We go into every offseason believing that Russell Westbrook will be impossible to trade … and then he gets traded. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition. Even before his disastrous season with the Los Angeles Lakers, common sense dictated that no team would want to add a post-prime point guard who couldn’t shoot on a supermax contract. Eventually, someone always does.
There’s going to be a faction of the basketball-viewing public that scoffs at the idea that the Lakers can trade Westbrook after the season he just had. That notion seems far less ridiculous once you divorce yourself of the notion that a Russell Westbrook trade needs to have anything to do with Russell Westbrook. Unlike previous offseasons, the team trying to trade him no longer needs to convince some sucker to take on his long-term deal. Once Westbrook inevitably picks up his player option, he becomes a $47 million expiring contract. That has value no matter what player it is attached to.
So what kind of team might actually take him? They need to check a few boxes. Any team considering a Westbrook deal has to have $40 million or so in salaries to send the Lakers, ideally in the form of useful veterans. That team needs to either want to get off of those contracts for long-term flexibility or have a need at point guard that Westbrook can fill. If it’s the latter, the team needs to have fairly limited ambitions, as Westbrook’s poor shooting, defense and attitude no longer lend themselves to contention or sharing with other stars. It must also be stylistically flexible enough to handle a non-shooter as its primary ball-handler.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well let’s go through all 29 NBA teams aside from the Lakers and figure out who fits the bill.
Out for lack of need
Phoenix Suns: They’re trying to win a championship and they have Chris Paul.
Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant is basically a prime Westbrook as is.
Golden State Warriors: The NBA’s most expensive team doesn’t need the NBA’s most expensive backup point guard.
Denver Nuggets: Prime Westbrook with Nikola Jokic would’ve been one of the great transition shows in basketball history. Current Westbrook may not be as good as Monte Morris, much less Jamal Murray.
Minnesota Timberwolves: They already have one overpaid point guard in D’Angelo Russell. No need to add a second.
San Antonio Spurs: There might not be a worse backcourt fit in basketball for Westbrook than Dejounte Murray, another non-shooter who needs the ball in his hands.
Sacramento Kings: Your career prospects aren’t great when even the Kings say “no thanks,” but what can Westbrook do at this stage aside from rebound that De’Aaron Fox can’t? If Sacramento wanted to escape his max contract, the Kings might be a stealth option, but Vivek Ranadive is far too focused on a play-in berth to see the possible benefits of such a stealth tank.
Portland Trail Blazers: If CJ McCollum was still here, a Westbrook-plus-picks package would’ve served a similar function as the trade Portland ultimately made with New Orleans. With McCollum gone, though, the Blazers will either try to build around Damian Lillard, which Westbrook can’t help with, or try to trade Lillard, which would create a bidding war the Lakers can’t win.
Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart answered all of the doubts this season. He can be the point guard of a great team. Even if he can’t, the Celtics aren’t gonna swap him out for Westbrook.
Toronto Raptors: Fred VanVleet is essentially the anti-Westbrook: a great shooter and defender with limited athleticism and star-power. The Raptors prize those traits. If they had a contract to dump, Masai Ujiri might think about it, but in basketball terms, they’d have no interest in Westbrook.
Chicago Bulls: How many Bulls guards are already better than Westbrook? Certainly Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball. Probably Alex Caruso as well. Ayo Dosunmu will be there soon enough.
Brooklyn Nets: Yeah, not happening.
Cleveland Cavaliers: There’s an argument to be made in favor of Cleveland using Kevin Love to get out of the rest of the Lauri Markkanen contract in a Westbrook swap, but Dan Gilbert is too fixated on winning now to make such a downgrade.
Detroit Pistons: What did Cade Cunningham do to deserve this?
Out for lack of desire or contracts
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks actually could use a primary ball-handler type in theory. Khris Middleton handles the late-game shot-creation and the Jrue Holiday-Giannis Antetokounmpo duo has shared the bulk of the ball-handling duties very well over the past two years, but a more traditional path to building alongside a talent like Giannis would involve finding him an All-Star point guard. Of course, Westbrook’s poor shooting disqualifies him from ever becoming a Buck. Milwaukee doesn’t even use centers who can’t shoot. Oh, and they can’t make the money work without breaking up their big three. So no, Westbrook isn’t Milwaukee-bound.
Philadelphia 76ers: Daryl Morey would probably love to turn the two years left on the Tobias Harris contract into an expiring one. That could position the 76ers for significant 2023 cap space before Tyrese Maxey’s inevitable extension kicks in a year later. The issue is that next season is also probably their best chance at winning a championship with James Harden. He’s not getting any younger, and unless he’s prepared to compensate with improved conditioning habits, he’s going to age out of stardom fairly quickly. We’ve already seen how poorly he fits with Westbrook in Houston. Morey can’t punt a season just for 2023 cap space knowing that Harden, who will turn 34 before the 2023-24 season tips, will almost certainly be past his prime. That rules a Westbrook-for-Harris swap out.
Orlando Magic: Even if you’d argue that the Magic should try to dump the Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac contracts, the Lakers probably wouldn’t be all that interested in them as the centerpieces of a Westbrook trade. That’s likely moot, though. The Magic took home run swings on both. They’ll want to see those swings through rather than adding Westbrook and taking shots away from their other young guards.
Los Angeles Clippers: Basketball drama aside, Westbrook has made it clear this season that being close to his family in Southern California matters to him. The Clippers are linked to Westbrook every time his name hits the trade cycle. It’s never really made sense. This is a team that prioritizes defensive versatility and 3-point shooting above all else. Aside from the big men, every player who played at least 500 minutes for the Clippers this season launched at least 100 3-pointers. Westbrook will comfortably take those shots, but he certainly won’t make them. Reggie Jackson gives them enough traditional point guard play, and even if he didn’t, the Clippers have since recouped enough trade capital over the past few years to find a better fit.
New Orleans Pelicans: There isn’t a traditional point guard on this roster, but that’s by design. When healthy, Zion Williamson is going to be the primary ball-handler here. CJ McCollum has thrived in his stead, and without including him or Brandon Ingram in a deal, there really isn’t an easy path to the Pelicans cobbling the salaries together anyway.
Almost certainly out … but let’s game this out
Miami Heat: Miami is typically in the business of adding stars, not subtracting them. But let’s say the Heat suffer an early postseason exit, and let’s say that the sideline blowup between Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra was demonstrative of bigger issues between the two of them. Butler signed a $184 million extension last offseason that hasn’t even kicked in yet. He’s 32, injury prone and doesn’t have a skill set that typically ages well. If the Heat sense that their championship window is closed, a Westbrook-for-Butler-and-picks swap could serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card on that lofty extension. The Heat could then reload quickly when Westbrook’s contract comes off the books in a year. This isn’t how Miami typically operates, but there’s valid logic to it if this postseason goes badly enough.
Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks viewed the Kristaps Porzingis contract as so toxic that they moved out at the deadline not for upgrades or even cap relief, but deconsolidation. The Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans deals combine for a similar price. Dinwiddie has played well in Dallas thus far, but that was a happy accident. The deal was made for financial reasons, and if cap flexibility is motivating the Mavs’ moves right now, Westbrook could potentially get them off some of their other long-term deals. If Dallas could use Westbrook to escape the Bertans and Tim Hardaway Jr. contracts, it could possibly even create max cap space as soon as 2023 depending on what other moves it makes. This all relies on the Lakers wanting Dinwiddie, Hardaway and Bertans, though, and that doesn’t feel likely.
Utah Jazz: Another “break glass in case of playoff disaster” team. If Utah manages to pull together after its late-season slump? The Jazz are not touching Westbrook. He’s antithetical to everything they do schematically. But if they somehow lose to the injured Mavericks in the first round and start to consider a rebuild? Westbrook could be their ticket out of the last year of Mike Conley’s contract as well as a pathway to more picks. The Lakers could certainly use Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, but Utah would have to go into a full-on rebuild for this to make sense. That’s not likely, but changes are coming to the Jazz if this postseason goes badly enough. Of course, given Westbrook’s history in Utah, he’d likely demand a buyout if he got sent to the…