The rules of engagement on trade rumors is always a strange thing for a humble NBA writer. Even the credible rumors backed up by multiple sources rarely lead to a finished deal. There are also the rampant BS artists who turn any morsel of info into a pice for the sake of clicks, engagement and a bit of job security. Finally, there is the seventh circle of hell where people just completely fabricate rumors in the misguided belief that Twitter clout is worth anything.
The worst rumors are ones I attempt to completely ignore. They are so demoralizing and depressing that I hope they eventually fade away. Russell Westbrook to the Detroit Pistons is one of those rumors. It’s a playful, self-destructive idea. I could write 2,000 words about how bad of an idea it is, but sometimes a simple GIF will do.
OK, a few more words.
I don’t want to hear anything about Russ being a winner or a former MVP. Those days are long gone. At this point, he’s not only 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 learning from less than Westbrook. Their games are completely incompatible, and Cade is more likely to learn bad habits than how to thrive in the NBA. Ivey is much more Russ-adjacent in his game, but, again, as important as it is for Ivey to learn how to harness his elite athleticism, the Russ of today is not that mentor. At this point Westbrook uses his declining athleticism to destroy, not create.
There is the Troy Weaver connection back to their shared OKC days, but those days are long gone, and Troy Reaper seems decidedly unsentimental as an executive.
We love talking about “sin eating” bad deals at DBB. Take on Westbrook, take LA for everything its worth and release Russ. The only problem is that would require the Lakers to have assets worth extracting in order to take on Westbrook’s massive deal.
The latest proposal is floated by an NBA executive speaking to Sean Deveney of Heavy.com.
“I’d be willing to get involved if I were the Pistons,” the executive said. “I would want that 2027 pick unprotected, and take back Russell Westbrook and send you all my veterans, all my junk. Right now, Detroit is taking the approach of just waiting, playing with the guys they got from the Knicks, and trading during the season. That team needs to tank some more, they need (Victor) Wembanyama, or at least they need to be in the mix.”
The executive went on to propose 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 be doing a 1-for-4 deal there, so they’d have to move guys around… You have some tradeable contracts, and you have some veterans you can use for depth. I’d consider it on both sides.”
First, let’s consider that Detroit “junk” mentioned by the NBA executive. Walker = junk. Noel, useful to a team like the Lakers, not so much to a team like Detroit. Olynyk? He’s one of the team’s most capable 3-point shooters (albeit, that is a low bar), and the Pistons are a team desperate for shooting to spur the development of Cunningham and Ivey. Olynyk, with a partially guaranteed final year, could have trade value of his own down the line. If no deal emerges it’s extremely easy for Detroit to simply move on.
That is doubly true for Burks who holds real value in the league. He’s a solid veteran, good 3-point shooter and would be a quality addition to almost all the contenders in the league. He’s also on a team option for next season which provides a great amount of flexibility for any team that has him, Detroit included.
He’s the exact kind of player you need around Detroit’s young guards, and the ability to keep him, trade him, or let him go next offseason based on how roster construction shakes out is a feature and not a bug of why the Pistons traded for him in the first place.
You know who has negative value? Russell Westbrook. An unprotected 2027 pick from a Lakers team that might be in shambles is awfully appealing, but it’d be an awfully big gamble with potential little return.
Yes, a pick is nice but at what cost? You lose all your shooting and veteran depth and you’ve stunted Cade’s development. If you keep Russell on your team, you’ve definitely stunted Cade’s development.
And nearly all the players involved in this made up, never going to happen deal are on expiring contracts so the most salary cap flexibility Detroit can gain is a piddly $3 million. Is that worth punting Cade’s Year 2? For a pick that could fall in the low 20s?
Of course, there is the Victor Wembanyama of it all, which this anonymous exec does mention. The 2023 NBA Draft is stacked and led by one of the most unique big men to come out since Giannis. And it’s deep too, with Scoot Henderson, the Thompson twins, Dariq Whitehead and more. The Pistons could pull off an overt tank for Victor’s sake and ensure 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 are relying even more on an extremely young core to play the lion’s share of the minutes. But they will be developing. And they will be fun. And there will be highlights.
You trade and release Russ, and these young guys won’t be able to get out of their own way. they won’t develop, and they won’t be fun. But they will lose a couple more games. If you keep Russ, you sacrifice even more development time for a lifeless season of Westbrook trying to recapture his former glory.
That’s sad and depressing and could still lead to Detroit picking seventh in the NBA Draft. There is no magic bullet to Victor, and the downside risks to adding Westbrook are plentiful. Don’t do it, Detroit. The vibes would be bad, the season would be depressing and, most importantly, it would hurt the ascension of Cade. I couldn’t think of a worst possible outcome than trading for Russel Westbrook. As Michael Scott says, No. God. No, God, please, no. No. No. Nooooooooo!