FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The future of the Heat and the final, big swing by president Pat Riley get filtered into a question as polarizing as the involved player:
What is Russell Westbrook worth?
He's fun. He's electric. He's a human highlight reel, a reason to attend NBA games and a dribbling triple-double every night on the schedule.
But what's he worth?
He turns 31 in November. His analytic numbers are decreasing. He doesn't have an outside game to balance any loss of athleticism.
He was the centerpiece of talented Oklahoma City teams that lost in the playoffs' first round the past three years to not-great Portland, Utah and Houston teams.
Then there's the staggering contract. Westbrook costs more than a quarter of a team's NBA salary cap at $38 million this year. That rises to $47 million when Westbrook is 35.
So what is he worth?
The Heat want Westbrook or all this noise would have ended. Oklahoma City wants to complete its teardown with a trade, and Westbrook clearly wants to come to the Heat or, again, everyone would have moved on by now.
This continued delay between first idea and announced conclusion seems good news for Heat fans. As we move into day five of the talks, it's good to see there is more than a shiny object in Westbrook. The Heat is too smart to jump at a big name by simply tossing their decent young players at Oklahoma City.
The Thunder got a haul of five first-round picks and a couple of worthy players for Paul George from the Los Angeles Clippers. But break down that deal. The Clippers actually were trading for George and free agent Kawhi Leonard. They had to close that deal.
Plus, the value of the picks isn't as golden as it sounds considering all but one will be lottery protected. By Heat drafts, five similarly non-lottery, first-round picks over recent years has translated into: Wayne Simien, Norris Cole, Arnett Moultrie, P.J. Hairston and Shabazz Napier. Impressed?
So the issue isn't just whether the Heat should want Westbrook. You can see why they do. He's a top-15 player in the league. They need someone to help Jimmy Butler.
The issue becomes what value he'd bring against his cost. With Westbrook, the Heat would rank no higher than the fourth-best team in the East next season. Philadelphia, Boston and Milwaukee have deeper talent and stronger stars than a Butler-Westbrook pairing.
That's not even getting into the Western teams. Do you handcuff yourself for the next four years with Westbrook's contract for that?
The Heat is up against the hard salary cap, too, meaning any trade must match dollars for this to work. It has no first-round draft pick to trade for eight years (though a third team could get involved to pass Oklahoma City a draft pick).
Goran Dragic ($19.2 million) is the first suspect in a trade considering he's in the last year of a contract, a fact any future team would appreciate.
Oklahoma City also must want some of the Heat's youth such as Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, Derrick Jones Jr. or first-round pick Tyler Herro. Each could serve a role in rounding out a good team.
This is Riley's dilemma here. He loves getting a whale. He loves to live in the moment. He builds championship teams with good regularity. He's also made mistakes with contracts in recent years that have hamstrung the team.
Westbrook would be a contract this team can't get out from for four years. All the fans clamoring for him today should be willing to live with the consequences of a 35-year-old Westbrook consuming a $48 million paycheck.
How's a similar idea of Detroit trading for an expensive and aging Blake Griffin?
Detroit isn't a free-agent destination in the manner South Florida is, either. That gets to more options for the Heat. More future questions.
Westbrook can flex his muscle to get to Miami in the way players across the league are claiming their new teams. Oklahoma City can want to send him here.
But it's really the Heat that hold the decision on this. And the decision goes beyond his electric game and the fans' clamor to finalize the deal.
What is Westbrook worth? And is he worth handcuffing the Heat with that contract for the next four years?
Dave Hyde is a columnist for the Sun Sentinel/TNS.