The NBA trade season has opened with quite the bang, particularly with regards to backcourt stars. Chris Paul has been dealt from Oklahoma City to Phoenix, Jrue Holiday is on his way to Milwaukee for a number of first round picks, Bogdan Bogdanovic will join Holiday on the Bucks in a sign-and-trade, and Dennis Schröder is headed to L.A. to join the Lakers.
The Houston Rockets are currently the central focus of the NBA’s trade market after that early flurry, as they seem headed to a full-scale rebuild after their two stars, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, lobbied for trade requests. They’ve already dealt Robert Covington to Portland for Trevor Ariza and a pair of draft picks, and Harden continues to put a full-court press on the organization to ship him off to Brooklyn (with Philly as an apparent distant second on his list of preferences).
To this point, the Rockets have, as expected, insisted they don’t want to trade their star, as they want to continue operating from a place of leverage in negotiations to whatever degree is possible, but while Harden figures to bring a robust return their way, it is a much different issue trying to find a new home for Westbrook. The former MVP still has plenty in the tank, but the $133 million he’s owed over the next three years is a steep price to pay for his productivity. According to Marc Stein of The New York Times in his latest newsletter, there are currently just two potential suitors for Russ in the Knicks and Hornets, and both are lukewarm at the moment.
However, in Charlotte’s case, things could change dramatically on Wednesday night depending on how the draft shakes out, as Michael Jordan apparently has his eyes on LaMelo Ball. Should Ball be there, they’d likely move on from any Westbrook interest, but if he’s taken before Charlotte picks, it may push them to a stronger interest.
In the Hornets’ case, there is a belief in some corners of the league that their appetite for a Westbrook trade increases significantly if Charlotte does not land LaMelo Ball with the No. 3 overall pick in Wednesday’s draft. Michael Jordan, Charlotte’s owner, is a known Westbrook admirer. Should the playmaking Ball be drafted before the Hornets’ turn at No. 3, according to the theory, there is a much stronger case to be made for trading for Westbrook in spite of the cost and attendant risk.
Charlotte made a strong commitment to Terry Rozier last summer, but Westbrook would certainly be an upgrade there. the question is whether they believe he’s worth the financial commitment that comes with him. That said, Westbrook’s teams, for the flaws he has in his game, have always been competitive, and he would raise the floor of the Hornets. The question is whether there’s a cap on his ceiling as well, but for a Charlotte team desperate for even consistent playoff appearances, they could do worse.