All-Star guard Russell Westbrook wants out of Houston. After a shaky first season with the Rockets, the superstar talent is looking elsewhere for answers. Westbrook joined Houston following his 11-year tenure with the Oklahoma City Thunder in a blockbuster trade involving Chris Paul. This deal was meant to reunite Westbrook with his former teammate James Harden to hopefully reignite the spark that helped bring success to those past Thunder teams. With both players now having an MVP on their resume, the Houston front office felt this was a match made in heaven.
The Rockets finished as the fourth seed in the West, ultimately getting eliminated in the second round by the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. Westbrook had been eliminated in the first round in each of the previous three seasons with Oklahoma City, but a second-round exit was not his ambition when he arrived in Houston. At the age of thirty-two, Westbrook wants to win now, and a change of scenery is what he believes is best.
Westbrook is a star craving a new path, and the New York Knicks are a team in desperate need of a leader. Over the last decade, New York has struck out on numerous big-name free agents, as the team has lost its reputation as a distinguished franchise. The marketability of the organization has plummeted, as the constant mediocrity of the team has forced them into irrelevance. This was never more apparent than during last year’s free agency, when the Knicks were expected to land multiple All-Stars, specifically Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. However, instead of attempting to revitalize a dismal Knicks team, the free agents decided to sign with the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets.
New York has not acquired a top-tier player since trading for Carmelo Anthony in 2011, and the last major free agent signing was Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010. The Knicks need to start winning again, and more importantly, they need to become a desirable destination. Adding a player like Westbrook would immediately change the way the Knicks are viewed as a franchise. In the weaker Eastern Conference, New York would become playoff contenders, which would be significant considering they have not made the postseason since 2013. Any playoff appearance in the Big Apple is an enormous deal, but bringing success to a depleted franchise like the Knicks would be monumental.
New York has failed in many aspects of basketball in recent years, but one thing they have been able to obtain has been assets. They have a solid array of draft picks and young prospects to use as trade pieces. Depending on if Houston wants to completely rebuild, or just take Westbrook out of the equation will definitely alter a potential deal. Here is a possible trade that could work for either situation:
New York Receive: Russell Westbrook
Houston Receives: Julius Randle, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, 2021 first round pick from Dallas
From New York’s standpoint, they would receive an All-Star guard and a much-needed playmaker. The Knicks are not expected to pick up Elfrid Payton’s contract, and Dennis Smith Jr. has struggled to play the point guard position. The Knicks need someone to run their offense and set up shots for players like RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. There is no option currently available that surpasses the abilities of Westbrook. Even while playing with another ball dominant player in Harden, Westbrook was able to average 7.0 assists per game. This was down for him too, as he averaged 10+ assists in the four previous seasons. Though, his fantastic numbers are not the only positive he brings to the table.
Westbrook is a personality on and off the court, as he provides an energy that is unmatched by any other player in the league. Whether he is throwing down a dunk or hyping up his teammates, he gets the crowd going and provides life to his team. He would have Madison Square Garden rocking every night like it was the 1999 NBA Finals again. With Westbrook being one of the faces of the league for the better part of a decade, it means he also has connections. Drawing elite talent to New York becomes much easier when a star has someone else to lean on. It has become a common trend in today’s NBA, from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to Irving and Durant. Every player wants to play with the best of the best. Attracting free agents to play in New York is no longer enough, there needs to be a name, and that can be Westbrook.
From Houston’s point of view, this deal would be a massive win as well. They would lose Westbrook’s massive contract, allowing them more freedom during free agency, along with adding some young players and a draft pick. The Rockets would have to take on Randle’s contract just because of the money disparity. However, despite him being owed nearly $40 million over the next two seasons, Randle is still an asset.
One of the most glaring issues for Houston this past season was their lack of size. Though naturally a power forward, Randle has shown the capabilities to play the center position and with Houston’s small lineup, he would fit perfectly. If Harden remains, he will complement him within the arc, as Randle averaged 20+ points over the past two seasons combined. He is also a valiant rebounder, almost averaging a double-double last season. Even if Harden were to be dealt and Houston chooses to go full scale rebuild, Randle will only be twenty-six years old by the time the season starts, therefore he could be a decent centerpiece to build around.
The other key components in this potential deal are Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox. Both were former first round picks drafted at around the same time in 2017 and 2018. The two young players have shown promise, yet also skepticism. There is still lots of work to be done for both of their development in order for them to become viable NBA players. Ntilikina’s biggest issue is his lack of aggression on offense, as he is a pass first guard who is almost reluctant to shoot at times. He has incredible length and athleticism, as well as being one of the premier pick-and-roll defenders, but completing his game is vital.
Knox proved a solid offensive threat his rookie season, but took a step back this past year, as his playing time diminished when he struggled. The largest hurdle he needs to overcome is shot selection, as he has never shot over 37% from the field. Consistency and confidence are what will elevate both of their games and if Houston could further progress these players, then they will surely become valuable members in the future.
The final piece to this deal would be the first round pick the Knicks had acquired in the Kristaps Porziņģis trade. Houston does not have a draft pick in this upcoming draft, and they traded the large majority of their future draft picks over the past few seasons trying to win it all. A first-round pick at least gives them hope for the future if they go the rebuilding route. And if they decided to keep Harden, then all the assets they would acquire would benefit him significantly more than Westbrook.
In Oklahoma City, the two players were still figuring out their place in the league. Now they are both too refined with their own styles that they can no longer effectively play alongside one another. With trade negotiations opening, the NBA draft happening, and free agency starting, there is lots of room for action to take place. Moves are going to be made and the landscape of the league may change drastically very soon.