The New York Knicks have been linked to just about every veteran star believed to be available on the trade market this offseason. Chris Paul and Victor Oladipo have already made their way through the rumor mill, and now, we can potentially add another name to that list: Russell Westbrook. According to SNY's Ian Begley, NBA agents believe that the Knicks "would poke around" on a possible Westbrook trade should the Houston Rockets make him available.
At this time, there is no indication that the Rockets plan to make Westbrook available. However, it should be noted that the Rockets aggressively denied rumors that they would consider trading Chris Paul in 2019. We all know how that turned out. On paper, there are a number of arguments in favor of a Westbrook trade. The best are financial. The Rockets owe around $118 million to only five players next season: Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington.
While the extent of it is not fully known, owner Tilman Fertitta has had financial struggles during the pandemic. He had to take out a $300 million loan at a hefty 13 percent interest to keep his restaurant empire afloat, and has never paid the luxury tax before. Westbrook has three years left on his contract at max money, culminating in a preposterous $46.6 million salary for the 2022-23 season. He will also turn 32 next month and relies heavily on athleticism. In all likelihood, he will not age particularly well.
The Knicks have enough cap space to absorb the entire Westbrook contract outright. The question is whether or not they would do it. Most outside observers view Westbrook as a negative asset. He is a valuable player in the right context, but his contract is so damning that very few teams can trade for him. Those that can would need to send back an equally harmful deal. Would the Rockets want real value back from the Knicks, like draft picks and young talent? Or would the Knicks demand compensation for taking on the deal? If the Rockets didn't take back any money, dealing him could, amazingly, get them below the salary cap altogether.
If they did take back money, odds are, they'd prefer veteran shooters like Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington in the trade. Westbrook's greatest weakness as a player is his poor shooting. The Rockets worked around that flaw by eschewing the center position entirely. If they dealt Westbrook with the intention of remaining in contention, playing with five shooters at all times would likely be their plan. There is also the possibility that a Westbrook trade could spark a full-scale rebuild, with Harden, Tucker and Covington finding themselves on the trading block, but for now, that possibility appears farfetched at best.
The more pertinent question is why the Knicks would be interested in such a deal. Westbrook would clog their cap sheet for three years. At least a deal for Paul would surround core youngsters R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson with an elite floor general that shoots at a high level. Westbrook monopolizes offenses and limits spacing for teammates. There are lineup constructions in which he makes sense. The Knicks have none of them. If they do go for a big name this offseason, it should be one that complements the youngsters that are already in place. Neither Barrett nor Robinson shoot particularly well. Another non-shooter would only make their lives more difficult.
Of course, the Knicks probably shouldn't be big-game hunting at all. Right now, they're on a sensible rebuilding path. They have young players, extra draft picks and endless cap flexibility. If an MVP-caliber player became available, that would be one thing, but Westbrook hasn't been that for several years, and at his age, his time as an All-Star is likely coming to an end. There is an argument in favor of adding a big-name player this offseason, if only to prove to future big-name targets that the Knicks know how to treat their superstars, but the irony of that player being Westbrook is that his contract would essentially prevent the Knicks from targeting other such players in the near future. A reunion with Carmelo Anthony, for instance, could accomplish the same thing at a significantly lower cost.
Add all of this up and a Westbrook trade should be viewed as extremely unlikely, but the fact that these rumors keep popping up should concern Knicks fans in favor of a slower, more deliberate rebuild. Every indication suggests that the Knicks want to win right now, future be damned. If Daryl Morey can take advantage of that opportunity to dump perhaps the worst contract in basketball, it's something he should at least consider.