Barry Jackson

Heat is ‘a team to watch’ in potential Russell Westbrook trade

The Heat, continuing it search for another All-Star talent after acquiring Jimmy Butler, hold Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook in high regard, according to league sources, and ESPN’s top information man said Saturday night to keep an eye on the Heat in potential trade talks.

“The Heat are a team to watch, and there will be others,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said, after reporting earlier in the day that the Thunder and Westbrook’s agent have had discussions and that the eight-time All Star might be traded. “Westbrook at 30 is still a high level player. But it is a lot of money. He is going to take a great part of your cap.”

Westbrook, named NBA MVP in 2016-17, has averaged a triple double three consecutive seasons, and last year averaged 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists, but shot 42.8 percent from the field and 29.1 percent on three-pointers.

And he’s due a lot of money - $38.5 million this coming season, $41.4 million in 2020-21, $44.2 million in 2021-22 and a player option of $47.1 percent for 2022-23. He also reportedly has a 15 percent trade kicker, which he might be asked to waive.

The Thunder is expected to seek cap relief, young talent and draft picks, and the Heat could offer only some of that.

Miami, which is close to its $138.9 million hard cap for this coming season, could not absorb Westbrook’s contract without sending nearly as much money back to OKC.

The Heat could help the Thunder reduce future cap obligations by trading the expiring contracts of Goran Dragic ($19.2 million) and Meyers Leonard ($11.3 million). From a cap perspective, including Justise Winslow ($13 million) would be enough to complete the deal from Miami’s perspective, but that would increase the Thunder’s payroll by nearly $5 million this season.

Attaching Bam Adebayo or Tyler Herro in place of Winslow wouldn’t satisfy cap requirements in this scenario because the Heat would surpass the hard cap that it must play under for a year after acquiring Butler.

Also, the Heat wouldn’t be positioned to send OKC any draft picks for the foreseeable future. OKC acquired Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick and protected 2023 first-round pick in the deal that sent Paul George to the Clippers late Friday night.

If the Heat did acquire Westbrook, Miami would still have significant cap space in the summer of 2021 but not enough to sign a max player. Say, hypothetically, that the Heat entered that summer of 2021 with only Butler ($36.1 million) and Westbrook ($44.2 million under contract) – which is possible with the team holding a team option on Winslow that summer and Adebayo eligible for restricted free agency. That’s $80.3 million.

Add about $10 million for required unfilled roster spot holds, and the $5.2 million cap hit for Ryan Anderson, and that would raise the Heat’s cap commitments to about $95 million.

The cap is projected to be at least $121 million that 2021-22 season, according to Spotrac. So the Heat would still have about $26 million – which could be used to re-sign Bam Adebayo and outside free agents – but not enough to sign a max free agent that summer such as Bradley Beal, whose first year max would be $36.9 million.

The only way to get Westbrook and, hypothetically, Beal, would be if the Heat somehow held onto some appealing assets even after acquiring Westbrook, and if, hypothetically, Beal informed the Wizards after next season that he wanted to be traded to the Heat. (Whereas the Heat loves Beal, there’s no confirmation that Beal feels likewise).

In that scenario, Miami could try to trade for Beal, next summer, offering assets such as Tyler Herro, its 2020 first-round pick after Miami makes the selection, necessary money with James Johnson or Dion Waiters and potentially Adebayo or other young players (Yante Maten, Duncan Robinson) to meet cap requirements. Whether the Wizards would do that is another story entirely.

They have told Beal he won’t be traded this summer, amid interest from the Heat and others.

A possible Westbrook/Heat union received attention elsewhere on social media Saturday, with former Heat guard Quentin Richardson tweeting: ”If I’m R. Westbrook I’m having my agent get in the phone with the Miami Heat and figure this thing out!! Russ & J Buckets [Butler], lets figure things out from there.”

On ESPN, former NBA center Kendrick Perkins - Westbrook’s former teammate - also advocated a Heat/Westbrook pairing.

As we reported earlier this week, the Heat has been eager to make another significant move this summer even after snagging Butler.

Wojnarowski said the Heat had strong interest in signing DeMarcus Cousins before Cousins agreed to terms with the Lakers on Saturday.