The Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed a monster trade with the Houston Rockets that will see Russell Westbrook join Houston with Chris Paul going the other way, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Rockets will send protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 – they are protected if they fall in the top four – along with pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.
Wojnarowski added that the Thunder are already looking to move Paul elsewhere with the Miami Heat – long believed to be the frontrunner for Westbrook – in the conversation to take Paul on and pair him with their headline offseason acquisition Jimmy Butler.
Sam Presti, the Thunder’s general manager, has collected the greatest haul of draft assets in living memory. The Thunder have at least two first-round picks in six of the next seven drafts, and they now have a much better chance of retaining their own picks in 2020 and 2022, such is the protection on them. Since losing Paul George to the Clippers, the Thunder’s rebuilding process was accelerated. Presti has made the best of that situation, obtaining a haul of picks that seemed implausible. Westbrook’s contract made him a hard piece to move, and limited his market, but taking on Paul’s deal has enabled the Thunder to get two first-rounders and two pick swaps.
Using one or two of their catalogue of draft selections to move Paul elsewhere seems likely at this point. The All-Star point guard has three years and $124 million left on his contract.
A rebuild was always coming for the Thunder. This core wasn’t contending for a title and after two first-round playoff exits, Presti needed to make moves sooner rather than later. George’s request to play with Kawhi Leonard was the ultimate get out of jail card for Presti. It allowed him to trade a superstar without the usual PR hit. It gave the Thunder incredible leverage, resulting in that extraordinary trade which included Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. Westbrook’s departure was inevitable after that, and Presti worked the best out of that situation, too.
Houston, in the wake of Golden State’s demise, were desperate to add to their team. Whether Westbrook and Harden is a notable improvement over Harden and Paul remains to be seen. Daryl Morey obviously thought so, though, and it gave Presti an opportunity to collect yet more picks. He owns the draft room for the next seven years.
The Thunder have options now, they have more flexibility than any other team in the NBA, which is a remarkable thing to say, as just a few weeks ago they were stuck in a tax-paying mess without an obvious way out. George unlocked the door for them with his trade request. He opened the floodgates for Presti to embark on one of the great NBA rebuilds.