OKC Thunder: Russell Westbrook leaving doesn't seem so unlikely anymore
The Thunder traded away its best player in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
No two ways around that.
Paul George was a Most Valuable Player finalist last season even though he spent a good chunk of the year hurt. He was good after he injured that shoulder, but he was so good before that, it more than made up for the shoulder struggles.
And now, he’s gone, shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers in the dead of night.
So, what’s next for the Thunder?
How about trading Russell Westbrook?
Maybe the Thunder trading Westbrook doesn’t seem as unlikely as it did this time yesterday, but trade the guy who stayed when Kevin Durant left? Trade the cornerstone who helped convince George to re-sign a year ago? Trade the triple-double machine, the human highlight reel?
But it seems more likely than any point in Westbrook’s career.
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For starters, George might not have been the only disgruntled star in Oklahoma City. Shams Charania, The Athletic writer who is only a smidge behind Adrian Wojnarowski in breaking NBA news, tweeted as much Saturday morning.
“Rival NBA teams have been aware of the discontent of OKC’s two stars: Paul George — and Russell Westbrook,” Charania wrote.
Then on Saturday morning, Wojnarowski himself took things a step further.
"Russell Westbrook and his agent Thad Foucher are engaged with OKC GM Sam Presti on next steps for the All-Star guard, including the possibility of trade this summer," Woj tweeted.
Now, we have no way of knowing all the whys of the situation. Maybe Westbrook wanted a trade done to bring in a certain kind of player or even a certain player. Maybe he feels like he needs more help. Maybe he senses his prime years slipping away.
It’s hard to imagine seeing George in a Clippers uniform will make the situation better for Westbrook.
Last time the situation soured in OKC, Westbrook doubled down on the Thunder. Doubled down on himself, too. He basically told Presti to put the load on his shoulders, to build around him, to make him the cornerstone for the future.
It worked out masterfully.
Westbrook immediately turned in an MVP season and the Thunder returned to the playoffs, which is unheard of for a team losing a player of Durant’s magnitude. Then, the Thunder pulled in George and allowed itself to dream of a title for two more years. The title never came, of course, but Westbrook enabled the Thunder to stay relevant.
But does he want to do such heavy lifting again?
The team around him this next season would be better than the one he had the season after Durant left. But even with Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder, Jerami Grant and Danilo Gallinari, Westbrook will have to play the hero again.
Maybe he’s up to the challenge.
Maybe he’s ready to try something new.
Trading Westbrook won’t be an easy deal for Presti to pull off. The Thunder general manager will have to do some serious magic. This will be much more difficult than trading George.
And it’s not because of Westbrook’s demeanor. All that junk about how he’s difficult to play with is hogwash. It’s Westbrook’s contract that is the biggest issue. He’s got three years and $124 million remaining on his current deal, plus a $47 million player option in 2022. Those are big, big, big numbers, even for teams with lots of cap space and disposable income. Finding a team interested in swapping their assets for Westbrook won’t be easy for Presti.
But I’ve got a suggestion for him — call the Knicks.
James Dolan and Co. got shut out of the superstar sweepstakes. They thought they had a legit shot at Durant and made no secret of it. Instead, nada. Fans are angry, pundits are scathing and ownership would love to get the egg off its face.
Westbrook could be the superstar the Knicks covet.
New York might be a place where Westbrook wants to live, too. Lots of high fashion and beautiful people there. Lots of Knicks fans, too, and they would probably buy a few of the Westbrook brand shoes.
And Westbrook’s Knicks vs. Durant’s Nets might be fun.
Listen, I’m not advocating for Westbrook to be traded. He is the most interesting player in the league. For better or worse, you never know what he’s going to do. You will watch Thunder games just because of what you might get to see him do.
No other player in the NBA is such a must-see.
I’d prefer he stay in Oklahoma City.
But when you wake up on a lazy Saturday morning to news that the best player in Oklahoma City is now a Clipper instead of a Thunder, you realize anything could happen next.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.