Wednesday, February 19, 2014

NBA Trade Scenarios: OKC should trade Russell Westbrook


Russell Westbrook fell again to injury on Christmas Day and everybody wondered, could Oklahoma City continue to play at an elite level without their star PG and one of the best players in the NBA? Kevin Durant clearly took offense to that (no pun intended) and has torched the league after Westbrook went down. Since that injury, Kevin Durant has put up 35 points, eight rebounds, and six assists per game on nearly 50-40-90 shooting (52.7-39.9-87.8). Throw in six 40-point games along with a career-high 54-point show against the Golden State Warriors and you are only beginning to get a picture of how unstoppable the 6’10” forward is. Even if he claims he’s shorter.
Being one of the founders of the “Trade Westbrook Club,” my history begging Sam Presti to trade one of the best players in the game goes all the way back to May 2012 when James Harden was still with Oklahoma City. Just imagine a Durant-Harden combination where Harden can play a Chris Paul-esque point guard role where he can facilitate for Durant & Co. but also create for himself… Too late for that.

But with only one day left before the 2014 NBA trade deadline, I’m back to preach the same message: Sam, please trade Westbrook. I know Durant already told Bill Simmons that Westbrook is returning to play the Heat on Thursday night, but that doesn’t stop you from pulling a fast one and keeping together a Durant-led team that has an NBA-best 20 wins since Westbrook’s re-injury. The development of Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson has been staggering and those are role players that can support King Kevin.

The fad in today’s NBA is to bring together as many superstars as possible, from KG-Pierce-Allen to LeBron-Wade-Bosh to Harden and Howard. Durant and Westbrook, two of the best players in the game, should naturally follow as a brilliant combo…but we’ve seen that it has fallen short. That's not to say an NBA Finals appearance isn't laudable, just to say that Durant and OKC's potential is higher without Westbrook.

Now we have also firsthand that a Westbrook-less Thunder is better without him. The scoring machine has been fully unleashed and his sidekicks are stepping up.

I want to point out that the other major star combinations are actually not comparable to Durant and Westbrook. The successful combinations had complimentary talents—Pierce’s scoring, Ray’s sharpshooting, and KG’s inside/defensive presence with the 2007 Boston Celtics; LeBron’s everything, Wade’s slashing, and Bosh’s stretch-4/5 abilities in Miami. Even Kobe and Dwight theoretically had complimenting talents a la Kobe and Shaq but we all know the disaster that turned out to be. Speaking of which…


Russell Westbrook’s trade value is two-fold: 1) it frees Kevin Durant to truly become the primary scorer. Somehow despite KD’s scoring titles and overall efficiency, Westbrook still manages to jack up more shots than Durant (last year Durant had more than 100 less shots than Westbrook). 2) His trade value allows OKC to further compliment the pieces that OKC has on the court without the elite point guard.

Without getting too far speculating precise trade possibilities, I want to highlight one particularly attractive option.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade at first glance appeared to be potentially clashing scorers when they joined forces. (We’re talking healthy Wade here, not the appearing and disappearing act he has been since mid-November 2013.) But LeBron’s ability to facilitate shone through and gave Wade opportunities to get open jumpers and easy baskets. 27 points and seven assists per game since joining Miami in 2010-11 is reminiscent of an up-and-coming All-Star near the other South Beach.

Golden State fans must be drooling at the possibility
of a pairing of these two stars.
Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook would be an absolute perfect pairing. Two players that run the point but are also capable (and perhaps more naturally) shooting guards would be filthy to watch. The ultimate ability to combine an athletic scorer with the best shot in the game. Point guard and shooting guard would be interchangeable and Steph Curry would have the chance to play off the ball and get some more catch-and-shoot opportunities.

Two questions must be asked, though: would OKC dream of trading one of their stars to a potential Western conference contender? And is a Westbrook to Golden State trade feasible and desirable for OKC?

Precedence says that Sam Presti has no problem trading a core player to another Western conference contender. True, Dwight Howard hadn’t signed with Houston at the time OKC traded Harden to their cross-state neighbor, but it had to be within Presti’s foresight that Houston was stacking their cards. (Houston is yet another example of aligning complementary stars.)

And despite coming into the season with the hype-train choo-chooing for the Warriors, their performance of late has dropped them in the eyes of many in the contender picture in the Western conference.

Most importantly for Oklahoma City, the pieces that Golden State has to offer would fit perfectly with Durant. Golden State also has flexibility with two huge trade exceptions ($9 million and $4 million) which would allow them to take on more salary if they decided not to give up David Lee.

Here is one option:

Golden State gets R. Westbrook, K. Perkins, N. Collison
Oklahoma City gets D. Lee, K. Thompson, J. O’Neal


Although Westbrook’s demeanor might take time to work in Golden State, the upsides of a Westbrook-Curry backcourt are worth the trouble. Lineups like Curry-Westbrook-Iguodala-Speights-Bogut or Curry-Westbrook-Barnes-Iguodala-Bogut would be nightmares for opponents. Elite defense from three positions and easily the most potent scoring (not just shooting) backcourt in the game would make the most entertaining team in the league that much more must-watch.

If a trade like this went down, Oklahoma City would have to throw Ibaka at the 5, which they have done, or entertain the possibility of a three-team trade. You’ll have to email me if you want a crazy three team trade I drew up. It could be almost a remix of the Warriors trading away Monta Ellis where they acquired Bogut and Stephen Jackson and then dealt Jackson immediately.

OKC also gets to dump the Kendrick Perkinator even though Scott Brooks’ unhealthy affinity for the guy probably takes a hit. They add an ambidextrous bona-fide scorer inside if they decide to keep David Lee and a knock-down three-point shooter in Klay Thompson. OKC now sports lineups like Jackson-Thompson-Durant-Lee-Ibaka.

And I’ll take it to my grave, Klay Thompson is an above average defender, with Exhibit A being some impressive defense against one LeBron James:


(Note: right click on the video and uncheck "loop" to stop the above from replaying.)

Would both teams be willing to blow up a solid part of their core for the foreseeable future? Maybe not. Am I going crazy waiting for something big to go down at the deadline? Most likely. But if you draw up the futures of both teams, you might start to see that Westbrook to the Warriors would work well. For both teams.

Update: At the request of some readers, the three-team trade that I wound up with may or may not have included Westbrook and Kevin Love.

5 comments:

  1. This entire article is Blasphemous. Westbrook-less Thunder is NOT better than a Thunder with westbrook. Case and point: Thunder went 21-4 with westbrook and KD. Take Russell out of the equation And they have the same number of wins but with 4 more loses. And why on earth would the Thunder need David Lee for?!?! Adams will start at the 5 and ibaka at 4. i don't think lee will settle for coming of the bench.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm glad you liked it... haha. Anyway, you have to factor in other things besides simply the raw records because OKC has been atop nearly every statistical category and team category since Westbrook was injured.


    As for David Lee, you must not have read the article. I answered exactly how David Lee would be used either as useful player personnel or trade value.

    ReplyDelete
  3. As a whole, you do make a good point that this trade COULD possibly help both teams, but, it won't happen, and here is why.



    For one, we both agree that Westbrook is a top 10 player in the league. He is explosive, and a nightly 25/6/8, and still only 25, all while being a pretty good defender. All in all, I believe that Westbrook is a franchise player. On the other hand, while David Lee is a solid power forward, he is already almost 31, and has never been even a decent defender.


    Secondly, and even more importantly, Westbrook is under contract until 2017! If a team acquires him, they have him at his current salary for THREE and a half years. Orlando and [especially] New Orleans accepted inferior packages (relative to what you are proposing) for their respective franchise players, but that's because they had no leverage with them due to their impending free agency. Superstars with this long of contracts left just don't get traded. There's a reason Bill Simmons ranked Westbrook 4th in his trade value column last year - he isn't just a superstar, but he is also locked into a pretty friendly contract for another three years. OKC won't trade him unless they get a franchise player in return. The only players I can see OKC trading for westbrook are Curry, LeBron, Kyrie, and maybe Ant Davis - or, a mediocre player but with a really high first round pick attached. They won't trade him for a mid-tier player like D Lee. The dubs are good as it is anyway!

    ReplyDelete
  4. True, it is the best teams that win championships, but whether a player ends up being complimentary is honestly very difficult to judge until the players actually play together. Many people last year said that the Lakers' talent was complimentary, and we saw what happened there. The Thunder have had a great stretch without Westbrook, but it has been accompanied by historically great play from Durant, and as we know, historically great isn't a realistic standard to set over the course of multiple playoff series. Continuity is very important and the entire THunder team, minus Westbrook, have played a lottttt of minutes together over the previous 4 seasons. This is the year they break through.


    Regardless, I don't see how your proposed trade compliments Durant any better. KD plays a lot of minutes at power forward, while both Ibaka and David Lee play PF/C!! Sounds a bit like the Josh Smith-Greg Monroe -Drummond dilemma in Detroit. Meanwhile, Thompson himself shoots a solid amount. In my opinion, the best "compliment" to KD would be Rondo, because he is a great passing PG, but even in that case, I wouldn't trade Westbrook. You don't make a gamble like this when you are poised to be a dominant team for at least the next three seasons.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hello Elijah


    It's well thought out plan. However it would take away from Warriors ability to score inside and out.


    It would also make the Thunder almost unstoppable. Reggie Jackson, Klay, KD, Lee, Ibaka would be a starting 5 that would be hard to beat for even a fully healthy Heat team.


    I like the idea of a RW/Curry back court but they just wouldn't be as versatile in the scoring department.


    David Lee ability to score underneath helps open up the outside for shooters Curry and Thompson

    ReplyDelete

Add your thoughts or opinion.