parker, Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams. The Bucks made a very solid investment as they continue to take advantage of a very weak Eastern Conference.

For Miami, the impact of their move to land Dragic is mellowed by the news breaking that Chris Bosh is likely done for the rest of the year. Bosh in many ways has carried this Heat team with Dwayne Wade nursing an injury so his loss will come as a major blow. However, Miami has to be happy to land Dragic. This allows the Heat to move Mario Chalmers to the bench. Dragic has proven to be a dynamic scorer and solid floor general in his time in Phoenix. This will be a much-needed injection to a Heat offense that will surely struggle with Wade and Bosh sidelined. Dragic can also shift to shooting guard at times to play alongside Chalmers. The Heat just landed a very versatile piece that will likely help them hold onto their seventh spot in the standings. The Heat, who only sit one game above Brooklyn Nets and half a game above the Charlotte Hornets, do not have much breathing room right now.

On the flip side of the Heat trade, out west we saw the Suns blow up their current core. Not totally but Phoenix shipped off two of its four leading scorers. They also sent three young prospects packing along with them. The Suns acquired a solid point guard in Brandon Knight, veteran depth in the form of Marcus Thorton and some expiring contract. The biggest thing for Phoenix is the acquisition of three future first round draft picks. The Suns have realized that they simply cannot compete quite yet with the rest of the Western Conference with as deep as it is. The plan right now is to stock pile picks and wait for talent to develop. The West is too stacked right now. With the number of potential big name free agents in the 2016 offseason, it looks like Phoenix is banking on a power shift opening up some room for them to compete out in the desert.

The Nuggets began their remodeling process on Thursday. Denver traded away Javelle McGee, Aaron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee, the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum and a top-18 protected first round pick. The Nuggets received a couple of young pieces in return and a protected first round draft pick for 2016. The reason why this is just the start for Denver is because of the rumors swirling the front office is looking to trade Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler. My guess is they did not find a deal and were smart enough not to force a subpar one. This Denver team will continue to take shape during the offseason. This Denver squad has gone through a lot of change in the least three seasons since the Carmelo Anthony trade. Right now, the team is still searching for a new identity and unfortunately for Nuggets fans, it will probably be a few years before they manage to find one.

It is interesting to me how different the dynamics in each conference are. Denver was just about out of the hunt for a spot before the trades were made anyway but Phoenix was right in the thick of the race. Rather than stay the course, the Suns are looking to rebuild. In the East, Miami is in the same position as Phoenix and instead it made a move to hang on to their playoff hopes. The Heat believe they will have a shot against any opponent in the Eastern Conference. The Suns know they have some work to do first. 2016 might change all of that but that is still a long time away.

Top five most successful sports cities

As a continuation from yesterday’s piece, I thought it might be interesting to reflect back on the last 15 years of sports champions. More specifically, I am ranking the top ten sports cities in the US since 2000. This includes the five largest sports leagues in America, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. The rankings will mainly rely on championships won by a single city but I will also take into account appearances in the finals as well. Let’s see if your city cracked the top five.

#5 Chicago: 3 total titles in 6 total appearances
Chicago actually has fewer titles than San Antonio but gets the nod for the extra finals appearance and diversity across more than one sport. Chicago is home to the two-time finalist Fire of the MLS in 2000 and 2003. The Bears also claim the Windy City as home. Even though this NFL team hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1985, they did make it to 2007 Super Bowl. Despite the Cubs century long struggle to win the World Series, the White Sox claimed a title in 2005. The other two titles came from the NHL side. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013. Chicago has seen championship berths from the spread out across these 15 years. The Bulls, despite all the success in the 90s, have not made it to the finals since the turn of the century.

#4 Miami: 4 total titles in 6 total appearances
Florida’s major city clocks in at number four largely due to the success of the Miami Heat during this decade. The Heat made it to a NBA-record four straight NBA Finals, winning the middle two. The Heat also locked up a championship back in 2006 as well over the Dallas Mavericks. So yes, most of the credit goes to the NBA team but the baseball team based in Miami has a World Series title as well. The Marlins, who back then were only the Florida Marlins but still played in the city, won the 2003 World Series over the New York Yankees. The titles from two different sports gives Miami a boost. Now if only the Dolphins could help the city out. Soccer could be springing up as well soon as David Beckham seeks to set up a MLS expansion team. For now though, Miami is nowhere close to jumping over the top three cities on the list.

#3 Tri-State: 6 total titles in 15 total appearances
This seems like it is cheating a little bit but it is hard to differentiate New York and New Jersey. Despite being called the New York Giants, Jets and Red Bulls, all of these teams play in New Jersey, along with the Devils. Either way, The Giants locked up two Super Bowl titles in 2008 and 2012. The Red Bulls made a Cup run in 2008, falling short to Columbus. The Yankees won two World Series titles in 2000 and 2009, the 2000 one over the cross-town rival Mets. The Yanks also made the 2001 and 2003 Series. On the ice, the Devils have two Stanley Cups from runs in 2000 and 2003 to go along with losses in the 2001 and 2012 final. Even the Nets, who back then played in Jersey, made consecutive title appearances in 2002 and 2003. Worth noting, New Jersey based teams have accounted for 4 titles in 9 appearances while New York teams only have 2 championships in 6 showings. Looks like Jersey is holding up their end of the deal…

#2 Boston: 9 total titles in 18 total appearances
You know a city is dominant when they have more finals appearances than there are years in our criteria. Boston’s 18 championship runs is one less than the number one team on this list. The cities 9 titles are incredible though. The largest contributor has been the Patriots, with Super Bowl victories in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2015 and losses in 2008 and 2012. The Red Sox have held up their end of the bargain as well, delivering 3 World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013. The Celtics and Bruins even locked up a title each in 2008 and 2011 respectively. The little known fact is that Revolution actually have contributed the second most title appearances, with five. The issue is that they have come up short every time in the MLS Final. Still Boston’s titles are very impressive. They just couldn’t edge out number one.

#1 Los Angeles: 14 total titles in 19 total appearances
Wow. 14 titles in 15 years. It’s no wonder stars love going to Los Angeles. With teams in every one of the sports being considered but football, LA probably solid chances of succeeding but still 13 championships in 15 years in unprecedented. The LA Galaxy have brought home 5 MLS Cups in 7 attempts in 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2014. The Lakers have the same numbers with their titles coming in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010. The Kings have been stellar of late, nabbing two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. The Anaheim Ducks grabbed a trophy on the ice in 2007. The Anaheim Angeles added a World Series title in 2002 as well. When one city has three different teams winning titles in a single year (2002), there is really no discussion. This city has truly become Titletown since the year of 2000.

Disagree with the list, tell me who you think should have been included and who should have missed the cut.