I can’t sleep. I’m not eating. I’m anxiously checking my phone every 30 seconds. My marriage is suffering.
I’m afraid my favorite team is going to trade for Russell Westbrook.
Don’t get me wrong. Russell Westbrook is a very good player. He’d be the best point guard in Detroit by a large margin. A team that has spent years looking for an upgrade over Reggie Jackson could do much worse than Russell Westbrook the player. But it’s not just Westbrook the player. It’s also Russell Westbrook the contract, and that contract.
That contract. Of course, Pistons fans might already be numb to so many zeroes. They’ve already traded for one player on a supermax contract in Blake Griffin. And Griffin is coming off perhaps his most complete season as a professional.
Already having Griffin in tow makes adding Westbrook that much more unlikely. Let’s take a look at what any team will be obligated to pay Russ over the next four seasons.
That’s $170 million over the next four years on a 30-year-old point guard. A point guard who hasn’t been able to get out of the first round of the playoffs since Kevin Durant left. Let’s be honest, an upgrade over Reggie Jackson is not worth $170 million. Hell, many fans are telling me Derrick Rose is already an upgrade over Jackson, and he only cost the Pistons $15 million.
All the Pistons need to do is patiently wait one more year for Jackson to come off the books and they can upgrade over Jackson in any number of ways — with Rose, with a free agent, via trade. It’s certainly not Westbrook or bust.
And we haven’t even factored in the Griffin contract. Let’s take a look at Blake’s deal.
These supermax deals are generally looked at as albatross contracts (see Wall, John), and the premise now is that Detroit would have not one but two on the same team? Unless you’re willing to trade Westbrook for Griffin. That would balance the roster but certainly wouldn’t make Detroit contenders and Westbrook is likely to age even more poorly than Griffin.
Don’t get me wrong, Westbrook is the exact kind of player Tom Gores could talk himself into. But he’s likely the owner of the league’s second-worst contract behind Wall’s.
Even if the Pistons retained Griffin, Drummond and added Westbrook, the team would be $90 million-plus on three(!!!) players, staring at the luxury tax and have extremely limited avenues to add talent to your team in its quest to make the Eastern Conference Finals.
And the Thunder would likely also be anticipating picks in the deal. Precious, cheap, cost-controlled for years draft picks. The very thing a team like the Pistons couldn’t afford to give up.
It just doesn’t make any financial sense. But does it make sense on the basketball court?
As mentioned before, Westbrook is a good player, and a big upgrade over Reggie Jackson. Westbrook is a creator and driver. The only guards who averaged more shots in the restricted area than Westbrook’s 7.4 per game were Ben Simmons and Zach Lavine. Jackson averaged just 2.3 shots at the rim per game.
But Westbrook’s shot is broken and will likely never be fixed. More of his shots than ever came from 3 last season and he shot 29%, the lowest mark since he was a 21-year-old NBA sophomore.
His inability to space the floor and the fact that he always needs the ball in his hands doesn’t really mesh well with Blake Griffin or Andre Drummond. And since he can’t shoot, his game will be completely reliant on his athleticism. Again, he’s 30 years old, has played 28,000 minutes in his career and is already showing signs of slowing down.
It’s been proclaimed that Chris Paul has been washed since the moment he joined Houston, and he’s someone who historically has been a better defender and much better shooter than Westbrook. If Westbrook looses a step he loses the majority of his effectiveness.
Finally, let’s talk about future flexibility. Let’s cook up a dream scenario where the Pistons are able to do all of the following. 1. Keep Griffin 2. Keep Drummond 3. Add Westbrook. 4. Keep Sekou Doumbouya and Luke Kennard.
That’s basically your team. A team that has been capped out since a spending binge in 2016 will have zero cap flexibility next offseason with about 11 players under contract and no depth.
The following offseason, the team would be spending about $75 million Westbrook and Griffin and Drummond itching for an extension or a chance to play elsewhere. If you pay him, the team will again be just about capped out and relying on exception players and minimum guys to try and remain competitive. Then the following season the team is trying to factor in a Luke Kennard extension with its three pillars on the downside athletically.
At this point what is the team’s ceiling? Tough second-round exit? Eastern Conference Finals? Do you really think it’s achieved an NBA Finals appearance?
The counterargument would be that the team is already staring at the future right now. I would say, how much of a non-future do you want in Detroit? They are finally on the precipice of being able to change the makeup of this team. Jackson and Galloway will be gone. The team could add in free agency. And 2021 can serve as a completely reset. The team has avoided long-term deals, drafted a handful of young developmental players and has only two players under contract in 2021 — Griffin and Doumbouya.
Adding Westbrook delays that reality for another two years. The team will be locked in to whatever their reality is the moment the pull the trigger on the trade. Have they really escaped the treadmill of mediocrity? Is a 31-year-old Westbrook really the savior Motown has been waiting for?
Or is he just the latest in a long line of big-name, inefficient players who get their points no matter how many shots it takes who we patiently wait to come off the books so that the future can finally arrive. Someday.