Bernstein: For Bulls, Too Late For A Westbrook Deal

Trading for Russell Westbrook wouldn't get the Bulls closer to a championship.

Dan Bernstein
July 09, 2019 - 2:04 pm
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(670 The Score) Don't blame yourself for your reflexive reaction to the news that Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder were open to exploring a deal for the dynamic and demanding guard. Star players rarely become available just like that, and anyone observing the Bulls in the John Paxson-Gar Forman era knows the difficulty they've had in attracting such assets as free agents.

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The Bulls did this to us, in other words.

But the reason Westbrook is available is that his current team doesn't think he's enough to be the reason they contend for a title, and that's the whole point of the pursuit.

Trading for Westbrook sounds like something we think the Bulls should do, until we realize that such a move would be several years too late. He's turning 31 this season, has already had five surgical procedures on his right knee and is approaching the 30,000-regular-season-minute mark that often heralds decline. Signs of that have already surfaced in his deteriorating jump shot and struggles at the foul line. He's still an excellent player even at that but is owed $124 million over the next three seasons and holds a $47.1-million player option for 2022-'23 as he turns 34.

He's also unlikely to go along with whatever it is Jim Boylen and this newly fortified coaching infrastructure are planning to implement. Westbrook does what he does and when he wants to do it, frequently performing almost as two different players -- one who has the ball and attacks relentlessly and one who doesn't have the ball and loiters around the floor, biding his time until he gets to be the first guy again.

If you thought the Bulls' first taste of mutiny under Boylen was fun, you'll probably love the chaos that results the first time something blows up with this guy. Boylen was already on the receiving end of a thrown towel when he clashed with Rajon Rondo during a game in 2016, and an equally headstrong veteran guard would certainly have his say.

Depending on what the Bulls would have to surrender -- say Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and Cristiano Felicio to fill out the money match -- it might be arguable the the Bulls would be incrementally closer to winning a title in the next year or two with Westbrook still close enough to his peak abilities. But that temporary difference wouldn't be worth the downside of the rest of it, especially as the Bulls have currently retained enviable salary flexibility. LaVine himself would become an even more attractive trade asset after this year if he can burnish his reputation, carrying a contract number that looks more economical by the day.

That I'm arguing against a Westbrook trade isn't so much an endorsement of the direction and status of the Bulls' latest rebuild as it is a belief that Westbrook is unlikely to make a material difference to whatever it is, and one axiom of pro sports says to avoid making desperate deals for players aging out of their prime and making maximum money unless they are the final piece to a certain championship contender.

The Bulls aren't that. Besides, we all want to see what happens when Westbrook joins Jimmy Butler in Miami.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.