It was the next shoe to drop, but we didn’t think it would drop this fast, or where it dropped.
After Oklahoma City traded Paul George last week, it became obvious that they would likely deal away their other superstar, Russell Westbrook, as well. Miami had been the assumed destination, but the Thunder surprised many when they pulled off a deal with Houston Thursday to send Westbrook to the Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul and a number of draft picks and draft considerations.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Royce Young reported that Oklahoma City will send Westbrook to the Rockets in exchange for Paul, two protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, and two potential first-round pick swaps in 2021 and 2025. The two protected picks are both protected for the top four.
The deal brings together two former MVP guards in Westbrook and James Harden, who teamed up on the Thunder for three years, helping Oklahoma City to its only appearance in the NBA Finals in 2012.
The deal continues Oklahoma City’s complete rebuild, as general manager Sam Presti has now brought in eight additional first-round picks between 2020 and 2026 through trades. The Thunder have two first-rounders in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023, and three first-rounders in 2024 and 2026.
It’s that eye to the future that has some speculating that Paul may not be long for the Thunder. Miami was looking to add Westbrook in a trade and may now look to deal with Oklahoma City for Paul. The 34-year-old Paul has played in Oklahoma City before, when the New Orleans franchise was displaced for the 2005-06 season due to Hurricane Katrina.
Paul, a nine-time All-Star, still has three years and $124 million left on his contract, which may make him hard to move. He and Harden reportedly had not seen eye to eye since the end of the season, which led some to believe he would be dealt, though it was not expected to be for Westbrook.
Rockets’ Rising Chances
After being one of the top teams in the Western Conference for the last few years, the Rockets were thought to be in trouble as the Clippers and Lakers made big trades to vault into title contention. But news of the Westbrook deal brought new title odds for the Rockets from Caesars Sportsbook, as they moved from 10-1 to 7-1, behind only the Lakers (7-2), Clippers (4-1) and Milwaukee Bucks (9-2).
Westbrook, who has averaged a triple-double in each of the last three seasons, now joins a team that is definitively Harden’s and will likely have to change his game a bit to fit in with his former teammate. Both players have had the ball in their hands a great majority of the team for their respective teams since they split up, so something’s got to give.
Westbrook averaged 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 10.7 assists last season, though he shot just 65.6 percent from the free-throw line and 29 percent from three-point range.