Following the shocking trade of Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers, the NBA world has waited for the next shoe to drop — a potential trade of George’s former teammate Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
It appears, while not imminent, Westbrook’s representatives and the Thunder organization are at least exploring options for the longtime Thunder player, and the Detroit Pistons are one team being mentioned as a possible landing spot for the point guard.
The Thunder, staring down the barrel of onerous luxury tax payments would love to begin a proper rebuild, and the team is well stocked with draft assets after getting a bounty in return for George. The problem, however, is Westbrook’s contract. It’s large. Ridiculously large.
That is the yearly salary for Westbrook over the next four years, and why Westbrook’s market is limited. It appears, however, some teams are willing to take the plunge.
And while the mountains of money owed to Westbrook are known to have scared quite a few general managers away, sources say that Detroit and Miami are very real possibilities as potential landing spots for the 30-year-old eight-time All-Star.
Rival executives have also pinpointed the Houston Rockets as a likely suitor, which would come as no surprise considering the way general manager Daryl Morey has prioritized the pursuit of stars during his entire career (not to mention the possible reunion between Westbrook and his old Thunder teammate James Harden). The notion of Westbrook sharing the floor with two other ball-dominant guards is unorthodox, to say the least, but Morey has long held the belief that landing as many elite players as possible is the path to championship glory.
The Knicks, meanwhile, reeling from an inability to lure big-ticket free agents, would seem like a perfect fit for the high-wattage star, but they no longer have cap space and can’t trade any of their bevvy of recent free agent additions until Dec. 15.
Pistons owner Tom Gores has always said that he’d be willing to go into the luxury tax if he could add a difference-making player to Detroit. Well, if anyone trades for Westbrook it’d be hard to stay out of the luxury tax and be anything close to competitive.
Pistons trade options
Would Westbrook be a difference-maker though? Well ..... I will save an analysis of the quality of a potential Westbrook deal for another day, but in looking at the feasibility of a Westbrook trade, the Pistons have three options.
Option 1. Trade Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has an injury history which makes building around him in Detroit an iffy proposition. He has, however, evolved his game to include playmaking, finishing and perimeter shooting so if he does stay healthy, his game looks like it will age more gracefully than Westbrook’s. It’d also be a return home for Griffin, who grew up in Oklahoma and played college ball there. Crucially, he also makes nearly identical annual salaries than Westbrook so a trade would be pretty straightforward.
Option 2. Trade Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and stuff
The Pistons could also build a trade around Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. This would leave the Pistons thin at center, but could also convince the Thunder to include veteran Steven Adams in the deal. But that is a hell of a lot of salary to move around. This would unload tons of long-term salary obligations from the Thunder’s books, and it’d be easy enough to take Jackson’s expiring salary and attach one of the approximately billion future first-round picks the Thunder received for George and reroute him so they can get under the luxury tax completely.
Drummond gives the Thunder a young, quality player for at least the next two years and financial flexibility going forward.
Options 3. Trade Reggie Jackson and stuff
The other option is to keep Griffin, keep Drummond and add Russell Westbrook for a “big 3.” Again, your mileage may vary on just how much that big three would be able to accomplish. Packaging Jackson’s expiring deal with Tony Snell and Thon Maker technically works.
One thing I haven’t mentioned — draft picks. Because, well, look at that Westbrook salary again. Teams willing to pay that Westbrook salary should be the team receiving picks not the other way around. Even if Westbrook is still a top-20(?) player in the NBA today, he’s 30 and going to eat up a huge amount of the cap over the next four years.
If the Pistons let themselves get into a bidding war over Russel Westbrook, I just don’t know what I’d do with myself.