Heading into the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder were in the unfamiliar position of being a title contender, while also having a war chest worth of assets that would make any team in rebuild mode jealous. Most championship contending teams have an experienced core that was obtained by trading away assets. But the James Harden trade from the beginning of last season gave the Thunder some cap flexibility and assets to play with heading into this season. They have a veteran on an extremely cap friendly expiring contract (Thabo Sefolosha), young players with potential on rookie scale contracts (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Perry Jones), an extra draft pick (Dallas’ protected 1st rounder), and two sizable Traded Player Exceptions.
They have everything necessary to make a monster trade. But two important questions come to mind when a team nears the trade deadline. The first question is “What does the team need?”. Every team has weaknesses that can be addressed via a trade. The important thing when it comes to addressing weaknesses is what does the team have to offer and what is the team willing to give up. Those two things may seem to be the same, but are entirely different. For example, the Heat can address any of their weaknesses by trading Chris Bosh. But in reality, the Heat will, instead, choose to make a smaller deal or stand pat. Which leads to the second question, “Does the team need to make a trade?”.
When a team has the best record heading into the All Star break, while also missing their 2nd best player for much of the first half of the season, the above question becomes a valid one. Much of the Thunder’s success can be attributed to the chemistry the team has cultivated over the years. Making a trade now, especially one where a rotational player is traded, could have it’s consequences.
Two things have to be weighed when contemplating a trade: how the trade affects you currently and how the trade can affect you in the future. The reality with the Thunder is that they will be toeing the tax line for the foreseeable future. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka on max (or near max) deals, finding bargains will be the rule of the land. Anything that includes extra salary and extra years will probably be nixed.
Another thing to factor is the fact that the Thunder have assets that are not currently on the roster, but could come into play as early as next season. Tibor Pleiss, the Thunder’s 2nd round Eurostash from 2010, could possibly join the team next season. Another possible roster spot could go to Grant Jerrett next season. The stretch 4 out of Arizona was acquired by the Thunder in the 2nd round of last year’s draft. His rights are still owned by the Thunder as he develops in Tulsa under the guise of the Thunder D-League team.
Also, the team will have to decide if obtaining a player will have any impact on future roster moves, such as extending Jackson and/or Sefolosha. Only the front office knows what they plan to do with those two players, but their futures will probably have a bearing on what the Thunder do this season at the trade deadline.
In the end, the first question asked comes into play. What, exactly, do the Thunder need? They head into the All-Star break with the best record in the league. They are top 5 in offense (ppg), offensive rating, defensive rating, and rebounds. They are top 10 in points allowed and 2nd in margin of victory. And they have done this with their All-Star point guard missing more games than he’s played. So, what exactly, does this team need? It’s like asking the guy who has everything what he wants for Christmas.
I can only see two areas of need for this team: 3-point shooting and point guard depth. If there is a player that could supply both while not minding being the 11th or 12th man on this team, then I’m all for it. Only problem is there aren’t many players like that. Point guards with the ability to shoot usually find their ways into line-ups.
So where does that leave us? I think the Thunder will stand pat as far as their current roster is concerned. Realistically, their most available assets are two empty roster spots, a $2.3 million trade exception, Hasheem Thabeet ($1.2 million this season), two future 2nd rounders from the Ryan Gomes trade, and possibly their own first rounder for this upcoming draft (slotted to be in the 28-30 range). I think the Thunder will attempt to get a shooter with their trade exception, possibly CJ Miles of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Anthony Morrow of the New Orleans Pelicans. Then I think they’ll sign Royal Ivey for the rest of the season once his season is done in China.
The Thunder don’t have to do much tinkering. Their biggest acquisition may be the return of Russell Westbrook from injury. They have enough roster flexibility to adapt to any style thrown at them. And they have enough experience to get through any rough patch. As long as health does not become a factor, they should finish the regular season out in the same fashion they went into the All Star break. But somewhere, deep in the recesses of my mind, I imagine Sam Presti reading this article, letting out a diabolical laugh, and calling up Adam Silver to put his stamp of approval on a 12 team, 38 player trade involving 25 draft picks, 13 Euro-stashes, and $21 million dollars worth of cash considerations right at the trade deadline.