The NBA’s trade market is heating up after a whirlwind of free-agent deals. While Kevin Durant's move to the Golden State Warriors has sent the league spinning, other major deals may be in the works.
According to reports from the Boston Herald, the Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics are once again trying to pull off deals after heavily working the phones during last month’s draft, and there’s speculation that superstar point guard Russell Westbrook may be on his way out of Oklahoma City.
The Herald’s Steve Bulpett reports that Boston still covets both Bulls' All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler and Sixers' center Jahlil Okafor. While a deal still could be consummated, all three teams will have to “get creative” to make it happen.
In the middle of a massive and sudden rebuilding project after missing the playoffs last season, the Bulls were reportedly willing to move the talented scorer and defender Butler on draft night with the hopes of landing the No. 3 overall selection and the right to take Providence guard Kris Dunn. Specifically, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Celtics were tied to prospective deals but draft night came and went and Boston spent the third overall pick on Cal forward Jaylen Brown.
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has pursued Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick in 2015, since before last season’s trade deadline. The Sixers have been linked to several moves involving both Okafor and lithe big man Nerlens Noel for some time now. The recent talks come after inactive big man Joel Embiid received clearance to participate in light five-on-five scrimmages.
Okafor would certainly provide the Celtics a stronger low-post scoring presence, even after Boston ranked seventh in the league with 45.6 points in the paint per game last season, and he would stretch the floor for point guard Isaiah Thomas while making life easier for new free-agent acquisition Al Horford.
However, Butler remains the biggest prize available on the trade market both due to his incredible skill and contract. Other than putting up a career-high 20.9 points and 5.2 assists per game, the 26-year-old has made the NBA All-Defense second team the last three years. And Butler will make $16.4 million, $17.5 million, and $18.6 million over the next three seasons, a bargain considering the sharp rise in the salary cap.
Unfortunately, what Boston would and could give up for either player is unclear and would likely be costly. The Celtics would likely have to part with a combination of several draft picks as well as guards Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart or even center Kelly Olynyk, since all have reasonable contracts and are still young.
Meanwhile, a league executive told the Herald that Westbrook was going to leave Oklahoma City whether or not Durant stayed with the Thunder. Westbrook's contract expires at the end of the season, and he will earn over $17 million next season.
“He’s gone after this year,” the executive said of Westbrook. “A hundred percent. I think that’s the case no matter what (Durant had decided). I guess people can always change their mind, but I think this season was going to be it for him there no matter what.”
Veteran NBA reporter David Aldridge confirmed from a league source "there's no chance" Westbrook will renegotiate his contract or sign an extension due to the more lucrative contract he can sign next summer. With Durant gone, Thunder general manager Sam Presti is expected to shop Westbrook, but there is no immediate rush to make a deal with the trade deadline seven months away.
Where Westbrook ends up is anyone's guess, but ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported in January that the 27-year-old has at least some interest in returning to his hometown. The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of cap space and can offer the Thunder young talent like D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle.
"Make no doubt about it, Russell Westbrook doesn't have a problem being in L.A.," Smith said.
While Westbrook's fate may be on hold, another notable guard may be weighing the idea of going back home. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, it's a long shot for Chicago native Dwyane Wade to sign with the Bulls, but the team is communicating with his representatives.
The veteran free agent may still re-sign with the Miami Heat, but he reportedly turned down a two-year deal worth $40 million, and is seeking $52 million over two years. Wade is also a reported target of the Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers.