The Oklahoma City Thunder will undoubtedly be having to answer some really difficult roster questions over the next few weeks and months. Unless you’ve been living completely off the grid, you’ve probably heard the Russell Westbrook trade rumors and also the calls for the Thunder to keep Russell Westbrook and attempt to build around him.
This post will attempt to address several possible scenarios and directions the Thunder could and quite possibly should go now that they are faced with the Russell Westbrook question.
To Trade Russ or Not
This is the $100 million plus question. Russell Westbrook is my favorite basketball player, but the fact remains that the Thunder could be facing a realistic scenario where Russell Westbrook leaves the Thunder next summer in unrestricted free agency. While the emotional devastation would be incredible, the reality could be that the Thunder would lose 2 of the top 5 players in basketball in consecutive summers and get nothing in return.
Russell is eligible for a contract extension this summer, but if he wants to maximize his earnings it would be silly to sign now, as he would be leaving millions on the table. An extension from Westbrook’s perspective might be silly, but from the Thunder’s perspective, some type of commitment appears necessary before next season. Although if you look at this scenario, Russ signing an extension would really make a lot of sense
It's not like restructure is awful economically for Westbrook, over 3 years it's more in yr 1,equal yr 2, less yr 3 – heart in OKC? Sign now
— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) July 23, 2016
Not Trading Russ
If Russ remains apart of the Thunder, the Thunder will need to begin to reset the roster around him. They will not be looking at a total rebuild as much as a retooling and continuing to build the roster to become an elite NBA (and who knows maybe even contend for an NBA championship).
So here are some possible roster additions and changes that could be made should the Thunder continue to operate with Russ as a part of the team.
SCENARIO 1: What I Would Do If Thunder Decide to Keep Russell Westbrook
- Figure out a way to move Kyle Singler
This seems obvious. No need for Singler to take up a roster spot, when you can use it on another guy that can actually contribute.
The Thunder roster would then be as follows. Adams, Kanter, Collison, Sabonis, Ilyasova, McGary, Huestis, Roberson, Abrines, Morrow, Oladipo, Payne, Price and Westbrook.
2. Take Flier(s) On Player(s) that Need a Scenery Change or Are Currently Flying Under
I would then attempt to turn over every rock so to speak looking for players that could be acquired that either need a change of scenery as their current situation with their team is just not working out or attempt to find an infusion of talent via the D-League.
A player in that situation that makes some sense would be Ben McLemore. The ultra talented wing just hasn’t worked for whatever reason in Sacramento. The Kings even seemingly were looking to trade him. While he isn’t a blockbuster type addition, he has star potential. His PER 36 stats look like this:
13.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.3 steals, while shooting over 36% from 3 point range. McLemore has never really been given a chance to play 25-30 minutes a game and develop a rhythm.
He is the kind of player that could probably be had on the cheap as well. Other players that would seemingly fit into this mold would be Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway averaged nearly 11 points a game as Knick before a less than desirable season with the Hawks.
These are the kind of players that have the ability to blossom should they be given the opportunity and playing time to work through the growing pains of being a young player in the NBA. Further they represent an opportunity to by low via the trade market which are exactly the moves the Thunder need to make with the lack of salary cap flexibility that exists with the current roster.
3. Hit a Homerun with 2017 1st Round Draft Pick
The 2017 NBA Draft is arguably as talented as the 2015 draft and that is saying a lot. Even if not in the lottery, the is some real talent that could definitely added to the Thunder roster.
If You Decide to Trade Russell Westbrook
This is where things get really interesting. The big question would be what value the rest of the NBA would place on Westbrook who will be an unrestricted free agent after next season. The team that traded for him would be able to sign him to a 5 year deal (which would probably help), but its a definite risk. For example, lets say the Thunder dealt Westbrook to the Timberwolves for Kris Dunn, Shabazz Muhammad, and 2 1st round draft picks. Why that might be a pretty decent haul for the Thunder, the Timberwolves would be unlikely to pursue this without a commitment from Russell Westbrook to stay on the team beyond next season.
So with that in mind, here are several scenarios that would seemingly be realistic trade partners for the Thunder and Russell Westbrook
3 Team Trade Between Boston, Philadelphia, and OKC
Thunder Receive: Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Timothy Luwawu, Richaun Holmes, and at least the Nets 2017 1st round pick (although the Thunder would definitely like to have the Nets 2018 1st Round Pick as well).
Celtics Receive: Russell Westbrook and Jahlil Okafor
Philadelphia Receives: Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Singler, Mitch McGary, and multiple 2nd round picks from Boston and Oklahoma.
This trade scenario would be very appealing to the Thunder as if gives them a above a possible star in Marcus Smart (he hasn’t looked great yet, but he is still 22 and has ridiculous upside) and starting point guard replacement for Russ, another possible star in Jaylen Brown, and then the big selling points are the Nets pick(s). If the Thunder were able to wrangle away both Nets picks it would likely results in top 3 picks in consecutive drafts that are really loaded with talent.
Timothy Luwawu is a rookie wing that is crazy athletic and Richaun Holmes is definitely a rotational big that can block shots and provide additional death.
This would also guarantee the Thunder would have several high draft picks in both the 2017 and 2018 draft as they would be clearly in a rebuild mode.
Los Angeles Lakers
Thunder Receive: D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram
Lakers Receive: Russell Westbrook
Do the Lakers really want a long rebuild? They should, but an impatient ownership and fanbase could lead the Lakers to a desire to rebuild now. Russell Westbrook would likely re-sign with the Lakers next year as well.
While you don’t know exactly how Russell and Ingram will develop, they certainly both have the ability to be stars in the NBA. The Thunder could do worse than build around them.
Further this trade would all but guarantee the Thunder’s 2017 1st round draft pick would be pretty high in the lottery. Also it would pretty much guarantee the Thunder wouldn’t have to send their 2018 1st round pick to Utah.
What about trading another player on the Thunder Roster?
Kanter is an incredible offensive player. His PER 36 numbers are all but on par for players like Lamarcus Aldridge and Demarcus Cousins. The problem is that Kanter’s defense is incredibly suspect (at least in perception). Trading Kanter would be the equivalent of trading 45 cents on every dollar. I just don’t see the value in moving Kanter for what would amount to pennies on the dollar. I am guessing that the Thunder could move him to a contender at the trade deadline and probably get a 1st round pick outside of the lottery. Not sure that would be enough for me to consider moving Kanter. I might consider a deal that would move Kanter, but it would be have to be really really good because I don’t believe that teams value Kanter like the should across the NBA.
What Would I do if I Were Sam Presti?
Although Russell Westbrook is my favorite player, I want the Thunder to win at the highest level. The current roster leaves the Thunder very little if any flexibility going forward, because of salary cap constraints. Next summer the Thunder will be looking at re-signing Adams, Oladipo, Roberson, and Westbrook. Bringing all of those guys back (or even bringing back everyone but Russ leaves the Thunder at or just right below the salary cap.
So that doesn’t leave really any scenario, but to trade Westbrook. While both the Celtics and Lakers trades offer a nice haul in return, I would lean towards the Lakers trade offer over the Celtics trade offer. Russell is all but a known at this point. It’s not a stretch in anyway to see him become a dominant star in the NBA although it will take a couple years. Ingram will need to gain a bunch of weight, but he is Durant-ish or Durant-lite. I think he has borderline all star level play at worst and perennial all star play at best. Ingram is probably 3 years away. This would put Russell and Ingram coming into their own just as the rest of the Thunder core are still under 27 years old.