Kevin Durant chose to leave a title contending Oklahoma City Thunder team to form a Big 4 with the Golden State Warriors. Typically when a team loses a player of Durant’s stature it leaves the team reeling in mediocrity for years. Luckily, the Thunder have an All-NBA point guard in Russell Westbrook. He led the league in triple-doubles last season. The year prior he willed the team to the playoffs without Durant (Durant had surgery on his right foot causing him to miss most of the season). The team built around Durant and Westbrook, adding skilled big men and floor spacing shooters. With Durant gone, the Thunder could continue to add players to keep Westbrook in playoff contention.
Or they would be wise to trade Westbrook now.
The team gambled with Durant during free agency, hoping that his loyalty to Westbrook and the OKC fans would stave off the allure of winning a championship next year. Even though the Thunder had the Warriors down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals and were within minutes of going to the NBA Finals, Durant clearly decided that his union with Westbrook had reached its peak.
With that in mind, we must consider Westbrook as a trade asset in order for the Thunder to start a rebuild. Here are some deals I believe the Thunder should take a look at to upgrade their roster:
1. The Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers Get: Russell Westbrook
Thunder Get: Luol Deng, Brandon Ingram or D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle. Protected 2017 1st round draft pick
This trade would benefit both teams immediately. The first priority for the Thunder is to see which teams would Westbrook commit to long term. I see the Lakers as a potential fit, as Westbrook is a Los Angeles guy (he played for UCLA). The Thunder would have to decide if they want Russell to be their future point guard or Ingram as the next Durant. The Lakers can’t totally gut their team because they need pieces around Westbrook to be competitive. The key to this trade scenario is that the Thunder have to wait until right at the trade deadline. They have to let the Lakers accumulate as many losses as possible before Westbrook arrives, so they can get the best use of the draft pick they would acquire.
For the Thunder, a team with D’Angelo Russell, Victor Oladipo, Julius Randle, and Steven Adams is a pretty good start to a rebuild. Once they add a player from a 2017 Draft that is rumored to be one of the best in recent years, that is quite a rebound from the heartbreak Durant inflicted on the franchise.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
Timberwolves Get: Russell Westbrook
Thunder Get: Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, and Ricky Rubio. Minnesota 2017 and 2018 first round draft picks.
Now on paper this looks like a steal for the Thunder. They would be getting a young, proven wing player in Wiggins, a freak athlete in LaVine, and the draft picks are a nice throw in. There may be room for Rubio on the roster but the team would be better served it they traded Rubio for another wing player. The Timberwolves would be loaded with backcourt talent, with rookie Kris Dunn and Westbrook. Pairing those two players with Rookie of the Year Karl Anthony-Towns would give the Timberwolves a pretty good team. Also, head coach Tom Thibodeau would get the best out of Westbrook defensively and give him the freedom to create for himself offensively.
Although Andrew Wiggins has shown improvement his first two years, there are no signs pointing to him being a superstar. I have his floor at Rudy Gay and ceiling at Vince Carter. He’s still young but giving him a new start in OKC with LaVine could possibly unlock his full potential as he would undoubtedly be the face of the franchise.
3. New York Knicks
Knicks Get: Russell Westbrook
Thunder Get: Derrick Rose
This is the biggest gamble of all. Westbrook for Rose may seem like a crazy trade. However, if you follow Westbrook you know he is into bright lights and big cities. The move would cater to his modeling and fashion vices. It would also give him a better team than what he’s currently on when you account for Carmelo Anthony, Kristap Porzingis and Joakim Noah. Getting Westbrook to commit to an extension after the season may not be as difficult when you consider Anthony’s contract will be off the books in two years and Porzingis can be a building piece going into the future. Rose would ultimately be the loser in this scenario but he would have a young team to play with for a season to prove he can return to MVP form. Sharing the spotlight with Porzingis and Anthony is more cumbersome than playing with Enes Kanter and Oladipo. Maybe the Knicks attach some future draft picks to sweeten the deal but the Thunder have to make a move on Westbrook soon.