Should the Cavaliers consider trading for Russell Westbrook?

Exploring potential Westbrook trades and why the Cavs could be a factor

James Rapien
July 10, 2019 - 11:48 pm
Categories: 

CLEVELAND, Ohio – This NBA offseason has been one of the craziest in recent memory. Stars like Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler and Paul George have changed teams in a matter of weeks.

The mayhem is expected to continue with eight-time All-Star Russell Westbrook on the trading block according to multiple reports. Oklahoma City is rebuilding after dealing George to the Clippers. Westbrook wants to play for a contender, which means he’ll probably get traded in the near future.

Miami, Detroit and Houston have all been mentioned as potential landing spots. The former MVP is still one of the most exciting players in the league, but his contract will scare off potential suitors. He’s set to make over $124 million over the next three seasons and has a $47 million player option in 2022-2023. 

Pat Riley and the Heat envision pairing Westbrook with Butler in the suddenly wide-open Eastern Conference. Detroit would love to add another star to play with Blake Griffin. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has never been afraid to take a chance on top talent.

If executives like Riley and Morey are interested in Westbrook, shouldn’t the Cavaliers discuss trading for the two-time scoring champion? The Rockets could be contenders in the West, but no one thinks the Heat are poised to make an NBA Finals run. They have one star in Butler. The Cavaliers have Kevin Love, who's a star in his own right.

Koby Altman has the assets to acquire Westbrook A package of expiring contracts including J.R. Smith would help the Thunder get under the luxury tax. The Cavs could include second-year point guard Collin Sexton in the deal and land one of the 15 best players in the game.

Some may wonder why Westbrook would want to play in Cleveland considering their struggles last season, but he would reunite with Love, after playing together at UCLA. He would also be in the Eastern Conference for the first time in his career, which has to be appealing considering how the West has improved over the past month. 

If Altman did consider a deal for Westbrook, he could make it more enticing for the Thunder by trading for center Steven Adams. The 25-year-old will make over $52 million over the next two seasons. He’s a solid player, but doesn’t have much value on the trade market due to his contract.

Sending the expiring deals of Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight and John Henson to Oklahoma City, along with Sexton and Smith could be enough to land Westbrook and Adams.

A starting lineup that includes Westbrook, Adams and Love would be a threat in the Eastern Conference. All three players have vast playoff experience. Combine them with Cedi Osman and Darius Garland and the Cavs suddenly have a dangerous starting lineup. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. would be nice options off the bench.

A move like that wouldn’t follow the Cavs’ plan and their rebuild, but it’s certainly something they should consider.

The NBA, more so than any other professional sports league, is about stars. If they can pair Westbrook with Love and do it by dealing Sexton and a bunch of expiring contracts, then they have to give it serious consideration.

A trade like this isn’t likely. There are plenty of people who will laugh at the notion that the Cavs should deal for a 30-year-old point guard, who struggles from beyond the arc and has had multiple lower body injuries.

Westbrook doesn't have the best repuation, but he's also one of the most talented players on the planet and, despite his injury history, has averaged a triple-double in each of the last three seasons.

It’s not like the Cavs are giving up their future in the proposed deal. They shouldn’t give away draft assets or Garland, who projects to be an elite shooter in the NBA and has more upside than Sexton. If OKC wants Sexton and Garland or a bunch of draft picks, then the Cavaliers should move on and stick to the rebuild. 

The key to this deal is value. How many times will the Cavaliers be able to land a top-15 player via trade without giving up multiple draft picks and other valuable assets.

Oklahoma City is rebuilding. Getting rid of Westbrook and Adams’ contracts, without giving up a pick to either one is a win for the Thunder. They’d get Sexton, who showed flashes last season and salary relief after they buyout Smith.

The Cavaliers will never be considered a top free agent destination. If they can land a former MVP in Westbrook, a proven talent in Adams and pair the duo with Love for pennies on the dollar, then it’s worth the risk.

Rebuild Still On

The Cavs could still benefit from a deal involving Westbrook, even if it doesn’t bring him to Cleveland. The Smith contract is extremely valuable because only $4 million of it is guaranteed. Whoever trades for him can save nearly $12 in cap space by releasing him and only paying him the guaranteed amount. A three-way trade involving OKC, Miami and Cleveland could work.

If the Cavaliers go this route, they should do everything they can to get a young, promising player in the deal. Heat forward Justise Winslow would be a perfect target for Cleveland. They could take back another salary like James Johnson, to help the Heat land Westbrook.

Miami would send Goran Dragic and his expiring contract to the Thunder, who OKC could flip at the trade deadline for more assets. The Cavaliers would send Smith and John Henson or Matthew Dellavedova to the Thunder in the trade. This would give the Thunder a pathway to get well under the salary cap. Miami would get Westbrook without dealing Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, who they reportedly want to keep in a trade. Obviously picks could be involved in a deal like this, but the Cavs are one of OKC’s best options to help facilitate a blockbuster trade involving the All-Star point guard.

Westbrook being dealt to Miami seems likely, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best package for the Thunder. The Cavaliers are equipped to absorb both the Adams and the Westbrook contracts. Not many teams could do that without asking for picks in return. That is the more attractive package, but there’s no indication that Altman and the Cavs would be interested in such a deal.

If Cleveland did make this trade, it would risk losing next years’ first round pick. If the Cavs draft outside of the top-10, then the pick would go to the Pelicans. Cleveland sent the pick to Atlanta in exchange for Kyle Korver in 2017. If the Cavaliers are good and do make the playoffs, then losing a pick in the 20’s won’t set them back. A potential deal for Westbrook and Adams would mean they plan on making the playoffs and becoming a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.

The NBA is wild and so is the idea that the Cavs could trade for Westbrook, but crazier things have happened.

The Cavaliers have options and a nice bargaining chip in Smith, which means they could be involved in a blockbuster deal, even if it’s helping another team land the eight-time All-Star.