The NBA offseason has been absolutely crazy and right when we thought things could be done, we were waiting to see where the Thunder would inevitably end up trading franchise cornerstone Russell Westbrook. The two main teams that we heard were the Houston Rockets and the Miami Heat.
I was hesitant on him being traded to the Rockets because I was unsure how that would work out with the contract situations and then with the basketball fit, but Daryl Morey seemed determined to add another star to the team and that would have to involve moving on from Chris Paul after two seasons.
Then when things seemed quiet Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN dropped an atomic bomb on the NBA World and on NBA Twitter, by announcing that Russell Westbrook was in fact going to be on the move to the Houston Rockets and in exchange the Oklahoma City Thunder would be getting Chris Paul, two top-four protected draft picks and two picks swaps.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed to trade Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, pick swaps in 2021 and 2025, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 12, 2019
I was in shock when I saw that this move was being made. Russell Westbrook and James Harden have obviously played together during their careers already before the Thunder decided to trade Harden largely because they didn’t want to pay the luxury tax, and now they will be back together and I couldn’t be more interested.
They are both such ball-dominant players, but they are also so different. Westbrook is a freak athlete that plays at a million miles per hour at all times, while Harden is a better shooter and is a more methodical player.
In a sense Westbrook fits in perfectly to Mike D’Antoni’s system because he is someone who can grab a rebound and take it the length of the floor in four seconds. His propensity to play at the pace he does as well should fit in well with D’Antoni’s system. Where he doesn’t fit in however is his inability to shoot. The Rockets of course shoot as many three-pointers as anyone in the league and Westbrook is only a 30.8% three-point shooter and in four of the last five seasons he has shot worse than 30% from distance.
Now what will help him out is that he will have less attention paid to him by defenses because I think he and Harden will split the ball-handling duties, but overall he just isn’t a very good shooter.
The play styles of Harden and Westbrook could work well together if they are able to figure out how much each will handle the ball, because Westbrook is the athlete he is and can slash to the hoop and make things happen that not a lot of other players in basketball can make happen, and Harden is a much better shooter (36.5% career three-point shooter), so if he can understand that playing off the ball a decent amount could benefit him this could really work.
A lot of whether or not this works to me will come down to how much each can adapt their play style. They both dominate the ball and have an extremely high usage rate, so some compromise will be needed from both of them or else this has the potential to blow up in the Rockets face.
Going forward this will be Houston’s team. Clint Capela is locked up for four more seasons and Westbrook and Harden are locked up for three more seasons with a player option for the fourth, while P.J. Tucker still has two years left. Eric Gordon is in the last year of his deal, but they will have no cap space going forward, so barring a trade this will be their team going forward as they try and chase a title.
For Oklahoma City this rebuild has started as well as they could’ve imagined. Between this deal and the Paul George trade they have accumulated so many draft picks and rights to swap picks and those, combined with their own picks, which should be high picks because they likely won’t be very good, should be able to land them at least one franchise-level player between all of those picks.
The Thunder will also have a ton of cap space going forward. They could still potentially trade Steven Adams and as of now Chris Paul counts against their cap space, but he should be traded fairly soon. After that Roberson is in the last year of his deal as is Danilo Gallinari and the only bad contract I feel like they have is Dennis Schroder, but he only has two years left.
Sam Presti has done a great job hitting the reset button on a team that was one of the more expensive teams in the league when you take into account the luxury tax and had yet to make it out of the first-round of the playoffs since Kevin Durant left in July of 2016.
Overall this trade is exciting because the Thunder have loaded up an amount of draft picks we have never seen before to start a rebuild and I’m very excited to see how Westbrook and Harden work together and how much they will adjust their play style to fit each other. It also comes with the likelihood that Chris Paul will be traded in due time.
Our YouTube video on the trade and ranking top NBA duos
Podcast episode on the trade
Top Photo: Michael Wyke/Associated Press