The makeover in Oklahoma City continues. And so does the Western Conference’s seemingly never-ending game of “Can you top this?”
Just one day after sending Paul George to the LA Clippers for an unprecedented haul of draft picks, the Oklahoma City Thunder have reportedly shipped 2017 Kia MVP Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets. Westbrook would reunite with former Thunder teammate James Harden, the 2018 MVP.
Chris Paul and a package of first-round picks will be headed back to Oklahoma City, per a Thursday report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Royce Young.
Reporting story with @royceyoung: Houston has reunited Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Story soon ESPN. https://t.co/xKTMwIXq2U
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 12, 2019
Wojnarowski added that the picks would be first-rounders in 2024 and 2026, along with pick swaps in 2021 and 2025. The deal was reportedly completed with Westbrook’s blessing as Thunder GM Sam Presti worked with the eight-time All-NBA point guard and his agent, Thad Foucher. Wojnarowski later clarified Houston attempted to direct Paul to a preferred third team, but couldn’t connect the dot.
Shams Charania of The Athletic subsequently broke down the protections:
Sources: Pick protections in Thunder/Rockets, Russell Westbrook/Chris Paul trade:
2024 first round pick, protected 1-4
2026 first round pick, protected 1-4
2025 swap, 1-20 protected
2021 swap, protected 1-4 — OKC can swap Clippers pick or Heat pick.
Westbrook, the only remaining player from the Thunder’s first season in Oklahoma City after the franchise moved from Seattle in 2008, earned All-NBA Third Team recognition after logging his third consecutive season averaging a triple-double (this time: 22.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 10.7 apg). The 11-year veteran struggled with his shooting throughout, connecting on just 29.8 percent of his 3-point attempts and 42.8% overall, along with a career-worst 65.6 percent from the line.
Given Westbrook’s usage has soared in the years since Kevin Durant’s departure to Golden State, the fit next to Harden will force both players to adjust. Harden’s historic 2018-19 campaign included an exhilarating 32-game streak of 30-point games and the league’s highest scoring average (36.1 ppg) since Michael Jordan put up 37.1 in 1986-87. The two players each ranked among the league’s top four in touches per game and time of possession, as well as top 10 marks in average seconds per touch.
Meanwhile, Paul dealt with his own struggles this season in Houston, his second with the Rockets following a six-year run with the “Lob City” Clippers. Shooting a career-low 41.9 percent overall, Paul played in just 58 games for a second-straight season, recording his lowest usage rate (22.0) since 2012-13 while posting a career-high turnover ratio of 10.8 per 100 possessions.
In the wake of Houston’s second-round exit — yet again at the hands of the Warriors — reports began to circulate that Paul and Harden’s relationship had frayed, culminating in a trade demand by Paul. Though denied aggressively by Paul and Rockets GM Daryl Morey at the time, Paul is on the move and Harden reportedly pushed for the deal once Westbrook’s availability — and interest in Houston — became known.
James Harden was a driving force in this deal, I’m told. Russell Westbrook and Harden decides they wanted to reunite and Rockets made it happen despite some questions about fit now that Harden is so ball dominant. Houston believes ceiling is higher with Russ than CP3.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 12, 2019
Westbrook and Harden were Thunder teammates for three seasons, the last of those in 2011-12 when that duo and Kevin Durant took Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals. They lost in five games to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, and Harden departed that summer for Houston — where he’s been an All-Star ever since.
The 34-year-old Paul is a nine-time All-Star, Westbrook an eight-time selection. Paul has 9,181 career assists, the most among active players. Westbrook has 138 triple-doubles, tied with Magic Johnson for second-most in NBA history behind only Oscar Robertson’s 181.
Paul is owed roughly $125 million over the final three years of his contract, including a $44.2 million option for 2021-22. Westbrook, who turns 31 early next season, is owed $171 million over the final four years of his existing deal.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.