Thunder Draft Options: Trade Partners

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Layne Murdoch-NBAE/Getty

The Oklahoma City Thunder own the 21st pick in the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft, which is due to take place on June 22nd. Players selected with that pick usually aren’t viewed upon as franchise changers. If a team hits on a star with the 21st pick, then good on their scouting department. For the most part, though, teams picking in this range are looking for cheap role players to fill out their roster.

But the thing about the draft is it’s not just about the players getting drafted. More than any other sport, the NBA draft turns into a sort of swap meet where teams wheel and deal on players and assets in an attempt to set themselves up for the future. For teams who may not have the clout to be aggressive during free agency, the draft presents a different avenue to better their team.

The Thunder have a history of being very active on draft night. Last season they traded Serge Ibaka to Orlando for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis. Ilyasova was later flipped to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jerami Grant. The Thunder were able to take an aging asset that was set to become an unrestricted free agent in the next offseason and turn him into three young rotation pieces all while not having a first round pick of their own.

As the Thunder move forward with Russell Westbrook leading the team, the entire make-up of the team has had to change. No longer is it a team loaded with two superstar, in Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Instead, Thunder GM Sam Presti was tasked with transforming the team on the fly when Durant decided to bolt to Golden State on Independence Day last year. Westbrook proved this season he could lead a team by himself to the playoffs, all while likely becoming the league’s MVP. But if the team wants to advance further than just the first round, the type of players around Westbrook has to change.

Transforming a team is not something that usually happens overnight. It takes several moves to change the inventory/trajectory of a team. With Durant in the fold, the Thunder were more in the market for players that could play a specific role (i.e. Andre Roberson as a wing defender whose ability to only play on one side of the floor didn’t affect the team that much.). Now, though, the Thunder need three types of players around Westbrook: shooters, creators, and defenders. If they can get a player with all three traits, great. If they can get a player with two of the three traits, good. But if the Thunder want to eventually get back to climbing up the mountain of the NBA, the days of having a player with only one of the traits needs to be coming to an end.

The draft pick, if the Thunder stay at 21, will likely give a little glimpse into what direction Oklahoma City may move to in the future. If they draft a defensive wing player, then that may seal the fate on Roberson, who is coming up on restricted free agency. If they draft a big, then Enes Kanter’s future as a member of the Thunder may be in question.

But knowing the Thunder and seeing their history in the draft, the Thunder may look to package, not only their pick, but also a player or two in order to move up. As Oklahoma City approaches the draft, here are three possible trade partners for the Thunder on draft night.

Portland

The Trailblazers come into this draft with three picks in the first round. Portland has 12 players guaranteed for next season and three players on team options. But their biggest need is salary cap relief. The Trailblazers head into next season with a bloated payroll that is one of the highest in the league, but without the veil of success to validate it. Portland needed a late season surge to get to the 8th seed in the Western Conference and will return basically the same team if they stand pat.

Another thing hindering Portland’s ability to shed salary is the fact that, outside of Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, and CJ McCollum, their other players aren’t very attractive as far as being assets. The remaining players are either role players that are heavily overpaid or young players who aren’t very good.

In addition, the late season run last season was keyed by the acquisition of Nurkic, who is eligible for an extension as early as this offseason. Portland likely isn’t looking to lose Nurkic, but if they extend him without shedding salary, the already bloated elephant in the room will quickly balloon into a blue whale.

Portland isn’t really in a position to dictate terms on a trade, and this is usually where Presti does his best work. The thinking is that Portland could possibly attach a draft pick or two onto one of their less attractive assets, and have a team that is significantly under the salary cap absorb that player into their available cap space. But the problem with this thinking is that most of their bad contracts still have 2-3 years attached to them. Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, and Maurice Harkless all signed deals last offseason, and most teams aren’t looking to carry a bad contract on their books for more than one season.

But the Thunder could definitely use the services of someone like Crabbe, who averaged 10.7 points per game on 44.4% 3-point shooting on almost 4 attempts last season. The 6’6 wing has a 6’11 wing span, which allows him to play and guard multiple positions. And that type of player falls right into the Thunder’s wheel house. In addition, Crabbe is the only player of the four mentioned above whose salary declines with time.

A deal centered around Kanter and Crabbe would probably be the starting point. The next question is likely why would Portland do this deal? Kanter has 1-2 less years on his deal than does Crabbe, and Kanter’s deal would end just as Nurkic’s possible extension is set to start. The Thunder could throw in the 2018 Chicago 2nd rounder to sweeten the deal and maybe receive an extra first rounder from this draft to make everything work.

Denver

By all accounts, Denver had a very successful season last year. They were well on their way to snagging the 8th seed in the Western Conference until a late season collapse allowed Portland to overtake them. In terms of a timeline, they were probably a year or two ahead of schedule, with several good, young players in the pipeline such as Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray.

Denver started last season off with too many big men on their roster. They proceeded to trade Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic and benched Kenneth Faried for much of the season. By the middle of the season, the Nuggets had flip-flopped and were a team that was wing dominant.

One thing the Nuggets lacked on the wing, though, was a true perimeter defender. They are in a position to draft one of the better wing defenders in the draft in OG Anunoby. But there are unknowns with Anunoby concerning his injury history.

Another option may be signing Andre Roberson outright to a sizable contract and hoping the Thunder don’t match. But if the two teams could discuss a sign and trade and get Roberson’s blessing, it could work out for both teams.

Denver would get Roberson with a newly minted 4 year extension for Wilson Chandler and the No. 13 pick. Denver guarantees themselves one of the best wing defenders in the league, while the Thunder get a shot maker from the wing position and a late lottery pick.

Boston

Not only did Boston make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they also obtained the No. 1 overall pick in this upcoming draft by virtue of a blockbuster deal with Brooklyn during the 2013 offseason that netted (pun intended) the Celtics four future first round picks.

The first rounder for this year was a pick swap. Brooklyn got the first overall pick, but had to give the pick to Boston in exchange for Boston’s pick, which is no. 27. With that pick, the Celtics are expected to take University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz.

With that pick, the Celtics would have a bevy of guards on their roster. The idea is to get Fultz as much playing time as possible, so the playing time for guards like Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier may see significant reduction. Instead of bumping these players down the depth chart, Boston may instead choose to continue obtaining assets and trade them on draft night.

One of the biggest needs for the Thunder is a back-up point guard to run the second unit effectively. Either one of Smart or Rozier could fit into the Ersan Ilyasova Traded Player Exception (TPE) the Thunder currently have. The pick or asset attached to the Ilyasova TPE doesn’t necessarily need to be of value. It could be one of the recent 2nd rounders the Thunder currently have playing for their D-League affiliate or it could be a heavily protected pick.

There are plenty of other options for the Thunder with other teams. They will definitely be looking to make their team better, somehow. Be that via trade or in the draft, the Thunder won’t be silent in their pursuit to better the team around Westbrook. The next installment of Thunder Trade Options will look at five players whom the Thunder may select if they stay put at 21.

 

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