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Who Blinks First in Russell Westbrook Talks?

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It’s PosturingSZN in the NBA as trade talks between Miami and OKC reportedly evolve

2019 NBA All-Star Game Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As of the moment of this writing, Russell Westbrook is still a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

How much longer that will be the case is a valid question.

Per reports, the Thunder have discussed trading its franchise icon to the Miami Heat. Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders believes that talks have progressed and that some executives believe Miami will be Westbrook’s ultimate destination.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote today that the Heat are balking at the Thunder’s requests so far. That includes asking for guard Tyler Herro, the 13th overall pick in the 2019 draft.

OKC has asked the Heat to include impressive rookie guard Tyler Herro in the proposed trade, but the Heat has been very reluctant to do that. Because Herro signed with the Heat on Wednesday, he cannot be included in any trade for 30 days, but that isn’t viewed as an obstacle.

Jackson also reports that OKC has asked for two among Herro, second-year center Bam Adebayo, and wing Justise Winslow. Miami is reportedly opposed to adding Adebayo to the deal. More players would have to be involved from Miami’s side to make the trade math work, such as Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters, or Meyers Leonard (whose salary can’t be combined with other players in a deal until September 1 at the earliest).

Miami is in a bit of a salary cap pinch. Because they acquired Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade, the Heat’s total team salary cannot exceed $138.9 million until next June 30. Miami is currently just about $1 million under that hard cap, per Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights. It’s not a roadblock, but it’s more than a speed bump. Perhaps more of a “Detour: Road Closed Ahead” situation. It may require Miami and OKC to bring in another team or two in order to offload salary, which would require compensating them in the process. But Miami also needs some space left over to field a full squad after this trade, which adds some trickiness.

The Thunder are justified in asking for a lot for its former MVP. Indeed, Westbrook’s contract is bloated with $171 million owed over the next four seasons. His shooting is erratic. His attention to defense is lacking. There are valid concerns about his style of play, his general stubbornness, and willingness to be coached. He has a problematic Patrick Bever-knee that requires an annual tuneup.

And yet, he was named to the All-NBA 3rd team despite those shortcomings on the floor. If he was able to shoot more efficiently and consistently stick to his man defensively, OKC would be asking for South Beach in return. Westbrook is painted in some basketball corners as a negative asset, but that feels extreme. In the words of the great band Sawyer Brown, “I ain’t first class but I ain’t white trash.”

Ultimately, this is a showdown between two crafty and smart front offices. Miami is right to ask who they are bidding against. OKC is right to ask who else is available that could take the Heat to another level. If a deal between the two teams is eventually struck, it will be fascinating to see who comes away the least unhappy.