The Orlando Magic are an under the radar team in the Russell Westbrook trade saga. Shams Charania reported Westbrook has asked for a trade on Wednesday, kickstarting a fast-paced NBA offseason and putting the Houston Rockets at the centre of another blockbuster deal.
Westbrook isn’t the first star to want out of Houston. It’s been one season playing alongside James Harden, and the former MVP is ready to move on. Westbrook, according to reports, wants to return to the ball-dominant point guard he was with the Thunder, he wants to run the offence. Worryingly for Houston, he isn’t the only player expressing concern with the direction of the team – Danuel House was not happy with his role in the offence either.
The Knicks and Clippers were initially linked with a Westbrook trade. The Hornets and Bulls have been thrown into the mix. Desperate to take the next step, the Magic are a team that will be touted as a Westbrook trade destination, too.
Orlando, according to Kevin O’Connor, has discussed trades for Aaron Gordon. Gordon could be the centrepiece of a Westbrook deal.
Fournier’s player option
The Magic have salaries to throw into a trade. Evan Fournier picking up his $17 million per year player option would make life easier. Fournier, Terrence Ross‘ $13.5 million and Al-Farouq Aminu‘s $9.7 million would get the deal done. If Fournier turns down the option or the Magic want to extend him, they could put Gordon’s $18.1 million salary instead.
Orlando’s spacing becomes an even greater problem if they lose Fournier and Ross’ shooting. The pair would fit nicely alongside Harden, though, and Aminu gives another big defender to help out Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker. The Magic could ask Houston to throw in House to bring back some more shooting to slot alongside Westbrook.
Do Houston like Fultz?
The fit of Westbrook and Markelle Fultz is awful. Orlando going for Westbrook would effectively signal the end of Fultz’s time with the team. Would the Rockets take Fultz as a project to build for the post-Harden era?
An Aminu, Fultz, Gordon trade package gives the Rockets size and young talent. Gordon would slot straight into the starting five, Aminu could play some centre. Fultz can handle the ball when Harden rests. Such a trade works, and allows the Magic to retain the shooting of Ross and Fournier, while bringing in House.
This package is probably the better deal for Orlando given Gordon’s stagnation, but it relies on the Rockets having long-term belief in Fultz’s development.
Westbrook’s Orlando fit
A healthy Westbrook makes Orlando better. As it stands, they’re the eighth best team in the Eastern Conference. Maybe Westbrook makes them better than the Pacers? Maybe they’re still the eight seed. Owed well north of $100 million over the next three years, that’s a lot to pay for a first round exit.
Surrounded by Ross, Fournier and Nikola Vucevic, Westbrook will have space to attack the rim. The defence of Jonathan Isaac (once he returns from injury) will be vital to that unit – losing Gordon and Aminu could leave them weak defensively after ranking in the top 10 on that end of the floor in each of the last two seasons.
Houston, who sold off their future to trade for Westbrook last offseason, might ask for draft compensation. That’s where a possible trade gets more uncomfortable for Orlando. They have the 15th pick in next week’s draft, and there’s no guarantee they will be selecting late on in years to come.
If Gordon, Aminu and Fultz is enough for Westbrook and House, maybe the Magic can talk themselves into it. With Westbrook and Vucevic on big-money contracts for seasons to come, Orlando will need all their draft picks – cheap, controllable players will help them build a strong supporting cast.