With the dust settling in the aftermath of the Paul George trade, let’s put to bed the idea of Russell Westbrook going to the New York Knicks.
We need to have this Russell Westbrook discussion. Once the news broke that Paul George forced his way to the Los Angeles Clippers to link up with Kawhi Leonard, it was inevitable: There would be speculation about the New York Knicks making a play for the former MVP, who is once again, left high and dry in Oklahoma City.
It would be kind of poetic for the Knicks and Westbrook to wind up together. The team no stars wanted to play for and the player no stars wanted to play with. Better yet, he would be vying for real estate in the same town as Kevin Durant—his old teammate and bitter rival. The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks would have a real rivalry again. It would be great theater, but let’s come back to reality for a moment.
The Knicks Shouldn't Pursue Westbrook
Westbrook is one of the most compelling players in a league chock full of transcendent stars. He is a superstar in every sense of the word. The polarizing star is as unique as it gets and he has the potential to thrive in a big market like New York.
The one-time MVP and two-time scoring champ has averaged a triple-double for three straight seasons. Of course, the league plays at a much faster pace which contributes to a league-wide scoring and statistics bump. But that absurd stat line is a remarkable feat. Westbrook has an edge like a professional wrestler and he has no problem holding a grudge. Imagining a scenario where the underdog Knicks, led by Westbrook, take down Durant in Brooklyn is enticing.
However, Westbrook’s unique personality, absurd production, and competitive fire aren’t enough to outweigh the cons. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and signed to a massive contract. He deserves every penny, but do the Knicks really want to be paying upwards of $47 million to a 33-year-old Westbrook in 2023?
He’s an iron man in today’s NBA. Westbrook has played at least 80 games in seven of his 11 seasons (he played all 66 games during the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season). Unfortunately, he’s been a high-usage player who rarely sits and at some point, all those miles will catch up to him. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen anytime soon, but that’s not a risk worth taking for the Knicks.
The Knicks dipped their toes into the water for Anthony Davis but ultimately stepped back. That trade would have made more sense than a deal for Westbrook. In theory, trading for Davis would have been the first part of the Knicks’ pitch to free agents.
Scooping up Westbrook would be a desperate move to leapfrog into relevance in the Eastern Conference. There’s an opportunity to strike while the weaker conference is pretty wide open. That being said, trading for Westbrook won’t result in a championship.
The Knicks are a playoff team with Russell Westbrook leading the squad. However, this would be another version of the Carmelo Anthony trade where the Knicks acquire the star but are forced to gut the team in the process.
The Knicks Won't Pursue Westbrook
Even in a league where earth-shattering trades happen in the wee hours of the morning, I feel pretty confident predicting that the Knicks won’t trade for Westbrook. It’s just a gut feeling, but it doesn’t make sense for them right now. The move wouldn’t fall in line with how the front office has operated for the better part of the past two years.
A Westbrook trade would be a red flag. Rather than stick with the patient approach and slowly develop a cohesive unit, the Knicks would be skipping steps and reaching for the quick fix.
The organization isn’t afraid to make a splash—see the Kristaps Porzingis trade. But the Porzingis ordeal felt like it was something the Knicks were well-prepared to handle. It’s hard to imagine they had given much thought to trading for Westbrook until the news of Paul George’s defection went public in the middle of the night.
A trade for Westbrook would turn up the heat on general manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills. While many members of the national media want to paint Knicks fans as a dejected bunch after free agency, that’s not really the case. A large and vocal portion of the fanbase is content with a patient rebuild featuring homegrown talent despite whiffing in free agency.
So long as the Knicks stay committed to the patient rebuild, the front office has a long runway before the fans grab their pitchforks and take to Madison Square Garden. A trade for Westbrook, on the other hand, would have many fans muttering “same ol’ Knicks.”
It’s a star-driven league and that’s no secret. The Knicks are still searching for their next star after trading away Porzingis and whiffing on free agency. Perhaps there will be a time to make an aggressive trade and shake things up.
But Westbrook is not the answer and now is not the time. Despite all his individual success, the superstar point guard hasn’t made it out of the first round of the playoffs since Kevin Durant was in Oklahoma City. Although the details aren’t clear at the moment, Paul George is now the second star who willingly left OKC, and Westbrook, for greener pastures.
As great of a player as he can be, he’s simply not the answer. All that flexible cap space would get tied up in an aging star who wouldn’t turn the Knicks into a championship contender singlehandedly. Rather than pretending to be a championship-caliber team, the Knicks must stick with the current plan. It sounds like a poorly thought out reboot that Knicks fans don’t need to see.