The Bulls aren’t trading for Russell Westbrook.
Let’s get that reality out of the way before diving in to what a potential trade would look like and how the eight-time All-Star and former MVP would fit in Chicago.
Westbrook is reportedly seeking a trade in the wake of the Oklahoma City Thunder agreeing to trade Paul George to the Clippers. Westbrook, who will turn 31 early next NBA season, has been with Oklahoma City since their inaugural season in 2008. He won league MVP in 2017 and has recorded a triple-double each of the last three seasons, an NBA record.
But Westbrook’s deficiencies have spoken louder than his raw numbers the last few seasons. Despite averaging 26.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 10.1 assists since the start of the 2014-15 season, Westbrook is shooting just 43.6% from the field in that span and just 30.9% from beyond the arc. He has averaged 4.7 turnovers per game and has just a 4-12 postseason record with three first-round exits since Kevin Durant left for Golden State.
Inefficiencies aside, Westbrook is undoubtedly talented. He’s a proven veteran, committed leader and excellent teammate. The bigger issue, as most teams will find in attempting to trade for him, is his contract. Westbrook has four years and $170 million remaining on the contract extension he signed in September 2017. Any team dealing for Westbrook would not only have to take on that salary – which will pay Westbrook more than $47 million in 2023 – but also match outgoing salaries in the deal.
For those playing GM right now, Bulls would need to send out at least approx $30.8m in salary to take back Russ in a trade. Incoming salary can be no more than 125% of outgoing plus 100k for non tax teams.— Kevin Anderson (@Kevin_NBCS) July 6, 2019
For the Bulls, getting to the magic $30.8 million number that would need to go back to OKC in a deal would require including Otto Porter ($27,250,575) or Zach LaVine ($19,500,000) as a starting point. The Bulls would then have to toss in filler salaries – Kris Dunn ($4 million), Denzel Valentine ($2.28 million, etc. – to match Westbrook’s. And that's just to match salaries. The Thunder would obviously want more than that or a king's ransom of first-round picks.
Beyond the Bulls having to part with a core piece of their rebuild, Westbrook just doesn’t make any sense in Chicago. The Bulls have had a good offseason in acquiring veterans Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky, as well as agreeing to deals with Ryan Arcidiacono and Luke Kornet. They’re three months removed from a 22-win season and want to watch their young players progress. They drafted Coby White to be the point guard of the future, but there’s no rush to reach contender status given their entire core is 26 or younger.
Would the Bulls be a better team with Westbrook on board for, say, Porter/LaVine and Dunn (and a boatload of first-round picks)? Certainly, though in reality they'd probably still have to give up one of Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter. We're talking about a future Hall of Famer in the prime of his career. They’d probably make the postseason. But they wouldn’t be contenders in an Eastern Conference that’s still pretty top-heavy despite the Raptors losing out on Leonard.
And who’s to say where Westbrook’s career trajectory is headed? He’s about to turn 31 and has already logged 32,000 career minutes. Westbrook isn’t a shooter, and his game is built on speed and athleticism. That’s a risky move to deal for him while needing him to maintain both for the next four seasons.
Westbrook’s best fit is on a contender, not a rebuild. That means a trade to the Bulls, though worth talking about, isn’t realistic. The Bulls would have to send a host of first-round picks back in the deal, stunting the growth of their rebuild.