The league is still feeling the ripples of Kevin Durant's departure from Oklahoma City. They have even reached San Antonio, as it appears there have been some preliminary trade talks about a Kawhi Leonard-for-Russell Westbrook swap. Those talks predictable went nowhere, as Leonard arguably has the best contract in the league and Westbrook is an impending free agent. We don't even have to get into questions about talent and value, really. That's reason enough to make that trade impossible to fathom.
Now that the possibility of Westbrook wearing Silver and Black exists outside of the minds of the most optimistic fans of both the Spurs and the explosive guard, however, it's hard to stop thinking about it. As the transition from the Tim Duncan era begins and superteams start forming, the idea of one of the best players in the league finding his way to San Antonio really becomes intoxicating. Yet it's hard to imagine it happening, and not for a lack of trying.
There's just no way the Spurs put together the best package for Westbrook without including Leonard, unless Westbrook says that he will only sign an extension with the Spurs -- something he has no reason whatsoever to do. If Kawhi is not on the table, all San Antonio has to offer is an aging star in LaMarcus Aldridge, a mediocre starting point guard, a few good role players and a draft pick that will be among the last in the first round. Even if Sam Presti is sure that he's going to lose him in free agency, he can get more in return from the Celtics or a number of other teams that have assets to spare.
That means the only realistic way the Spurs could land Westbrook would be in free agency next season. The problem is that San Antonio won't have cap room to offer a max deal without making some moves that would involve losing talent. If Pau Gasol and Dewayne Dedmon opt in, they will have around eight million in cap space, so not even salary-dumping Tony Parker would be enough. If they don't opt in, Pau would have to be renounced, along with Ginobili and Patty Mills, to fit a max deal for Westbrook.
Even if it means making sacrifices, the Spurs could find a way to fit Westbrook under the cap. That doesn't mean he'd choose them, unfortunately. In his first real opportunity to pick a franchise after spending his first eight years in a small market, change would be enticing.
Westbrook is from Los Angeles and played college ball at UCLA. He could decide to go back home. It's hard to imagine him signing with a non-contender like the Lakers, but there's another franchise there. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will likely enter free agency next season and if Westbrook hints that he wants to sign with the Clippers, Doc Rivers could let the older Paul go and replace him with another All-NBA point guard.
It's not just other Western powers which could be a threat but also Eastern teams. The Heat and the Celtics will have cap space as well. If Kristaps Porzingis breaks out, suddenly the Knicks would look like an option. Having to go through LeBron James makes that conference rough but the West has the Warriors, tough second tier teams like the Clippers and emerging powers like the Jazz and the Timberwolves. Why not go to the East?
So Westbrook to the Spurs won't likely happen this season or next summer. Knowing that, the first instinct many of us will have will be to focus on the negative and convince ourselves we never wanted him in the first place. After all, Westbrook snarls and pounds his chest. He's had knee injuries. He's curt with reporters. He makes bad decisions sometimes. He shoots way too many three-pointers for someone who can't actually hit them. His gambles on defense would make Manu Ginobili at his most reckless blush.
And yet he's still, without a doubt, one of the best players in the league. His addition alone would make the Spurs a superteam that could rival Golden State for dominance in the West for the next five years.
His numbers are ridiculous. Westbrook averaged 23 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists and two steals last season. He led the league in triple-doubles with 18. He assisted on almost 50 percent of his teammates' buckets while he was on the court and was only assisted on a shade over 20 percent of his makes. Westbrook is one of the most productive players around and the most prolific shot creator in the league.
If he were to join the Spurs next season, he would immediately take over the role that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili used to share while allowing Kawhi Leonard to continue to pick his spots and develop as a playmaker at his own pace. Danny Green and whoever starts at center would get plenty of open looks, as the opposing defense would have to collapse to stop dribble penetration once again. Parker could still get 20-25 minutes a night as a backup and in two point guard lineups, giving the Spurs some extra firepower.
Finding enough touches for Aldridge would likely be the biggest issue, as Westbrook is used to playing next to just one other dominant offensive player. Leonard can simply ask for the ball and walk it up court himself, so Westbrook's ball dominant ways wouldn't affect him as much, but post-oriented big men need the guards to feed them. Apparently that was an issue with Serge Ibaka and while Aldridge is much more accomplished and thus more likely to command respect, it would be an adjustment for Westbrook.
Still, they would figure it out. Danny Green doesn't need many touches and the Spurs could simply sign a low usage center. Aldridge could be the first option for stretches when the other stars rest. The defense would be better, as Westbrook would add length and athleticism. On the court, the Spurs would take a big step forward.
That's not the only reason why the signing would be huge. Getting their second big free agent in three summers would solidify the Spurs as a destination franchise. The battles with Golden State would be epic and would raise San Antonio's profile around the league. Having to look at gaudy shirts in post-game pressers and learning to appreciate confidence that borders on arrogance would be a small price to pay for potential greatness.
Alas, so far, Westbrook and the Spurs have only been linked by exploratory talks that went nowhere and it's almost impossible to see a way to bridge the gap that reportedly separated the two front offices. When he enters free agency next season the Spurs might not get more than a courtesy meeting, if that. He just doesn't feel like the type of player that would sign with them.
The Spurs still need to be ready to pounce if, for some reason, it looks like he might. Because despite his flaws and his eccentricities, Westbrook is exactly the caliber of player San Antonio needs to keep up with Golden State over the next few years.