The final memory of Russell Westbrook in a Houston Rockets jersey could be an image of him getting into a verbal altercation with Rajon Rondo’s bother. Standing up for himself in the closing moments of the Rockets’ elimination game may have been Westbrook’s most significant action of the night, as the nine-time All-Star only added 10 points (4-13 FG, 0-3 3PT) to Houston’s 119-96 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
After the game, Westbrook gave all indications that he would be willing to run it back. He said the chemistry between him and James Harden was “fine,” and his first season in Houston was not “a bad year” despite falling short of reaching their championship goal.
The next day, the Rockets as a team departed the NBA Bubble. Westbrook flew separately back to Los Angeles — according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Two months later, it appears that Westbrook does not plan to rejoin the Rockets any time soon, as Shams Charania reported that the one-time MVP wants out of Houston.
Westbrook’s trade request is the latest domino to fall in what has been a tumultuous offseason for the Rockets. Mike D’Antoni stepped down as head coach less than 24 hours after their post-season elimination, and Daryl Morey’s departure followed suit a few weeks later. But with Westbrook, a divorce from the Rockets will be more difficult than that of D’Antoni and Morey.
He is not a free agent who can control his destiny, and the only way out for Westbrook is by trade. A handful of teams could use Westbrook’s services to enhance their talent at point guard, but a competitive market that features the likes of Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday could leave the Rockets scarce while searching for a deal.
Alas, the most significant challenge when finding a trade partner is one who would be willing to take on Westbrook’s massive $132 million contract. One who would not mind paying a 33-year-old injury-riddled point guard $47 million in 2023. Westbrook’s extensive contract could be the reason both parties would be force to reconcile with each other, creating another opportunity to “figure it out” in Houston.
The Thunder were able to move on from Westbrook’s contract last summer, but it took the Rockets to include multiple first-round draft picks to close the deal. A trade offer Houston will not come close to matching in their endeavor to depart from the future Hall-of-Famer.
The only teams who have emerged as a potential suitors willing to take back Westbrook’s massive contract are the New York Knicks and the Charlotte Hornets. Both franchises are yearning to add a star-caliber player to their organization, and the addition of Westbrook would restore the excitement into their fan base.
The only obstacle, neither the Knicks nor Hornets have the assets to exchange that will keep the Rockets competitive in the tough Western Conference. The Rockets are not interested in a rebuild, and the new regime says they are committed to building a title-contending team around James Harden. A trade package centered around Wayne Ellington or Devonte Graham will not be enough to get Houston to take the bait.
The same can be said for a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. Unless Paul George is included in the exchange, the idea of reuniting with Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams will not be enough for Houston to agree to a deal.
The Rockets’ best opportunity to move on from Westbrook while staying competitive would result in a potential deal with another championship-contending team.
Take this year’s runner up in the Miami Heat. In a conference that will witness the arrival of Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, adding Westbrook to South Beach would enhance Miami’s chances of returning to The Finals in June of 2021.
If the Heat were willing to re-open trade talks after missing out on Westbrook last summer, a package built around Tyler Herro (as Eric alluded to in his Westbrook trade piece) or Bam Adebayo along with a slew of sharpshooting role players would be enough to catch the eye of the Rockets.
The only issue, the Heat would potentially put themselves in an awkward dilemma. Not only could Miami risk ruining the camaraderie that gave way to a Finals birth, but taking on Westbrook’s contract could financially interfere in their pursuit of Giannis Antetokounmpo next summer.
According to reports, Westbrook no longer wants to be in Houston due to the culture and lack of accountability. But more importantly, he wants to reclaim his role as a team’s primary floor general — similar to his days running the show inside Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
If this is the real reason behind Westbrook’s trade request, perhaps he should reconsider his trade request. Stephen Silas is a new voice in the locker room that will bring a new culture while implementing an enhanced offensive scheme in Houston.
With the 2021 season set to begin in a month, the Rockets do not have an extensive amount of time to find a suitor for Westbrook’s services. The lack of time and his massive contract could result in Westbrook playing an additional year in Houston.
If so, at least Westbrook would have an opportunity to restore his final image in a Rockets jersey. One that does not involve the future Hall-Of-Famer bickering with spectators on the cusp of an elimination game.