In case you’ve been living under a rock or you’ve only been watching the U.S. Women’s National Team win the World Cup, there’s been a lot of news transpiring around the NBA. Perhaps the biggest story is the Thunder trading Paul George to the Clippers and Russell Westbrook to the Rockets. While those two teams received All-Star players, the Thunder received a boatload of picks, Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
This ends any immediate championship aspirations the Thunder had who are left with Paul’s bloated contract, solid center Steven Adams and a bunch of role players. When news broke that George got traded, everyone expected Westbrook to go next and teams around the league were looking to get him. While Phoenix wasn’t rumored to be involved, it was a good idea that the Suns didn’t go after the UCLA product.
Now, there’s plenty of great attributes about Westbrook and his game. Perhaps the biggest positive Westbrook has is his playing style. Westbrook has averaged a triple double over the last three years and has been a wrecking ball against opposing teams. Pairing that with the array of shooters Phoenix has would have created a lot of open looks. Him playing pick and roll with center Deandre Ayton would have been tough for anyone to defend as both are athletic freaks. Obviously pairing Westbrook and shooting guard Devin Booker would’ve made for an elite backcourt.
However, there’s plenty of negatives too.
A massive issue with trading for Westbrook is the massive super-max contract he has. He’s signed on for four more years for about $171 million. The Suns would be paying close to $330 million for its backcourt. Trading for him would have been difficult just from a numbers standpoint as the Suns don’t have any tradable contracts close to it.
Another complication with this trade is just who Westbrook is. I love the type of raw intensity he brings to every game as no one can say Westbrook doesn’t do all he can. However, Westbrook isn’t a perfect player. He’s been a bad three point shooter and he’s been struggling more as his career winds down.
A lot of Westbrook’s game comes from his athletic ability and as he gets older, the more that goes down. Westbrook in his final year will make about $47 million and no one will know how good he’ll be at that point. Perhaps Westbrook develops a better, more consistent jump shot or perhaps Westbrook never gets that and his body breaks down. It’s tough to justify the trade when you don’t know how it’ll play out.
Perhaps the biggest issue with trading for Westbrook is the Suns are on a completely different timeline than him. Westbrook is in his prime now, trying to win titles, the Suns haven’t been in the playoffs since 2010 and aren’t close to competing for titles.
Suns general manager James Jones has spent this last year cleaning the books and getting rid of nearly every bad contract on the team. He has set Phoenix up to have a max slot available during the free agency class of 2021. That free agent class has players like George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and so many more available. The Suns probably won’t get any of them but Jones is trying to position his team to be in that room with those stars.
Why would he give that up for four years of Westbrook’s bloated contract? Sure, the team would objectively get better right away but the Suns are playing the long game and are ok with waiting out this storm.
The Suns aren’t in the same position as the Rockets, a team that has an aging superstar who’s trying to win right now. The Rockets look at Westbrook as potentially the final piece for its title run. It’s willing to take that contract and risk the backend not being pretty if it means the team wins a title. The Suns aren’t facing that clock just yet and don’t feel the pressure of making a desperate power play. Only time will tell how this deal will look but regardless, the NBA is going to be very exciting next season.