The rules for dealing with trade rumors is always an odd thing for a humble NBA writer. Even the most credible rumors, backed by multiple sources, rarely result in a closed deal. There’s also the rampant BS artists who turn every bit of information into a piece for clicks, engagement, and a bit of job security. Finally, there’s the seventh circle of hell, where people just fabricate rumors in the misguided belief that Twitter’s influence is worth everything.
The worst rumors are the ones I try to ignore completely. They’re so demoralizing and depressing that I hope they go away eventually. Russell Westbrook to the Detroit Pistons is one such rumor. It’s a ridiculous, self-defeating idea. I could write 2,000 words about how bad an idea is, but sometimes a simple GIF is enough.
OK, a few more words.
I don’t want to hear about Russ being a winner or a former MVP. Those times are long gone. At this point, not only is he not a winner, he’s borderline unplayable. Miss Me with the “veteran presence” for Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey BS.
In truth, I can’t think of a player I’d want Cunningham to learn from less than Westbrook. Their games are completely incompatible, and Cade is more likely to learn bad habits than how to succeed in the NBA. Ivey is much more Russ-neighboring in his game, but as important as it is for Ivey to learn how to use his elite athleticism, today’s Russ is not that mentor. At this point, Westbrook is using his declining athleticism to destroy, not create.
There’s the Troy Weaver connection back to their OKC days together, but those days are long gone, and Troy Reaper seems decidedly unsentimental as a leader.
At DBB, we like to talk about “sin-eating” bad deals. Take on Westbrook, take LA for all it’s worth, and set Russ free. The only problem is that the Lakers would have to have assets worth extracting to take on Westbrook’s massive deal.
The latest proposal is brought up by an NBA exec speaking to Heavy.com’s Sean Deveney.
“I would be willing to commit if I were the Pistons,” the manager said. “I would want the 2027 pick unprotected and take back Russell Westbrook and send you all my veterans, all my trash. For now, Detroit’s approach is to just wait, play with the guys who got them from the Knicks, and act during the season. This team needs more fuel, it needs (Victor) Wembanyama, or at least it needs to be there.”
The executive further suggested who could be involved in a trade for Westbrook, which included two former Boston Celtics players.
“Send back Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel and (Kelly) Olynyk and Kemba (Walker). The Lakers would do a 1-for-4 deal there, so they’d have to move people… You’ve got some tradable contracts and you’ve got some veterans that you can use for depth. I would consider it on both sides.”
First, let’s look at the Detroit “junk” mentioned by the NBA leadership. Wanderer = scrap. Noel, useful for a team like the Lakers, not so much for a team like Detroit. Olynyk? He’s one of the team’s most capable 3-pointers (although that’s a low bar), and the Pistons are a team desperate to shoot to further Cunningham and Ivey’s development. Olynyk could have its own trading value across the board with a partially guaranteed final year. If no agreement is reached, it’s extremely easy for Detroit to just move on.
That goes doubly for Burks, who has real value in the league. He’s a solid veteran, good 3 point shooter and would add value to almost any competitor in the league. He also has a team option for next season, giving great flexibility to any team that has him, including Detroit.
He’s just the kind of player you need in Detroit’s young guards, and the ability to keep him, trade him, or let him go next offseason depending on how roster construction evolves is a feature and no mistake for why the Pistons traded for him in the first place.
You know who has a negative value? Russell Westbrook. An unprotected 2027 pick by a Lakers team that may be in shambles is terribly appealing, but it would be an awfully big gamble with potentially low returns.
Yes, a choice is nice, but at what cost? You lose all of your shooting and veteran depth and have stunted Cade’s development. If you keep Russell on your team, you’ve definitely stunted Cade’s development.
And nearly all of the players involved in this contrived, never-ending deal are on expiring contracts, so the most salary-cap flexibility Detroit can achieve is a paltry $3 million. Is it worth stabbing Cade’s year 2? For a choice that could fall in the low 20s?
Of course, there’s the Victor Wembanyama that this anonymous manager mentions. The 2023 NBA Draft will be stacked and led by one of the most unique great men since Giannis. And it’s deep too, with Scoot Henderson, the Thompson twins, Dariq Whitehead and more. The Pistons could pull off an open tank for Victor’s sake and make sure they can only fall so far in the draft.
My counterpoint – do the Pistons really need help losing? This team will be bad. They could be worse than a year ago because they rely even more on an extremely young core to play the lion’s share of the minutes. But they will evolve. And they will be fun. And there will be highlights.
They trade and set Russ free, and these young guys won’t be able to avoid themselves. they won’t develop and they won’t be fun. But they will still lose a few games. Keeping Russ sacrifices even more development time for a lifeless season of Westbrook trying to reclaim his former glory.
That’s sad and depressing and could still see Detroit finish seventh in the NBA draft. There is no magic bullet for Victor, and the risks of taking on Westbrook are numerous. Don’t do it, Detroit. The mood would be bad, the season depressing and most importantly it would hurt Cade’s rise. I couldn’t think of a worse outcome than acting for Russel Westbrook. As Michael Scott says: No. God. No, God, please, no. no no Noooooo!