We know about LeBron James' upcoming free agency decision. Kawhi Leonard is trying to force a trade from San Antonio. Paul George is weighing his options. Could these monumental changes trigger a Russell Westbrook trade from the Thunder?
The first three superstars could very well be interconnected. Leonard pretty openly wants to be a Laker, but doesn't control where the Spurs send him, assuming he is dealt.
That is the same situation that George found himself last season. He wound up being moved to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo, in the rare move that seems to have benefited both teams. Now, George may look to sign a "one plus one" deal, keeping him in OKC for another year with a player option for 2019-2020, as the Lakers attempt to build.
LeBron could do the same exact thing. If he is hesitant to head to L.A. as the first superstar on the roster, he could bide his time with another season in Cleveland. Much of this could depend on whether Leonard gets his wish and ends up in L.A. this off-season.
If Paul George does leave, whether it is this off-season or next, ESPN's Zach Lowe thinks that could trigger a Thunder rebuild, including a Russell Westbrook trade.
Lowe, one of the Worldwide Leader's top NBA analysts, wrote about the possibility in his column last night. Basically, we saw the ceiling of Westbrook as the only superstar on the Thunder in 2016-17, and it isn't worth holding onto with the rest of the team noncompetitive.
If he leaves, the Thunder have Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Steven Adams, a bunch of role players and limited cap flexibility in 2019 and beyond. We saw that movie in 2016-17, and it will get old fast. It leads nowhere interesting. George leaving would at least raise the question of transitioning into a full-on rebuild, a teardown the likes of which Thunder fans have never really witnessed, and sniffing out what Westbrook might fetch on the trade market.
For now, it is purely a hypothetical. However, it would be a sad way to end this first era of Thunder basketball.
The team had an amazing trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook. General manager Sam Presti is one of the best team builders in the NBA, and did an incredible job to compile that kind of talent. However, trading Harden away just before his prime started the ball rolling, and the team never reached another NBA Finals after losing to Miami in 2012.
Westbrook is yet another California native who had previously been connected to the Lakers, until he signed a long-term deal in OKC after the Durant departure. He is set to make an average of $41 million per year through 2022, when he has a player option for a $46.6 million 2022-23 season. He is an unrestricted free agent in 2023.