If the Oklahoma City Thunder continue to pull apart their team, targeting Russell Westbrook is a curious direction for the New York Knicks to take.
It feels like an eternity ago when the New York Knicks rocked the basketball world by trading their would-be face of the franchise, Kristaps Porzingis. This deal sent shockwaves before the trade deadline, trumping Anthony Davis‘ request out of New Orleans.
Five months later, the Los Angeles Clippers found a way to top that, acquiring Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and five first-round picks, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
George requested a trade out of Oklahoma City — where he just signed a four-year contract 12 months ago — to return home and play with Kawhi Leonard, who recruited him to Hollywood.
That suddenly puts the Thunder in a position to further alter the landscape by trading their other superstar: Russell Westbrook.
The Knicks just missed out on Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker in free agency. Eight months of star-chasing went against their favor; but when one door closes, another tends to open.
That is not the case here. No reports have linked to the Thunder shopping Westbrook or the Knicks — or any other team — showing interest in the veteran point guard.
Money-wise, it is feasible. The Knicks would have to back out of a handful of the free-agent contracts they reportedly handed out to open $38 million in cap space — Westbrook’s 2019-20 salary.
Otherwise, the Knicks are hypothetically acquiring a player who is contracted through 2021-22, with a $46 million player option for 2022-23, who will turn age 31 during the 2019-20 season and has a growing list of injuries, including another surgery on his knee, as reported after the NBA playoffs.
The stat sheet tells the story of a player with three consecutive years averaging a triple-double. It culminated in the first season, in 2016-17, with the NBA MVP award. Since then, and potentially due to George’s presence, Westbrook’s points average dipped by nearly nine per game; his PER dipped to 21.1, which was his lowest since 2009-10 — his second NBA season.
There is also a question on how Westbrook’s athleticism will hold up as he continues to cross 30 years old and rack up mileage on those legs. He is a 43.4 percent shooter for his career and just 30.8 percent from behind the arc. Maybe that improves if adjustments are made to ensure a longer career, but outside of the MVP season, that is not imminent.
Numbers aside, what does it take for the Knicks to acquire Westbrook? Granted, the Thunder had leverage in the George trade talks, but if the price is a top young player like RJ Barrett or Mitchell Robinson and three first-round picks, all to take on a player who will turn 31 in November, is steadily trending down and is owed approximately $46 million at age 34, it leaves reason to pause.
What does Westbrook do the Knicks’ timeline, anyway? Free agency is dry and the Knicks would have to mortgage part of their future for the UCLA product. It leaves a depleted roster around him, especially by not following through with some of the free agent signings. The East is no longer led by the Toronto Raptors, but the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics have a hold at the top. New York is not breaking through that wall with just Westbrook.
Plus, for everything the New York Knicks are trying to do to not make irrational decisions and re-establish their image, this hypothetical trade goes against it.
Russell Westbrook is a future hall of famer, and if this three or four years ago — around when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City — push the chips all-in on this player. Now, grouping that he is on the wrong side of 30, watching a steady decline statistically, the injuries, that large cap figure and the compensation to pay, the Knicks should stay away.