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Russell Westbrook to The Houston Rockets!

NBA hot summer is not over just yet! Another blockbuster trade was announced this Thursday and Thunder were involved once again. It was expected though, after Paul George trade the previous week signaled the franchise front office’s intention to start a fresh rebuild with all the draft picks they acquired this summer.

Oklahoma traded their All-Star point-guard Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul, first-round draft picks in 2024 and 2026 and pick swaps in 2021 and 2025. Houston Rockets were Westbrook’s desired destination anyway, according to many reports. The explosive guard will have the chance to play alongside his old teammate James Harden there and both players will continues chasing a title, so elusive so far for both of them.

How it all come to this so fast? Following Paul George's departure, Westbrook and Oklahoma’s General Manager Sam Presti both reportedly understood that the time had positively come to explore the trade possibilities for the franchise player after 11 years with the team. The Heat, Timberwolves, Rockets and Pistons all reportedly had interest in trading for Westbrook before the Thunder dealt him to Houston. Russell, an 8-time All-Star participant, is set to make 38.5 million USD next season. He is on the books for 41.3 million USD in 2020-21 and 44.2 million USD in 2021-22. The player also has a player option for 47 million USD in 2022-23. Westbrook turns 31 in November. He has had 3 consecutive seasons of averaging statistical triple-doubles and was voted the league's MVP in 2016-17. His last season was a bit down in stats and efficiency rating though. He averaged 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists in 2018-19. The same could be said for his counterpart in the deal, Chris Paul. The veteran guard averaged 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game for the Rockets last season.

 

For Houston, this trade seems something of a desperation move. The Rockets seemed like they would be standing still this summer. That strategy would actually have made a lot of sense. There were multiple reports of disagreement between Harden and Paul in the licker-room through the season and especially in the play-offs. Yet Paul and Harden have actually proven to be a solid backcourt duo over the last couple seasons. Even after their slow start this past season, Houston were one of the better teams in the league through the second half of last season. After the All-Star break, Houston had a healthy 17.0 net efficiency rating with Paul and Harden sharing the floor.

There has never be any doubt about who’s the Alpha dog in the desert though. James Harden is a fav of the owner and evidently his opinion has weighed toward parting ways with Paul and bringing Westbrook on board. So with the pressure of the league around them shifting rapidly, the Rockets threw their eggs in the basket, acquiring Russell for the cost of two future firsts and two first-round pick swaps effectively. His contract is just as heavy as Paul’s one, albeit he is the younger player of course. Paul, 34-year old, has two years left on his contract and a player option for the 2021-22 season (totaling nearly 124 million USD. Of course Thunder’s intention and preference would be to trade Paul as soon as possible. The heaviness of his contract might make it difficult for the Thunder to actually deal him, yet far from impossible. But Paul still has plenty left in the tank, and with the way teams have aggressively compiled star power this summer, he will likely have a few suitors. His playmaking feel and veteran grisliness have not yet diminished.

It would be easier for Thunder to trade Paul than it would be for Rockets, anyway. The fact that his deal runs shorter and cheaper than Westbrook’s one. Now Oklahoma have a treasure chest of graft picks, which they could use to facilitate any trade for Chris Paul. Rumoured suitors for Paul for now seem to be Miami Heat as front-runners, LA Lakers and Detroit Pistons. If Paul wants to join Jimmy Butler in South Florida, then this trade will likely happen. Miami won’t agree to send some of their major rebuilding pieces to Oklahoma in a possible trade scenario, like Adebayo or Winslow, but Oklahoma might just take who’s on offer and benefit from offloading Paul’s contract. Lakers would be able to acquire Paul only in case he reaches a buy-out agreement with Oklahoma and agrees to team with his old friend LeBron on a team-friendly contract. The hardest part here would be the buy-out deal. Thunder management will go to this route only in case if every other scenario fails and they decide to go all the way with unloading Paul real fast, regardless of the money and value loss. Detroit seem like a distant outsider, as their main trading chip would be the heavy Reggie Jackson’s contract. Oklahoma won’t see Reggie as a vital part of the rebuilding process, nor could trade him easy once again. From Pistons’ perspective, pairing Blake Griffin with his old teammate Paul seems like a good move, but the team would still be terribly thin in the roster beyond Drummond, to fight for anything more than a fringe play-off spot even in the weakened Eastern Conference.

 

 

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