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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Some Love lost in Cleveland

The Cleveland Cavaliers have returned to being one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this year with LeBron James’ return home. However, this team has its fair share of deficiencies, starting with how players fit together on the floor. It is no secret that Kevin Love has had a tough year. He has been a decent contributor but not at the level that the Cavs thought he would play when they acquired him last summer.

Love is posting career lows as a starter in attempts per game and makes per game this year. His shooting percentage is at its worst mark in a season where Love has started at least 20 games. His rebound average is the lowest it has been since his rookie year. On top of all of that, Love’s scoring has dipped by almost ten points this season. He clearly does not fit with the Cavaliers. Realistically, Love will likely leave Cleveland at the end of the season with his contract set to expire. Here are the best places that Love could land next offseason.

Minnesota Timberwolves: This would be the icing on the cake for the T-Wolves. Getting Love back and hanging on to Wiggins. Essentially, the Cavaliers would have traded for the 3-time All-star in exchange for clearing Anthony Bennett of the books. This is not the most likely scenario, as Minnesota will probably be looking elsewhere to spend their money. With a ton of youth, the Wolves could look to sign a veteran power forward instead. Either way, the Wolves have a need at the position and Love would certainly fit their system. However, Minnesota ranks as the worst defensive team in the league. Love, who is primarily an offense first player, would be benefit from playing elsewhere.

New Orleans Pelicans: With Omar Asik’s contract about to expire, he could become expendable. Enter Love and suddenly, the Pelicans have one of the best duos in basketball in their frontcourt. Anthony Davis and Love teamed up together could be scary. Love would also assuredly benefit from Davis’ shot blocking presence, negated much of his poor play defensively. Unfortunately, Love could run into the same problem that he has in Cleveland. There would be a lot of mouths to feed in New Orleans with Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Davis and Love all wanting high volume touches.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks are one of the best defensive squads in basketball and with Larry Sanders unlikely to return, the Bucks could use a new body in their frontcourt. Love’s addition to Milwaukee could pose some problems with Jabari Parker’s return next season and Giannis Antetokounmpo already stationed at small forward. Love would be able to take over as a lead scorer on this team though as the Bucks have zero front court players scoring more than ten points per game. Plus, with Milwaukee ranking at 25th in rebounds per night, adding Love would be a welcome addition.

Indiana Pacers: The odds that this one happens might be the highest of any team. It makes a lot of sense to me. Love is a great scorer and can play alongside one other top scorer in Paul George. He would join a team that is one of the best defensively in the league, which is a perfect fit for Love. On top of that, he would play alongside a great rim protector in Roy Hibbert and an excellent distributor in George Hill. And no one else on the Pacers requires a ton of touches except for George, which creates a nice opening for Love to come in and be an elite scorer. This moves when it is broken down makes a ton of sense and would propel Indiana into the conversation of best team in the East if George returns the same.

Love might return to Cleveland because he wants a shot at a championship but he would be smart to walk away. This is not the best spot for him and he would benefit tremendously playing elsewhere. It will be an interesting year in free agency and teams would likely be willing to spend a year in biting the bullet of the luxury tax knowing that the 2016 offseason will provide a massive boost to the cap. Getting a top offense weapon like Love in a weaker offseason will be a smart move for an offensive needy team. Now it just remains to be seen who will make a run for the former UCLA product.

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.