Beard: Russell Westbrook to Pistons sounds intriguing but has too many red flags
Las Vegas — I went shopping and saw a sale on shirts. I went in the store and looked at the price tag and the shirt was way too expensive for my budget. It was a nice shirt but it really wasn’t my style and I had few other clothes in my wardrobe that went with the shirt.
Still, it was a good shirt.
I asked the salesperson how it fits and she said it ran big on some people and smaller on others. It was the last shirt of its kind and there were other people in the store who were looking at it, as well.
OK, I didn’t actually go shopping for shirts. It’s more a parable for the Pistons’ situation in looking at All-NBA point guard Russell Westbrook as a possible trade option.
Reports on Saturday suggested that the Oklahoma City Thunder possibly were looking to part ways in the aftermath of the stunning trade that sent Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers, to form a dynamic duo with Kawhi Leonard.
Another report by The Athletic’s Sam Amick and Brett Dawson indicated that the Pistons and Heat “are very real possibilities as potential landing spots” for Westbrook.
That got the rumor mill churning.
Twitter chatter pointed to the Pistons showing interest in Westbrook, but similar to the parable, just asking the price means showing interest. It’s the due diligence that any head of an NBA front office would have to do. It would be dereliction of duty not to inquire.
But given the ultimate price that the Clippers paid for George — five first-round picks, along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari — plus some pick swaps, the asking price for Westbrook is likely to be outrageously high.
Some thoughts surrounding a potential trade for Westbrook:
The cost is too much. Westbrook signed a five-year deal for $205 million in 2017. His salary over the next few years is mind-numbing: $38.1 million next season, $41 million in 2020-21, $43.8 million the following year and ending with a player option of $46.7 million in 2022-23. Many fans complained about taking on Blake Griffin’s contract, which would be a veritable deal in comparison.
That’s not to mention what it might cost in assets to obtain Westbrook from the Thunder. Considering there are likely several other teams interested in Westbrook, the Pistons could get into a bidding war — which doesn’t work for a team that doesn’t have a cupboard full of young assets and stockpile of draft picks.
It could easily mean giving up Luke Kennard, their best young player, plus several future draft picks, which would lock the Pistons into that situation for years to come.
The lineup fit isn’t there. Westbrook is an All-NBA talent who averaged a triple-double for two straight seasons. In most experts’ eyes, he’s a top-10 player in the league and an undeniable talent. The problem is that he’s not a shooter. He creates most of his offense off the dribble, which could take away from what Blake Griffin brings. Whether the two could co-exist in the offense is a big question mark and how that blend works is the most important piece in any trade consideration.
Let the buyer beware:
The presumption is that the Pistons would package Reggie Jackson’s expiring contract and some young pieces and other players to make the salaries match. I won’t speculate on those, but I could make a more informed analysis based on who those players might be.
Westbrook isn’t a shooter. The last couple of seasons have shown that the Pistons need 3-point shooting and shot creators more than anything. Westbrook shot 29 percent on 3-pointers last season and just 30 percent the previous year. His career-high was just 34 percent, in his MVP year of 2016-17. He takes a load of shot attempts (5.6 3-pointers per game last season) and shot 48 percent from the field. In fairness, he gets to the basket almost at will and could be a pick-and-roll nightmare with Andre Drummond (assuming Drummond isn’t in the trade package for Westbrook).
It doesn’t fit the plan. The new front office, headed by Ed Stefanski, is looking to clean up the big salaries on the salary-cap sheet, having unloaded Jon Leuer’s deal before the draft. The same types of moves could be coming for Jackson’s expiring deal ($18 million) and Langston Galloway ($7 million). Adding Westbrook’s $38 million, with Griffin’s $34 million, would take some salary-cap gymnastics to fill out the rest of the roster with a reasonable balance.
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The light has been getting brighter at the end of the tunnel. Drummond has a player option for $28.8 million after next season and if they move the other big deals, they could have a ton of cap space available next summer, though the crop of potential targets is not going to be as good as this summer’s.
To the top? I won’t be completely negative about possibly getting Westbrook. A deal would bring a buzz that the Pistons haven’t seen in more than a decade, with Little Caesars Arena brimming with excitement as Detroit becomes a legitimate contender in the East. Is that enough to push all the chips in the middle of the table? Maybe. It’s a risk, no doubt, but one the Pistons likely aren’t ready to make.
If it were a bona fide shooter like Bradley Beal — whom reports suggest isn’t being made available in trades by the Wizards — or someone of the ilk of Klay Thompson or Steph Curry, it would be a no-brainer. Westbrook is a different question. We’ll see the answer soon enough.