(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)
By Michael Kinney
Since 2008 Russell Westbrook has been the face of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Whether it was in conjunction with Kevin Durant or by himself, the former No. 4 overall pick has been synonymous with the franchise. Westbrook’s first year in the NBA was the first season for the team in Oklahoma City.
That partnership came to an end late Thursday night when the Thunder traded Westbrook to the Houston Rockets. The trade reunites Westbrook with former Oklahoma City teammate James Harden.
In return, the Thunder received point guard Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 and pick swaps in 2021 and 2025, according to reports.
“We’re excited to have Russell Westbrook,” Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta told Houston’s Fox 26. “I would watch him play for Oklahoma City, and he’s so athletic. At the same time, this franchise just had the two years with the most wins it’s ever had in consecutive years, and we wouldn’t have accomplished that without Chris Paul. Chris Paul is unbelievable, and he’s gonna be sadly missed.”
Westbrook’s trade came after a furious week that started with Thunder vice-president and General Manager Sam Presti trading away Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers. He then sent starting forward Jerami Grant to the Denver Nuggets.
Along with players such as Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the three trades have netted the Thunder eight first-round draft picks over the next seven seasons. That includes two in 2024 and 2026.
Overall, from 2020 to 2026 Oklahoma City could have a total of 15 first-round picks and the swap rights in four different seasons. It is an incredible haul for Presti and his front office to work with as they rebuild the franchise from the ground up.
However, Oklahoma City had to give up a lot to get those assets. In his time with the Thunder, Westbrook grew into one of the elite players in the game. He is a former NBA MVP, the first player to average a triple-double (three times) and has numerous All-NBA and All-Star selections.
Westbrook leaves Oklahoma City the franchise’s all-time leader in points (18,859), assists (6,897), rebounds (5,760) and steals (1,442).
However, Westbrook’s stay in Oklahoma City hasn’t been without its bumps in the road. The often moody and temperamental has a reputation for being difficult to play with and coach and has had run-ins with the media.
But none of that seemed to matter to Houston. Being able to get the 30-year old Westbrook, who is still in his prime, was a major play to stay in contention as other teams in the Western conference have only grown stronger since the end of the season a month ago. In search of an NBA title, his four-year, $171 million contract is worth the gamble to take on.
“I said at the end of the year, ‘We’re never gonna stand pat,'” Fertitta said. “We’re always gonna try to get better. I think this makes us a better team. I hate to lose Chris Paul, but we felt like we did what we had to do to become a better team. I think it’ll be very interesting and fun. James and Russell wanted to play together. It ought to be fun this year.”
That is not necessarily the case for Oklahoma City. No one from the team has spoken publicly about any of the moves made this offseason. So there is no clear plan on how they plan to use the 34-year old Paul, who comes to Oklahoma City for the second time. He spent his rookie year in Oklahoma City as a member of the New Orleans Hornets when the team was displaced due to Hurricane Katrina.
Paul is owed $123 million over the next three seasons. So a buyout doesn’t seem likely.
The Thunder still have the option to trade Paul to a contending team or keep him in Oklahoma City to lead a large contingent of young players.
Oklahoma City may still be at work this offseason. With Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder being used as possible trade bait for even more draft picks, the Thunder will have no resemblance to the squad that was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons. And that may be a good thing.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider with Michael Kinney Media