Only one, long season has passed since the Rockets traded for Russell Westbrook. Reports have already surfaced that Houston could move Westbrook this offseason, with the New York Knicks appearing as a possible trade destination.
This story came from Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer on The Mismatch. The Clippers are also in the running for Westbrook, who has been a feature of Knicks trade rumours in the past.
O’Connor said, “It is interesting the last 24 hours. I did have multiple sources that I trust tell me that teams believe Russell Westbrook could be had—that Westbrook could be had—and I’ve heard the Clippers have interest, I’ve heard the Knicks have interest in Westbrook, and whether anything materializes there, who knows? Who knows? But the fact is that there is a belief that a guy like Westbrook could become available.”
The Knicks are in dire need of a point guard. Dennis Smith Jr has a limited future with the team and Frank Ntilikina has proven subpar as an NBA lead ball handler. RJ Barrett needs a guard who can share the playmaking burden – New York were the third-worst offence in the league in 2019-20.
A player like Westbrook gives the Knicks someone who can create his own shot and can get the offence running. He would run the team from the one, allowing players around him to develop. It wasn’t just playmaking the Knicks lacked, though. Their spacing was atrocious – they were 27th in three-point percentage and 29th in three-point attempts.
Westbrook doesn’t fit
Westbrook’s shot has deserted him. Teams were not guarding the former MVP on the perimeter last season – he made about a quarter of his threes, and played his best basketball pre-hiatus when he barely shot the long ball and was given space to attack the rim. Alongside non-shooter Mitchell Robinson and Barrett’s so-so three-point making, Westbrook will have no path to the basket.
Bringing the best of late-career Westbrook requires shooters, and a lot of them. The Rockets played Westbrook and four shooters after trading Clint Capela. It didn’t take them beyond the second round, but it saw Westbrook hit heights he hadn’t reached since his MVP campaign, and some of the most efficient ball of his career.
Westbrook is under contract for three more seasons. He’s owed over $130 million. Injuries have become more of a problem – Westbrook was absent for the start of the playoffs and was clearly short of full health when he took the court. It’s a risky commitment, and trading for that contract would leave the Knicks with limited financial flexibility in years to come.
Chasing the playoffs
Although an imperfect fit, there’s no question a healthy Westbrook makes the Knicks better in 2021. The arrival of Tom Thibodeau means there will be no tanking at Madison Square Garden, but adding Westbrook to the Barrett, Julius Randle, Robinson core does not necessarily make the Knicks a playoff team. The top seven postseason spots in the West are likely sewn up.
The appeal of a Westbrook trade is a short-term boost. He doesn’t fit the timeline of Robinson, Barrett and whoever they draft seventh overall. It’s a win-now move for a team that are not going to be winning all that much.
While it’s very unlikely the Knicks can draft LaMelo Ball down in seventh, there will be solid point guards available.
As much as the Knicks crave a star, it’s impossible to justify trading for Westbrook. Whether trade, draft or free agency, there are much better options to fill their point guard void.