So that was a weekend.
Nobody saw the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George team-up with the Clippers coming until all of a sudden it was a done deal late Friday night.
The Thunder extracted a huge price from the Clippers in draft picks and young players for George because the Clips had no choice if they wanted to land Leonard and keep him away from the Lakers who already have two massive superstars.
Of course attention soon turned to what comes next for the Thunder’s remaining star, Russell Westbrook, who has been remarkably loyal to Oklahoma City even as they have lost superstars before. But now things appear to have changed, and the Thunder could be looking at a rebuild, and it might be time for Russ to move on.
Which is where we come in, asking if the Wolves should be interested.
Let me preface by saying I think it’s extremely unlikely that Westbrook winds up in Minnesota; This is more of an exercise in fan-dreaming than it is anything real.
That said, the answer is a big old Hell Yes. This whole thing is supposed to be fun and exciting, and nobody is more fun and exciting than Russell Westbrook. Is it the wisest move for team building? Does it give you the best chance at a title going forward? I don’t know about those things, but I know the Wolves have been irrelevant for almost the entire time since they traded Kevin Garnett, and that would change in a heartbeat if they got Russ.
Here are the arguments against acquiring Westbrook:
a) He’s not on the same “timeline” as Karl-Anthony Towns, and is declining
b) That contract is excessive.
c) He’s never won a title with guys as good as Kevin Durant or George, he’s not going to win with the Wolves.
While I won’t pretend there is not truth to any of these, allow me to rebut:
I don’t care much about timelines. Towns is a star. If you have a chance to add another, do it. Get as good as you can, and see how things go.
Westbrook will turn 31 early in the season, and there is the question of decline. Certainly he had one of his poorest years last season, and really the last two have not been as great, and that is worrisome. While I have no desire to make this a heavy stats piece, let’s look at the areas of decline:
- His usage rate is down over the last two years, but of course that makes sense. He peaked the year after Durant left and before they got George. Once George appeared on the scene, there was less need for Russ to dominate the possessions to quite the same level.
- His free throw rate is down. This is worrisome—one of Westbrook’s great qualities was his ferocious rim attacking, forcing contact and getting to the line. However, some of this concern is mitigated for me because he is still getting to the rim and finishing. The last two years he has been above his career averages in percentage of his shots within three feet, and his field goal percentage on those shots.
- His free throw percentage has taken a dive. After being above 80 percent his whole career, he dipped to 73.7 percent in 2017-18 and a shocking 65.6 percent last season. I honestly have no idea what to make of this. There is nothing else in his shooting numbers to suggest why this is true. Whether it’s just a blip or something else will have to await events, but it’s bizarre.
Other than that, he’s still rebounding like a fiend, leads the league in assist percentage every season, and has the most aggressive and individual fashion sense in the NBA.
So I dunno. He’s going to be 31, and he has a lot of hard miles on his body. But I still think there are All-Star years in there, and if you can get two or three of them over the remainder of his contract I think it’s worth it.
Now for the good stuff:
It’s RUSSELL WESTBROOK. The last time the Wolves had a player with that much gravity was 2007. Westbrook is completely relentless in his desire to win, and he makes no apologies for it. We thought Jimmy Butler was going to be that guy, but it obviously didn’t work out.
And maybe a similar thing would happen, and that would be bad. But Russ seems qualitatively different than Butler to me. He throws himself completely into winning, and doesn’t seem to be as consumed by his reputation as Butler is.
He was the MVP of the league two years ago, and has averaged a triple double each of the last three seasons. He dragged the Thunder to the playoffs without Durant or George, and since his rookie year, the only time he’s missed the post-season is when Durant missed most of the year and Russ himself missed 15 games.
He’s a polarizing, attention-grabbing player. He brings relevance to your franchise.
More to the point, consider the possible Westbrook-Towns pick-and-roll. That would be something to see every night. Towns’ ability to either pop or roll, along with his finishing combined with Westbrook’s relentless attacks and passing chops could provide the foundation of fantastic success.
Of course there are limits. Given his contract, some parameters for a trade would have be in place, and I wouldn’t be willing to give up a haul like the Clippers did for George. Andrew WIggins and Jeff Teague would have to go one way or another, just for cap purposes. Beyond that I wouldn’t want to give up more than one first round pick (maybe I could be talked into two if one of them was well-protected) and, say, Josh Okogie.
Gersson Rosas said in his conference call yesterday that they weren’t done making moves and suggested that he would always be interested in star players, much like the Rockets have always been. We saw that the Wolves were unable to complete a deal for even a marginal star like D’Angelo Russell; If they have an opportunity they have to go for it.
As I said above, I don’t think this is particularly realistic, which is why it’s so easy to dream about. But when I imagine Russ Westbrook in a Wolves jersey, attacking the rim and finding Towns, it brings a smile to my face, and smiles among Wolves fans have been few and far between for a long, long time.
Which is why I say go for it.
What say you?