The Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed to a blockbuster trade that will send Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets, where he’ll be reunited with James Harden, league sources told ESPN.
The Rockets will send guard Chris Paul, two protected first-round picks (2024 and 2026, both protected Nos. 1-4) and two pick swaps (2021 and 2025) to the Thunder, league sources told ESPN.
The Rockets are reuniting two former MVP guards who started their careers together with the Thunder. This was a deal Harden and Westbrook were each enthusiastic about, league sources said.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti worked with Westbrook and his agent, Thad Foucher, to help honor the star guard’s hopes of playing with the Rockets, league sources said. The Thunder also discussed a possible deal with the Miami Heat, sources said.
Presti already is working with Paul’s agents at CAA Sports — Leon Rose and Steven Heumann — to redirect the nine-time All-Star to a new team, league sources tell ESPN. The Heat are prominent in the conversations, but there are other possibilities also being explored, sources said. Presti and Rose worked together last year on a similar situation with Carmelo Anthony.
Raining Draft Picks
With their trades of Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Jerami Grant, the Thunder now have at least two first-round draft picks in six of the next seven drafts. Here’s a breakdown:
2020: 2 (own; DEN)
2021: 2 (own; MIA; can swap w/HOU)
2022: 2 (own; LAC)
2023: 2 (own; MIA; can swap w/LAC)
2024: 3 (own; LAC; HOU)
2025: 1 (own; can swap with LAC/HOU)
2026: 3 (own; LAC; HOU)
— Some picks may not convey
because of protections
In making the trade, the Rockets believe that the age difference between Paul (34) and Westbrook (30) gives them a better chance to extend the championship window of Harden, who will turn 30 next month.
“We’re excited to have Russell Westbrook,” Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta told Houston’s Fox 26. “I would watch him play for Oklahoma City, and he’s so athletic. At the same time, this franchise just had the two years with the most wins it’s ever had in consecutive years, and we wouldn’t have accomplished that without Chris Paul. Chris Paul is unbelievable, and he’s gonna be sadly missed.”
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 pick (lottery protected to Atlanta), the Thunder could have 15 first-round picks and swap rights in four different seasons between 2020 and 2026.
Paul has three years, $124 million left on his contract — one year fewer than Westbrook would have had on OKC’s books. If the Thunder keep Paul, they’ll have a representative lineup that currently includes him, center Steven Adams and forward Danilo Gallinari.
If Oklahoma City wanted to incentivize a trade for Paul, the Thunder could use part of their massive pool of picks to facilitate a deal. Paul has some positive history with Oklahoma City, having played there with the Hornets starting in 2005-06, when Hurricane Katrina forced the franchise to temporarily relocate.
Caesars Sportsbook moved the Rockets’ odds to win the 2019-20 NBA title from 10-1 to 7-1, behind only the Los Angeles Lakers (7-2), LA Clippers (4-1) and Milwaukee Bucks (9-2).
“I said at the end of the year, ‘We’re never gonna stand pat,'” Fertitta said. “We’re always gonna try to get better. I think this makes us a better team. I hate to lose Chris Paul, but we felt like we did what we had to do to become a better team.
“I think it’ll be very interesting and fun. James and Russell wanted to play together. It ought to be fun this year.”
Westbrook and Harden will be the fourth pair of teammates to play together after each winning an MVP award within the previous three seasons, per Elias Sports Bureau research.
Westbrook has four years and $171 million remaining on his contract, with a player option in the final year of his deal set to pay him $47 million should he opt in.
After Paul George’s trade to the Clippers, Westbrook and Foucher worked with the Thunder to find an agreeable path forward on Westbrook’s future with the franchise. With free agency effectively concluded, and Westbrook’s list of preferred destinations extremely short, the timing made trade negotiations complicated.
Still, the Thunder wanted to accommodate Westbrook’s wishes as much as possible, with his first and foremost desire to reunite with Harden in Houston, while also finding a trade that fit OKC’s objective of rebuilding.
The Hoop Collective Podcast
Brian Windhorst, Tim MacMahon and Royce Young discuss the dramatic trade that sent Russell Westbrook to Houston for Chris Paul. Listen now!
Drafted fourth overall by the Thunder (then the Seattle SuperSonics) in 2008, Westbrook leaves as the franchise’s all-time leader in points (18,859); second in assists (6,897); third in rebounds (5,760) and steals (1,442); and fourth in games played (821). In the Oklahoma City era, Westbrook ranks first across the board.
Westbrook won the MVP in 2016-17, making NBA history as the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1962 to average a triple-double. He broke Robertson’s mark of triple-doubles in a season with 42, and then went on to average a triple-double in two more seasons. Westbrook ranks tied for second all time with Magic Johnson at 138 career triple-doubles, behind only Robertson (181).
Westbrook is one of just 10 players in NBA history to record 15,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists with a single franchise, seven of whom are in the Hall of Fame. The remaining two are Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Since Westbrook was drafted by OKC, only the Spurs (613) and Rockets (541) have more wins than the Thunder (538). Westbrook was part of a historic run of picks by the Thunder, as the only team in NBA history to select three consecutive future MVPs (Kevin Durant, Westbrook and Harden). Since Westbrook’s debut, the Thunder are the only team to have three different players finish in the top three of MVP voting (Durant, Westbrook and George). OKC has had 16 All-NBA selections since 2009, the most in the NBA in that span.
The Thunder made the playoffs in each of Westbrook and Harden’s three seasons together, going from the 8-seed in 2009-10 to No. 4 in 2010-11 to No. 2 in 2011-12. They reached the NBA Finals in their final season, losing in five games to Miami, before Oklahoma City traded Harden to Houston that October.
Westbrook will be forever connected to the Thunder as the face of the franchise, pledging his loyalty to the organization in the wake of Durant’s departure to the Golden State Warriors in 2016. Westbrook re-upped with OKC, stabilizing the roster and providing a path forward, and then signed a five-year extension in 2017, at the time the largest contract in NBA history.
He appeared at a previously scheduled stand-up comedy event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Thursday night, shortly after news of the trade spread, but did not speak to the assembled media.
Information from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne was used in this report.