The end of an era – OKC Thunder trade Russell Westbrook to Houston

Russell Westbrook, OKC Thunder (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook, OKC Thunder (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images) /

OKC Thunder fans knew it was coming -knew it was inevitable but the Russell Westbrook trade to the Houston Rockets still came as a surprise.

The other shoe has dropped and this one feels like it kicked on the way down. The OKC Thunder have traded their superstar and epitome of the culture and identity of the Thunder —Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets.

The deal centers on Chris Paul returning to offset the financial end of the equation along with first-round draft picks in the 2024 and 2026 seasons (both protected). In addition, like General Manager Sam Presti did with the Paul George trade, he finagled two pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.

As per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Royce Young, the draft picks Sam Presti has accumulated in five days time is entirely without precedent.

"Oklahoma City has accumulated eight first-round picks since the June 20 NBA draft, creating a long game unseen in recent NBA history. With the possibility that Oklahoma City could retain its own 2020 pick (top-20 protected to Philadelphia) and 2022 (lottery-protected to Atlanta), the Thunder could have 15 first-round picks and swap rights in four different seasons between 2020 and 2026."

Presumably, the Rockets were one of the teams Brian Windhorst suggested was on Westbrook’s shortlist. The Miami Heat sat at the top of the list, however, Presti was surely keen to add youthful assets given the Heat didn’t have an available draft pick until 2026 to offer in return. Tyler Herro was likely part of the trade package sought by the Thunder along with other youthful assets such as Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow.

While the Heat inked their other rookie K.Z. Okpala did not sign immediately. This led to the belief Pat Riley and Presti were trying to work out the deal for Russ to join Jimmy Butler and his preferred landing spot and to a team desirous of his addition.

Chris Paul contract will weigh heavy on Presti:

Adding the hefty contract of Chris Paul isn’t ideal and won’t be an easy contract to move but presumably, Sam Presti will begin that work in earnest. The difference is OKC owes CP3 nothing so Presti can take his time to move the 34-year-old who still has three years remaining on his contract:

  • 2019-20: $38,506,482
  • 2020-2021: $41,358,814
  • 2021-2022: $44,211,146
  • Total: $124,976,442

Last season Paul registered per game averages of 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 2.0 steals. He shot 35.8 percent from the deep and 41.9 percent from the field.

The enigmatic point guard was frequently referred to as the best leader in the NBA despite his diminutive stature. Paul is a competitive player who’ll push everyone on this team to be better which likely led to his trade

Paul and Harden’s relationship took a turn in the 2019 playoffs and this trade likely signals the friction between the pair was more than a simple one-off, disagreement.

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Health has caught up to CP3 who has struggled to stay on the court having played in only 58 games each of his seasons in Houston.

Again, make no mistake, Presti will look to move Paul and his albatross contract with the hope of not having to give too much up in the process. This likely won’t be an easy pill for Paul to swallow as he signed with Houston with the hopes of winning titles with James Harden.

Original Thunder backcourt reunited:

The deal partners Russell Westbrook back with former backcourt teammate James Harden who spent three seasons with the OKC Thunder culminating with the 2011-12 season and ironically the only visit the Thunder made to the Finals when they lost to the Miami Heat.

Both players have since gone on to win regular season MVPs and have learned precisely how difficult it is to get back to the Finals.

Tough season for Brodie:

Last season Russell Westbrook posted per game averages of  22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 10.7 assists, and 1.8  steals. In spite of averaging triple-double for the third consecutive season, Westbrook witnessed one of his worst seasons as his shooting efficiency fell off dramatically with a meager 29.0 percent from deep his worst free throw percentage of his career (65.6 percent).

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The Beard:

Harden meanwhile was an MVP candidate again posting a career-high 36.1 points along with 6.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 2.0 steals while connecting on 4.8 triples at a 36.8 percent efficiency.

The duo is extremely familiar with one another and friends off the court. Because of their previous time in playing together, this will be a seamless transition and no doubt, Westbrook will be driven to help Harden’s numbers skyrocket to another level this coming season. And, hey maybe James or Head Coach Mike D’Antoni can help Russ with improving his shooting from and garner improvements in this area.

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Reunited and it feels so…

Ultimately the writing was on the wall for his exit, although I’m sure many in OKC will wonder why Presti keeps sending out our homegrown talents to Daryl Morey. That said, if the Rockets were on Russell Westbrook’s short list he’s earned the chance to go try and win the gold ball after everything he’s done and been to the OKC Thunder organization.

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This past season when the Thunder lost again in the first round and the Rockets were unable to dispense of a Kevin Durant-less Warriors squad on their home court it did point to the need for changes. But, at the start of free agency, it’s doubtful any of Thunder Nation expected we’d be watching the former teammates playing in Houston.

It was with a heavy heart I typed this article and I’m honestly fighting back some tears. We’ll be back with much more in the morning discussing the trade in further details, reminiscing about everything Russell Westbrook and much more. For now, let me send out our heartfelt thanks for 11 wonderful years teeming with memories of the man who might not have been called Mr. Thunder but epitomizes everything good that came from his presence on the team, in the city and on the court.

Next. Westbrook Top 10 list from historic triple-double season. dark

We’ll miss you Russ, thanks for the memories — you’ll forever be an OKC Thunder in our hearts and minds.