As the New York Knicks continue to spiral, monitoring the situation in Houston could prove beneficial in their hopes to land a star.
The New York Knicks failed to acquire a star in free agency, once again. And they have (seemingly) failed to find a solution at point guard. And after a 1-7 start, I’ve seen enough.
It’s time to explore some more, well, nuclear options.
No, not nuclear in the blow-it-up sense. But it’s time to blow this thing wide open and get a little crazy. Like trading for Russell Westbrook crazy.
Failed from the Start
The Houston Rockets panicked this summer–like studying 10 minutes before the exam type of panic. Like trading the point god Chris Paul type of panic.
After making it as far as Western Conference Semifinals in three consecutive years, they traded one of the best point guards of all time after last season’s postseason exit.
Ironically enough, it reminds me of Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City after being just a buzzer-beater away from The Finals the season before.
Think of it this way: both he and the Rockets swam just far enough to see the shore and then swam back to the life raft.
But still, James Harden has led the Rockets on an incredible tear the last two to three years. He’s been MVP, MVP runner up, and won the scoring title last season.
But General Manager Daryl Morey started getting claustrophobic between the Rockets’ championship window and Harden’s competitive timeline–so he pressed a big red button.
That big, red, athletic, explosive button being Russell Westbrook. He was the 2017 league MVP and Harden’s former teammate in Oklahoma City. Except this time, the grumblings and doubts met with this trade and pairing are correct.
Not to toot my own horn, but I was one of the few in the summer of ’16 that saw Harden and Paul as two guys that would glue together nicely.
The acquisition was originally met with adversity, it ruled headlines for weeks, and then poof. People realized that Paul is the exact kind of player that can play next to Harden.
In the same way, they’ll realize Westbrook, well, isn’t.
The former franchise face of the Oklahoma City Thunder just doesn’t play nice with other stars. We saw it with Durant, Harden, and most recently–Paul George. Because say what you want, but I don’t think everyone was ‘on the same page’ as to why he wanted out.
And Harden, well, he just hasn’t adjusted well to playing with Westbrook. He’s shooting career lows in both field goal (.381) and three-point percentage (.253!).
Westbrook is the ultimate alpha dog. One of the most polarizing athletes of the decade. You either love him or you hate him more than you’ve ever hated any team’s opposing player. We’ve seen what his best basketball looks like, back during his MVP season in OKC.
He made the playoffs with a B-team squad, stuffed with veterans and youth alike, and in an arena that gets their jimmies off some hard-nosed basketball.
Sound familiar, Knicks fans?
Yes, I’m talking about Madison Square Garden. I’m talking about Westbrook in New York. I’m talking about potentially the most electric basketball held in that arena since the days of Patrick Ewing. I’m talking trade, and admittedly, probably way too early.
Built for Houston
The Houston Rockets are a lot of things. But they’re fast, three-point shooters mostly. There’s hardly a trade partner (in general, but also circumstantially) that suits them more than the New York Knicks.
Faces like Bobby Portis, Marcus Morris and Wayne Ellington would fit into the Rockets’ offense seamlessly. Combined, the trio is shooting 37 percent from deep, with Morris leading the pack. But those guys–well they’d make for quite the attractive trade offer to a Houston team that doesn’t necessarily seem to be clicking off the bat.
The Rockets are just 5-3, and they’ve played some close games against some very bad teams: a seven-point win over Memphis, a one-point win over Washington, etc. And the early return on this Westbrook-Harden duo isn’t…ideal.
“Maybe [after] 20 games, if we are still struggling, then we’ll have to take a look at things.”
Houston will play their 20th game on December 3rd. That’s not too far off from Dec. 15, the true opening of the NBA’s trade market. Most players who signed new deals or extensions in the offseason will officially be eligible for trade. Cue New York.
In any chance that Houston is looking to dump Westbrook’s remaining four years and $123-million in guaranteed money–the return isn’t going to be that pretty. The Knicks could package together a number of expiring deals that would provide Houston with the chance to jump back in the free agency market in 2020 or 2021.
Bobby Portis, Wayne Ellington and Marcus Morris for Russell Westbrook and a second-round pick belonging to Memphis would likely be a good starting point for any deal. In Portis and Ellington, you’ve got three-point marksmen on deals with a team option for year two. And in Morris, a starting-caliber forward on an expiring contract.
New York grabs some form of draft compensation for three-sevenths of their free agency acquisitions. And oh yeah, they get a top-5 point guard in the NBA.
Russell Westbrook in New York has the potential to be a mutually beneficial marriage. He’s the kind of guy who can get a crowd on their feet, and New York fans, well they’ll be lifted out of their seats for as little as a Frank Ntilikina jump shot.
Westbrook playing for New York would mean a couple of things.
One: the front office stepped in, got aggressive, and finally acquired some All-Star talent.
Two: They’ve got an answer at point guard for at least the next two seasons. If things aren’t working out longterm, the Knicks could very well turn to the trade market in 2021, when he’s a pending free agent (player option).
Three: whoever is drafted in June, or traded for later on to man point guard long term, well they’ve got (somewhat) of a mentor. And right now, the entirety of the point guard core could use it. Dennis Smith has often been compared with names like Westbrook, John Wall and other athletic and explosive point guards.
What better mentor than a player representing your own virtual ceiling?
And of course, there’s that whole winning games thing.
New York would immediately become a playoff threat in the Eastern Conference. It’s doubtful they make that much noise, but the Knicks young core would get some actual postseason experience. On top of you know, winning more than 20 games on the season.
Sure, there are some preliminary concerns. Does Westbrook clog up the offense with his iso-heavy offense? Yes, at times. But he’s averaged 8.4 assists for his career, and that’s not by coincidence.
Of course, we want the younger, cornerstone Knicks players to be more than spot-up shooting targets for Westbrook’s transition play. But first things first, let’s see them hit some shots.
You can teach any NBA-caliber talent how to operate within an offense, they change often over the years. But you can’t teach efficiency, and the Knicks could use some of that right now. Having an above-average passer will do wonders for their 29th ranked offense.
This is going to rub some Knicks fans the wrong way; I understand that.
But Russell Westbrook is a generational talent. And it seems if the New York Knicks want an All-Star, or starting point guard even, then they have to go out and get one.