The New York Knicks have been irrelevant on the court for the majority of the decade. Their severe struggles are largely due to questionable trades and signings by their front office. While the Knicks have not had a proven star since Carmelo Anthony, trading for 32-year old Russell Westbrook will have a negative long-term impact on the franchise’s success.
Per Marc Stein, the Knicks are considered top suitors for Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook. If you are a Knicks fan, this should be anything but music to your ears. Growing old is never comforting to an NBA player, but is even more disconcerting for a player with Westbrook’s skillset. Point guards seem to have the shortest windows of peak performance, and when you heavily rely on physicality and explosiveness, you are at risk of the twilight years coming early.
Let the Young Talent Grow
In his three years in OKC post-Durant, Russ had an average usage rate of 39.7%, per Cleaning the Glass. He had the highest usage rate in NBA history in the 2016-17 season before Paul George entered the picture. For a team as young as the Knicks, this high usage rate can be detrimental. If the Knicks are going to trade assets, the return has to benefit their young talent ultimately and not do the contrary.
There are two reasons why a team should trade for Russell Westbrook. You are either a piece away from title contention or content with an early playoff exit. Additionally, his contract can be devastating to a team’s future: three years, $132 million remaining, to be exact.
The “culture” — which is potentially the most over-used word when it comes to the NBA and workplaces in general — is a key concern. The Knicks have an opportunity to alter their perception and become a place free agents consider. They can’t afford to squander it. New York has not signed a marquee free agent since Amare Stoudemire, a decade ago. The goal has to be to become an attractive enough destination to lure stars through free agency. A trade for Westbrook would be a potential cop-out from Leon Rose and the Knicks brass.
Short-term thinking will lead to Knicks’ long-term struggles
Yes, Russell Westbrook can lead the Knicks to the playoffs in the East and own the concrete jungle. Yes, the Garden would be rocking on a nightly basis. The Knicks would be playing meaningful basketball for the first time in a while. However, making this move would be synonymous with short-term thinking. For a team that has shamefully not been a free agent hotpot, it is imperative to improve through young talent.
New York would regret taking this shortcut as Westbrook’s game will begin to digress over the next two to three years. Guards that make their money driving to the tin and getting to the line certainly don’t age like fine wine. His lack of shooting, coupled with occasional irrational confidence, should make one falter. It is hard to believe he will be an impact player during the latter part of his contract.
Carmelo Anthony 2.0?
While their games are very different, you can draw many similarities to what Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook bring to the table. Both have struggled to make their teammates better, love the mid-range game, and are inefficient offensively. The glaring difference is that Carmelo had a much more viable supporting cast in New York.
If Westbrook comes to the big apple, it likely means his roster will be bereft of skill. It will be a tall order to ask Westbrook to make a deep playoff run before his contract is up. Is that how Leon Rose and Scott Perry want to kick off their tenure? Do they want to settle and empty their asset bucket for a 32-year old point guard who relies on explosiveness and athleticism?
The Knicks have been patient for years, and Westbrook is not the reason to change course. Sit back, improve your in-house young talent, and if necessary, make a move for a leader. Westbrook is the easy move, not the smart move. The Knicks will be better off building a program instead of trading for a guard who is better suited on a win-now roster.