Pistons have the assets to trade for Russell Westbrook or Victor Oladipo. They must pass

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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The 2020-21 NBA season is scheduled to tip-off on Dec. 22. But one could argue it actually started Wednesday.

The Athletic wrote Russell Westbrook wants out of Houston, 18 months after the Rockets traded Chris Paul and multiple first-round picks and pick swaps to acquire him. 

In the midst of a tumultuous year that led many to question if basketball could be played at all, there’s comfort in having a predictably unpredictable NBA offseason. 

The Rockets’ trade for Westbrook did not work out. Though he made the All-NBA third team, he tested positive for coronavirus in July, delaying him from joining his team in the Orlando bubble. A quad strain further impacted his health once he was in the bubble, and the Rockets lost to the Lakers in fives games in the second round of the playoffs, falling well short of title aspirations. 

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They now face the task of unloading the remaining $132.6 million on Westbrook’s contract over the next three seasons, which will end with him making $47 million during the 2022-23 season when he’s 33. 

Some will pitch the Pistons as a potential landing spot. On paper, it’s easy to see why. Westbrook has deep ties with key figures in the organization. Arn Tellem, the Pistons’ vice chairman, is Westbrooks’ former agent. Troy Weaver, the Pistons’ first-year general manager, pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder to draft Westbrook in 2008. The Pistons need a franchise point guard, and Westbrook reportedly wants the keys to whatever team ends up trading for him. 

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The logic falls apart once you actually begin hunting for a trade that works for the Pistons. Detroit’s cap sheet is relatively clean, with the $75.6 million owed to Blake Griffin through the 2021-22 season being the lone outlier. The Pistons could pursue a Griffin-Westbrook swap, but if they wanted to pair them together, they could also absorb most of Westbrook’s contract into their $30 million in cap space

But the reality is the Pistons won just 20 games last season. A Griffin-Westbrook core would be talented, but expensive. It wouldn’t have much depth surrounding them, as most of Detroit’s core players are younger than 23 and have yet to prove they can start a full season’s-worth of games. 

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Paying two players a combined $161.2 million through 2022 makes sense when you’re contending. The Pistons are far from being a contender, and have been on the wrong side of too many trades and free agency gambles over the past decade.

Griffin will be 33 when his contract expires, and Westbrook will be 34. While both players are immensely talented, they’re on the wrong side of their primes, and their window for winning a title together would be until 2022, when Griffin is set to enter free agency. That’s too short a window to truly consider the upside of pairing them together. 

For a rebuilding team, the Pistons are currently in an ideal position. They have financial flexibility, all of their future first-round picks and a front office committed to building a roster that can sustainably compete for a title. By trading for Westbrook, the Pistons would sacrifice much of that flexibility without gaining a clear path to contention in return.

No thank you. 

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What about Victor Oladipo?

Trade rumors for Pacers shooting guard Victor Oladipo received a squirt of lighter fluid Thursday, when theIndianapolis Star reported Oladipo asked opposing players if he could join them during games last season. 

Oladipo, who averaged 23.1 points per game on 47.7% overall shooting during the 2017-18 season to make All-NBA third team, missed most of last season while rehabbing a ruptured quad tendon. He wasn’t quite himself in the 19 games he played, averaging 14.5 points on 39.4% shooting. He has one year remaining on his contract worth $21 million before become an unrestricted free agent. 

Like Westbrook, Oladipo has a tie to Weaver. The Thunder traded for Oladipo during the 2016 offseason, and he spent one season in Oklahoma City before being traded to the Pacers for Paul George a year later. If Oladipo is healthy, there’s merit to the idea of pairing him alongside a healthy Griffin. He’ll soon be eligible for an extension, meaning the Pistons could re-sign him to a long-term deal. 

Oladipo, 28, looked like a potential max player two years ago, but it’s unclear if he’ll regain that form. An Oladipo-Griffin core would be competitive in the East but wouldn’t quite put the Pistons in the tier of contenders. And if the Pacers want significant assets in return, the Pistons should say no. 

Detroit has assets with trade value and money to spend, but the return on an Oladipo gamble doesn’t immediately seem worthwhile. Even if Oladipo is 100% healthy this season, he could opt to leave Detroit in 2021 rather than re-sign.

For a roster that’s more than a few pieces away from a title, that’s probably not the best use of their assets. 

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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