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Why I’m skeptical of a Russell Westbrook trade

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Can Westbrook and Jimmy Butler win a championship?

Oklahoma City at Miami David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images

It seems like everyone wants the Oklahoma City Thunder to trade Russell Westbrook to the Miami Heat. Caron Butler wants it. Kendrick Perkins wants it. And according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there’s mutual interest from both Westbrook himself and Heat officials.

As I’ve talked about before, I’m skeptical. My main concern is about the Heat trading away young players like Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow for Westbrook — essentially hoping that Westbrook, Jimmy Butler and a supporting cast of minimum-salary players can lead Miami to a championship.

Butler is on a four-year, $142 million contract with the Heat. Westbrook has four years and $170 million left on his contract (the final year is a player option that would pay him $47 million at age 34). Both Butler and Westbrook will start the season at 30 years old.

With his style of play, which relies on his athleticism, Westbrook may not age well. He’s already coming off an inefficient season in which he shot 29 percent from 3 and 65.6 percent from the foul line. His win shares — an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player — have fallen steadily from 14 in 2015-16 to 6.8 this past season.

If the Heat trade Adebayo and Winslow for Westbrook, they’d be in the same situation the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers are in now — betting the house on a superstar duo to win championships having shipped out all their assets for the foreseeable future. (The Heat have already traded their 2021 and ‘23 first-round picks.) And I hate to break it to you, but Butler and Westbrook don’t compare to Anthony Davis and LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

On the other hand, if Thunder General Manager Sam Presti sees the Westbrook contract as having a negative trade value, he may simply ask Pat Riley for some contracts that will come off the books before Westbrook’s will — Goran Dragic’s deal with one year left, the contracts to Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson with two years left apiece.

And some even think that with Westbrook’s contract, the Heat should be asking for a draft pick from the Thunder.

In that case, Miami would have Butler and Westbrook alongside Adebayo, Winslow, Derrick Jones Jr. and 2019 draft picks Tyler Herro and KZ Okpala. Miami would still look up at the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks, who would be the favorites in the East. But at least Miami would be closer than where they are now.

In today’s NBA, where the stars choose their teams, who knows where the Heat go from there? As Riley taught us in 2010, it helps to have a star already committed to woo someone else. Do you think there’d be all this speculation about Westbrook going to Miami if the Heat hadn’t pulled off the sign-and-trade for Butler?

And as far as the big contracts for Westbrook and Butler? I’d overpay someone in the later years of their contract if it meant I’d have a chance to win a championship in the first couple years.

Presti will no doubt look to secure some young players in a trade for Westbrook. But Riley needs to hold firm and show Presti that the number of teams willing to trade for him is not that large. If Riley trades for Westbrook without giving up the young guys, I’d be on board. But only in that case.