Houston Rockets

Bulls officially won't be acquiring Russell Westbrook, as Thunder trade point guard to Rockets for Chris Paul

Bulls officially won't be acquiring Russell Westbrook, as Thunder trade point guard to Rockets for Chris Paul

For any Bulls fans holding onto hope that the team will acquire All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder, this is for you.

Thursday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Twitter that the Thunder have agreed to trade Westbrook to the Houston Rockets. The Thunder will acquire point guard Chris Paul, two first round picks (2024 and 2026) and pick swaps with the Rockets in 2021 and 2025. 

The fact that the Bulls won't be acquiring Westbrook shouldn't come as a surprise to Bulls fans, of course. Earlier on Thursday, Bulls vice president John Paxson pretty much shot down the possibility of the Bulls acquiring the 30-year-old Westbrook.

"Everybody pays attention obviously to what's going on, what the deals around the league are," Paxson said on 670 The Score. "But I think every team is at kind of a different stage of development and evolution. There are teams that are going to take a real shot at someone like that. You have to factor in everything.

"When you look at the financial aspect of a player that's 30 going out four years and the amount of money that's going to be made, those things can tie your hands up and put your organization in a tough position."

To Paxson's point, Westbrook still has four years and $170 million remaining on the $205 million extension that he signed in 2017. This, in addition to the draft capital that the Rockets are reportedly sending to the Thunder for Westbrook's services.

For these reasons and more, the Bulls acquiring Westbrook never truly made sense.

It was only just a dream.

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Dunc'd on Podcast floats Robin Lopez to Rockets trade idea

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USA TODAY

Dunc'd on Podcast floats Robin Lopez to Rockets trade idea

On Tuesday’s episode of the Dunc’d On Podcast, Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux discussed the idea of the Houston Rockets trading for Bulls center Robin Lopez.

This comes in part because of the news that Clint Capela will miss up to six weeks with ligament damage in his thumb and Houston could certainly use a fill-in at the center position.

Duncan and Leroux did not suggest any hyper-specific trades but Leroux suggested the framework of the possible deal as:

“I had floated the idea of them trading Brandon Knight and an asset for Robin Lopez, not because Lopez is a perfect fit though he is a capable center and there is some value in that, but also because it’s a way for the Rockets to get off of 2019-20 money”

The Rockets have oft-discussed issues with the amount of money on their books but it costs to be a winning team, and Houston has found a way to succeed even after not extending contracts to defensive-minded forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah Moute last offseason.

At the time of this writing, Houston is sitting at 25-18, good for fourth in the Western Conference, an amazing turnaround after their rough start to the season. But even with all of their recent James Harden-led success, the Rockets still rank 26th in the league in defensive efficiency, a worse rating than the 10-34 Bulls.

Lopez, while not the the traditional rim-runner or floor-spacing big man that the Rockets would usually go after, still provides a huge defensive upgrade over any big on their roster not named Clint Capela.

Per NBA.com, opponents are shooting 7.1 percent worse when defended by Lopez, a testament to how good he is at using his length to frustrate scorers at the rim, and occasionally on midrange closeouts. Of course, he is too slow-footed to play in a switching defensive system, but the Rockets have not went to that strategy as much as they have in past years.

If the Bulls do decide to use their cap space to acquire draft assets rather than going after free agents, the Rockets-Bulls deal floated by the Dunc’d on Podcast makes a TON of sense.

Brandon Knight, the oft-injured 27-year old guard, still has some promise despite was has been an awful stinit in Houston. He has said all the right things, and by all accounts seems like a great guy who has just had some awful luck with injuries. And it is important to remember, this is a guard who as recently as the 2015-16 season, was putting up 19.6 PPG.

Knight is certainly thankful just to have a chance to prove himself again on the NBA stage.

Houston is gearing up for the stretch run. And Lopez would be perfect to be stationed right in the middle of the paint as the Rockets defensive anchor until Capela is 100 percent.

Another interesting note--though Mike D’Antonio, Daryl Morey and co. definitely aren’t as concerned about it--is that Lopez is shooting a (obviously) career-high 0.9 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, while hitting them at a 28.6 percent rate.

His brother Brook has notoriously turned himself into one of the NBA’s premier 3-point shooting centers, taking 8.7 attempts from 3-point range while hitting 37.8 percent of them. Now no one is expecting Robin to turn into Brook overnight, but on a team that leads the league with 43.3 3-point attempts per game, there is precedent for Lopez to become an interesting (last-ditch) pick-and-pop option, considering how skilled he is at screening combined with the offensive gravity of Harden.

The Rockets are the same team that reportedly offered four-first round picks in an effort to get Jimmy Butler, so it is not insane to think that the Bulls would be able to extract a first-round pick for the Rockets as long as they were willing to take money back.

Wendell Carter could be the rare 'defense-first' Rookie of the Year

Wendell Carter could be the rare 'defense-first' Rookie of the Year

When OddsShark released their updated NBA Rookie of the Year odds in early July, Wendell Carter had the 10th best odds to win the award. By the All-Star break, those odds may look very, very different. And while the writers who vote on these awards have somewhat of a defined pattern in terms of who they vote for, Carter represents a rare opportunity to break the mold. Obviously nights like his huge double-double (14 points, 13 rebounds) with four blocks against Houston on Saturday will do wonders for his ROY stock, but even on his quiet nights he does the little things that add up over the course of a game (and a season).

Carter is in the top 20 in the league in contested shots per game and that is a big reason why he is one of five rookies playing over 25 minutes per night.

By now, most Bulls fans know that the ability to move laterally was the number one concern about Carter as a draft prospect. He knew the right thing to do but was often late to do it. When defending the pick-and-roll, he would step out for the hard hedge but it would happen too late. This threw off his ability to slow down the ball handler and recover to his man.

When you compare that to how he is defending now—especially against offenses that hunt mismatches as aggressively as the Rockets—the difference is startling considering we are discussing a 19-year old player:

He receives great help defense from Cam Payne and Justin Holiday in the first clip. That allows him the extra time he needs to get back to his man but the sense of urgency (and purpose) in Carter's movements are apparent from the start.

In the second clip Jabari Parker points as if he is telling Chandler Hutchison to pick up Chris Paul but then he steps over and guards him as well, leaving PJ Tucker wide open when he slipped the screen. Carter sees all of this happen as he is guarding Clint Capela on the baseline and leaves his man at the exact moment he needed to in order to come over and get the block on Tucker, which—as an added bonus—he tips to a teammate instead of out of bounds.

On the year Carter accounts for a larger share of his team's blocks than DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba and Jaren Jackson Jr. All three players were selected ahead of Carter.

His activity on the defensive end makes him stand out whenever you watch the 2018-19 Bulls. Several rookies may finish the year with better raw stats in terms of block totals because of an advantage in playing time, but Carter's block and steal rates will reflect that he makes the most out of his minutes. 

At the end of the year Carter may not be putting up a double-double like Ayton is right now. But when you look at crucial figures like block percentage, defensive box plus/minus and steal rate, it is clear that he should be in the thick of the Rookie of the Year race come June.

And even if he is not, the numbers don’t lie.

Carter is well on his way to becoming the most important part of the current Bulls rebuild due to his two-way play and should be rewarded for it should it continue. His importance to the Bulls is most evident when you breakdown game film and see just how often he makes up for the mistakes of others. And for that reason alone Carter will have a shot to be the first ROY who wins the award based off of his on the court awareness rather than raw counting stats.