| The Detroit News
When I was a young child, one of the most exciting days of the year was when the holiday catalogs arrived. I would flip immediately to the toy section and imagine all the race tracks, Star Wars figures and new gadgets I could get.
Of course, my mother was on a budget and I couldn’t get all the things I wanted, but it was always fun to dream.
The Pistons are in much the same place as the offseason hurtles toward a frenzied week of potential roster changes. The NBA draft is set for next Wednesday and free agency opens just two days later. The moratorium on trades is ending soon and the Pistons, who have been on the treadmill of mediocrity for years, are trying to figure a way out.
The flashy, shiny object in the catalog looks to be Russell Westbrook, who reportedly wants out of Houston after another disappointing season. The Rockets already parted with general manager Daryl Morey and coach Mike D’Antoni — and Westbrook could be the next Jenga block to be pulled away from the Rockets’ rickety structure.
Westbrook, 32, has been one of the most exciting players in the NBA. He was the 2017 league MVP, he’s been All-NBA nine times and has led the league in scoring twice and in assists twice. The experiment with James Harden and an undersized Rockets lineup was more like playing with mismatched LEGO blocks in the dark than the intended idea of assembling Voltron.
No one can blame the Rockets for going all-in and trying to stay relevant in the competitive Western Conference.
The Pistons are different, though. They’re not close to competing in the East, but they have space under the salary cap and a roster than needs more star power and production.
They also have connections to Westbrook that make the thought intriguing. Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem is Westbrook’s former agent. Troy Weaver, the Pistons’ new general manager, came from Oklahoma City, where he was integral in getting the Thunder to draft Westbrook fourth overall in 2008.
It’s all there for the Pistons to make some kind of trade offer with the Rockets.
For some, it makes sense — until Westbrook’s contract comes into play.
Westbrook signed a super-max deal for five years and $206.8 million in 2018. His salary for this season is $41.4 million and escalates to $44.2 million in 2021-22, and a staggering $47.1 million in the final year.
The Pistons already have a mountain of a contract with Blake Griffin, who’s on the books for $36.6 million next season and $39 million in 2021-22.
One trade possibility could have Griffin going to the Rockets and then matching salaries to make it work. That direction would change their draft strategy and have them going after a big man such as Onyeka Okongwu and would put a premium on retaining Christian Wood, who is an unrestricted free agent.
That’s a lot to do.
It would make them more interesting and put them in position for the playoffs much more quickly than the current course. That would be a bold statement by Weaver, setting the course that they would be players on the league stage and willing to push all the chips in to do it.
It’s just not very likely.
Weaver should use a steady hand — like he’s playing Operation — to guide the Pistons more prudently through the next few years, to rebuild with good young players and an eye on the long-term future.