The NBA landscape has been shaken to its core.
With this in mind, here are three potential landing spots for the franchise cornerstone.
|Heat receive||Thunder receive|
|Russell Westbrook||Goran Dragic|
The Heat acquiring Jimmy Butler despite having absolutely no cap space was impressive. It's the mark of a quality organization that understands how to sell its product - as was the case when it landed Shaquille O'Neal in 2004 and LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010. It makes Miami a legitimate candidate to go for the home run and chase Westbrook in a bid to form a new superstar duo.
There's no guarantee that Butler could mesh with the former MVP, as both have struggled to connect with All-Star teammates in the past. However, few teams have Miami's track record of making big-name combos work. The no-nonsense style that president Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra enforce fits the pair's aggressive personalities and could possibly help Miami rise into title contention.
While there are clear benefits to employing an eight-time All-Star, in Westbrook's case, the drawbacks are painfully obvious, too. He's on the wrong side of 30, he's overly reliant on athleticism, there are damning questions about his inefficient play, and he's owed just under $170 million over the next four seasons. Like with any other potential suitor, It would boil down to the Heat being OK with possibly sacrificing their long-term outlook and genuinely believing that the good significantly outweighs the bad.
|Knicks receive||Thunder receive|
|Russell Westbrook||Frank Ntilikina|
|2021 first-round pick|
The Knicks cleared cap space in hopes of securing at least one of the summer's marquee free agents. But playing in the Big Apple has lost its luster, and it's becoming increasingly clear that the only way to get a star in a Knicks jersey is to trade for one. It could be New York's best chance to re-emerge as a favorable destination for marquee free agents.
New York would likely need to wait before making a play for Westbrook. Six players on the roster inked free-agent deals this summer, and under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, newly signed free agents can't be dealt until at least Dec. 15. The Knicks would need to include some of those new pieces to match up with Westbrook's $38.5-million salary for the 2019-20 season.
Westbrook would fill an immediate need at the point, which has been a revolving door over the years. New York's offense would run through the two-time NBA scoring champion, and his playmaking abilities could help youngsters Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett flourish. A Westbrook-led team could sneak into the playoffs this upcoming season, but most importantly, the Knicks own control of their destiny.
The club owns 2020-21 options on eight players and currently only has four players on the books through the 2021-22 season. While the Knicks gambled and struck out on free agency this summer, it could be a different story in two years' time. New York would then be banking on the development of its youth and the presence of a 32-year-old Westbrook to change its fortunes.
|Pistons receive||Thunder receive|
|Russell Westbrook||Reggie Jackson|
|2020 first-round pick|
|2022 first-round pick|
Reggie Jackson is a perfectly capable NBA point guard, but Detroit is teetering on the edge of mediocrity. The Pistons were the eighth seed - just barely - in the East last season and their reward for squeaking into the playoffs was a four-game drubbing by the Milwaukee Bucks that cemented the notion that Detroit isn't built for the postseason.
That's never where any team wants to be, but it's more pressing given that both Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond are riding max contracts next season, with Griffin's guaranteed in 2020-21, too. The Pistons need to upgrade now, and while this proposed swap would likely weaken their three-point shooting, it's a risk worth taking.
It makes sense for the Thunder, too. Tony Snell has a $12-million player option in 2020-21, so the 27-year-old can opt out next summer if he isn't on board with what will likely be a long rebuild, and Luke Kennard is a young sharpshooter still locked into his rookie contract through 2021-22. Jackson's expiring deal helps match salaries, but a return to the Thunder would give them another starting point guard for a year before they likely hand the keys to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The real sweeteners in the swap, though, are the two first-round picks, even if they're not in the lottery. Thanks to the Los Angeles Clippers' desperate need for Paul George, the Thunder could have an extra five first-round selections between 2022 and 2026 (plus another two pick swaps). Acquiring two more first-rounders from Detroit would give Oklahoma City more than enough to again rebuild through the draft or to package in a trade for another superstar.