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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NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers

kawhi_leonard_vs_charlotte_2019
Leonard turned the NBA on its head by signing with the Clippers. (Wikimedia Commons)

Chaos. Absolute chaos. That is the best way to sum up NBA free agency in 2019. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are teaming up with the Clippers. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined forces in Brooklyn. Anthony Davis finally landed in Los Angeles alongside LeBron James and DeMarcus Cousins. That doesn’t even include Al Horford, Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker signing with new teams.

It was one of the craziest weeks in the history of the league. At the end of the day, the league’s power dynamic has completely shifted. The NBA officially runs through Los Angeles. It is time to assess the winner and losers from this wild free agency period.

los_angeles_clippers_logo_1984-2010Winners: Los Angeles Clippers
Wow. No one saw this coming. The Clippers were long linked to Kawhi, but no one expected him to go there alongside George. The former Thunder superstar forced his way out of OKC and now creates a superstar pairing with a ton of depth around them. Los Angeles has to be the title favorite heading into the season.

Russell WestbrookLoser: Russell Westbrook
This cannot be where Russ expected to be when free agency opened. The talks are already rumbling about a potential Westbrook trade so Oklahoma City can truly enter a rebuild. He finds himself without a co-star on a team that still couldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs. His days in OKC are numbered.

800px-adam_silver_281584700477129Winner: The NBA
Do you remember there ever being a more exciting free agency period in another sport? MLB is coming off a year where huge names moved, but it took so long that the fun was lost. The NBA is in a league of its own when it comes to exciting offseason drama. It is clearly dominating the headlines and will be the talk of the sports world well into the month of July, not a typical situation for basketball.

toronto_raptors-wordmarkLosers: Toronto Raptors
Leonard is gone. Danny Green is gone. That’s 40 percent of the Raptors’ championship-winning starting lineup set to play next year in Los Angeles. Toronto is far from a rebuild, still boasting Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam. The bench is deep, but this team no longer has a top-five star to lean on. The Raptors will be good, but they are no longer anywhere near the title conversation.

Nets logoWinners: Brooklyn Nets
It is easy to almost forget about the Nets given the moves the Clippers just made, but Brooklyn set itself up to be a contender from 2020 onward. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan join a team full of young talent and perimeter shooting. The Nets even made the playoffs last season without their new big three. Without Durant, they don’t have the makeup of a real contender, but when he returns, they will be firmly in the conversation.

9163126439_ba341593de_bLoser: New York Knicks
It’s hard to talk about one basketball team in New York without bringing up the other. The narrative all season was that the Knicks were poised to land a bunch of stars in the offseason. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis were all mentioned. Instead, New York’s big free agency move was to land Julius Randle. That is barely a consolation prize by comparison to what could have been. Given the fact the Knicks also missed out on the Zion sweepstakes, fans are going to be very unhappy with how this offseason went.

1280px-los_angeles_lakers_logo.svg_Winners: Los Angeles Lakers
No, they didn’t win the Kawhi sweepstakes, but it might be a good thing for the Lakers for this year. With limited cap space, the Lakers filled out the rest of their roster, bringing back Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Then they landed the floor-stretching Danny Green and continuing reclamation project DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins showed flashes of his All-Star potential in the postseason, before he suffered another injury. There is a decent amount of injury risk with this team, but if it can stay healthy, Los Angeles is much closer to an NBA title than it was a year ago.

charlotte_hornets-wordmarkLosers: Charlotte Hornets
This continues to be one of the worst run franchises in the NBA. Kemba Walker skipped town and the Hornets overpaid to bring in Terry Rozier. He might be 25 years old, but paying him over $19 million a year seems pretty steep. This team is capped out otherwise and seems to be nowhere near the playoff conversation. Charlotte will finally have more flexibility next season, but losing Walker makes it tough to qualify this as anything other than a loss.

philadelphia76ers2Winners: Philadelphia 76ers
Lost in the shuffle of all this is the fact the Sixers reloaded for another run. Signing Tobias Harris, sending Jimmy Butler to Miami for Josh Richardson and signing Al Horford makes Philly one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. It will be interesting to see how this team lines up, Ben Simmons could play point guard, but it seems like this is the best positioned team to challenge Milwaukee in the East next year.

cleveland_cavaliers_wordmarkLosers: Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs are undoubtedly in a rebuild and seemed poised to move high-priced veterans like Kevin Love and JR Smith. With free agency mostly over and every roster seemingly set, it is going to be more difficult to move either or both players. Cleveland had a window to reshape the roster and it feels like it missed out.

miami_heat_wordmarkWinners: Miami Heat
For whatever reason, Pat Riley never wants to go through a rebuild. Miami reloaded again by adding Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade deal with Philly. Suddenly, the Heat are in the mix to continue to build. Don’t expect the Riley to sit around idly either. He will be aggressive in acquiring more pieces to surround Butler and Dion Waiters.

minnesota_timberwolves_wordmarkLosers: Minnesota Timberwolves
There were a lot of rumors this was a likely destination for DeAngelo Russell. Not only did Minnesota not land him, they failed to move Andrew Wiggins’ bloated contract as well. Signing Jordan Bell was a savvy, but Minnesota went through another offseason without finding a way to build around Karl-Anthony Towns. In a loaded Western Conference, this team feels further away from the playoffs than they did a year ago.

memphis_grizzlies_wordmarkWinners: Memphis Grizzlies
Make no mistake, Memphis is nowhere near competing with the top tier teams in the West, but they are leaning into the rebuild. The Grizzlies sent Mike Conley to Utah and acquired Andre Igoudala and a first round pick from the Warriors as part of a salary dump. They will continue to be active, already adding Delon Wright to the list of veterans shipped out.

 

NBA All Star snubs

The NBA All Star rosters took another step towards being finalized yesterday. The coaches decided on who the reserve players for each team should be. The East roster now features Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Pau Gasol, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Kyrie Irving and Dwayne Wade. The West includes Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson. At least two players, Wade and Bryant, will likely not be participating due to injury. There are some notable names missing from this list and I am going to break down who among them should have made it.

The first name to jump out at me absolutely has to be Derrick Rose. The Bulls’ point guard has had an injury-ridden season but when he has played, he has looked like one of the best players in the league. He has struggled though, especially shooting the ball. However, he is still scoring at a great rate and he is tied for 16th in points per 48 minutes played. He is also scoring more than Teague or Wall, who made the team over him. Rose is averaging fewer assists and shooting at a much worse rate per game though so I can understand why he was not picked. That being said, I think he is the next logical add if it turns out that Wade cannot go.

The other thing that bothers me in the East is leaving out the Pistons’ frontcourt. Both Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are in the top ten for rebounding this season with Drummond ranking second and Monroe tying for ninth. Drummond is averaging almost thirteen points per game as well with Monroe accounting for more than 15 per night. Drummond also has the most board per 48 minutes played and is an excellent shot blocker ranking ninth in the league. The issue for these two guys is that it is hard to argue whose spot they should take. I think Millsap and Horford were deserving of their selections. Both of these Pistons’ big men have played well though this season and certainly should have been considered.

Flipping to the West now, there is no bigger omission than DeMarcus Cousins. The man they call “Boogie” has been a force in Sacramento this season. Cousins has missed some time due to injury this year but he has put on a show out in California. He cleans up the board with 12.3 rebounds a game, good for third in the NBA. That is also two more rebounds per game than Duncan, who did make the team. The Kings’ big man has also made his presence felt defensively, with roughly 1.5 blocks and steals each per matchup. Duncan is logging about 2 blocks but only 1 steal per game. The biggest difference though is the gap in scoring. Duncan is scoring a solid 14.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Cousins is tallying 23.8 per night, which ranks fifth best in the NBA. I understand that Duncan is a great veteran player but I would definitely have selected Cousins over him.

Damian Lillard was another man forgotten in the All Star selection process. He has been a much better scorer than Chris Paul has this season but Paul has registered a lot more assists. The Blazers’ floor general shot much more effectively than Bryant did this season but Kobe, even despite his age, has been the better defender. The reality is that Lillard has played extremely well but it hasn’t been enough to push his name into being an All Star. There is a good chance that had Lillard been playing the East he would have been selected this season. He has outperformed the majority of the guards in the East but that does not matter with voting being conducted by conference.

It is hard to argue with the lineups being assembled to play in New York this season (well, outside of Kobe of course). There were some guys who were probably qualified to make these teams but unfortunately come up short based on how tough it is to make the 12-man roster. Only 24 players are named All Stars meaning that there are plenty of others who are left out. Let me know if you think there were some other players who should have made it.

NBA Cornerstones: Point Guard

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I will have a couple of parameters for this selection though I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think it should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope that you guys agree.

I thought I would start first with the NBA. This is one of the smaller size professional teams as far as American sports go. So without further ado, let’s get going with this one.

The selection: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Honorable mentions: Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook

This took a little bit of thinking. Curry still has probably another five or six years of his prime left in him. The longevity factor is there, which makes Curry a logical choice. Outside of the 2011 lockout year, the former Davidson guard has played in at least 74 games every season. That is not perfect but I will take that over the uncertainty of Rose. Curry also has the potential to still improve a little bit in his career. His potential to improve his passing is there. He has been a good distributor already but he has the potential to grow into a great one. His defensive presence is lacking as well and could definitely use a boost.

Now, Paul is a better passer. He fills the role of pure point guard a bit better than Curry does. However, the Clippers guard does not score anywhere close to as much as Curry does. Curry also finds a way to do it at an efficient level. The 26-year old has shot 47 percent from the field over his 6-year NBA career. That is much better than Westbrook or Lillard, who both sit around 43% for their career. He is also a deadeye from beyond the arc. If the 2015 season ended today, it would be the first time Curry ever finished below 40 percent shooting from 3-point territory. Even still, it would only be at 39.9 percent. He has also been solid from the line over his 6 years as well shooting a shade under 90 percent. Shooting wise, Curry might be the best guard in the NBA (maybe other than Kyle Korver). He is a marksman on the court and efficiently destroys teams.
With his shooting abilities, Golden State’s leading scorer is also eighth in scoring for the league this year. The only other point guard in the top 20 is Lillard, but he ranks eleventh. Westbrook does not qualify yet because he has not played enough games in 2015 due to injury. Since 2012, Curry has scored more than 22 points per game in every season. His career average at this point is now up to over 20 a game.  Curry also has hit the most three pointers of any point guard so far this season, again slightly ahead of Lillard. The man can score and likely will continue to do so at a high rate.

Curry also has proven he can develop into a floor general. He is not as good as Paul is in this respect but well above average. Curry has averaged about 6.8 assists per night throughout his career and he is improving, as that number for each of the last two years was 8.5 and 8.1 respectively. He has some better pieces around him in California now so we should see Curry posting between 8 and 9 assist per night. Those are not eye-popping numbers but they are very good for a player regarded more as a shoot first point guard. The 2015 All Star also has some very talented dribbling abilities. He can break down players in the open court and will occasionally break a player’s ankles. Curry has also averaged just over three turnovers per game for his career, which is a solid number for a player with a usage rating of over 25 percent.

I think overall Curry is probably one of the top three point guards in the NBA. The other two are probably Paul and Westbrook. Paul is a better passer and scores efficiently but he is not a dominant scorer. Westbrook is an athletic playmaker who has an uncanny ability to get to the basket, he also can put up a lot of assists playing for the Thunder but he is a streaky and overall average at best shooter. Curry is a combination of the two. He has the athletic ability to give slower guards some problems and he is an incredible shooter who will make contested baskets. Curry does have some shortcomings with his defensive game needing a little bit of work. It is beginning to improve but overall it is fairly weak. Westbrook, Paul and Rose all play much better defense. He also lacks experience when it comes to playing deep into the playoffs. Only Westbrook and Rose really have that experience. So, while the pick isn’t perfect, I am sticking to it. My first NBA cornerstone player has to be Steph Curry.