Tag Archives: Courtney Lee

2016 Oklahoma City Thunder Trade Prospectus

dj augustin thunder

With a couple days left before the trading deadline, the Oklahoma City Thunder sit with the third best record in the NBA, and are 1 of 3 teams with at least 40 wins at the All-Star break. That would usually be great for most years. But this season, the two teams with better records than the Thunder are 1) in the same conference and 2) on historic win paces. Any move the Thunder make during the trade deadline will be with these two teams in mind.

As currently constructed, the Thunder are better equipped to deal with the San Antonio Spurs than the Golden State Warriors. They match up well position for position, and have the athleticism to give the Spurs problems. The Warriors on the other hand, present a different set of problems for the Thunder. Their penchant for scoring from the outside has baffled every team in the league. The Thunder have a habit of letting teams beat them from the outside, but for some reason, they have defended the Warriors reasonably well over the past two seasons.

When it comes to trades, its always about what a team needs and what a team is willing to offer. The Thunder were extremely busy before and during the trade deadline last season, acquiring Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, DJ Augustin, and Kyle Singler. All five players are still on the roster this season, with Kanter and Singler signing multiyear extensions in the offseason. In addition to the players the Thunder gave up to acquire that quintet, they also gave up two first round picks in the process. Those first rounders are lottery protected and likely will be honored within the next three years if the Thunder can keep their core together. With all that said, here’s a look at a couple of the assets the Thunder have in tow.

Assets

1. Serge Ibaka

Trading Ibaka this season is highly unlikely. He’s the third cog in the Thunder’s Big 3 and has been there from the beginning of the run. But while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook  have expanded their games to become two of the best players in the league, Ibaka, for all his tools, has never been able to consistently put it all together. Be it the low basketball IQ or the fact that Ibaka may not be as young as his counterparts, the time for Ibaka on the Thunder may be numbered. While he hasn’t necessarily been injury-prone throughout his career, he does appear to be slowing down. His rebound and block numbers are the lowest they’ve been since his rookie season. His overall FG% is under 50% for the 2nd straight season, after starting off his first 5 seasons above the median line.

In addition, three factors are working against Ibaka remaining in the current position he is in after this season. First, the style of play in the current NBA has negated the need for a shot blocker. Remember when the Lakers, Celtics, Magic, and Spurs were the class of the NBA in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s? It was all because of the big man position. Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan were all extremely influential in their teams’ runs to the Finals during that period in time. The Thunder, trying to get to that position of power, decided to trade Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Celtics for Kendrick Perkins. Not only did the trade give the Thunder a defensive post player, but it also opened the door for Ibaka to become the premier shot-blocker in the league. Well, those days are gone. The pace and space NBA has basically eliminated the need for a premier post defender. Elite wing defenders are where the money is now.

Secondly, in keeping with the fact that the NBA is changing, so too have positions changed. The traditional view of power forwards and centers no longer works in this new NBA. In its stead, successful teams are now starting to trot out bigger small forwards to play the power forward position. What a team may lose on the block, it may gain on the offensive end with more 3’s and transition buckets. Kevin Durant began his career as an oversized two guard, but eventually settled into his more natural position of small forward when Scott Brooks became the Thunder’s head coach. Through the years, the natural progression of an athlete’s body has allowed Durant to get a little bit thicker as he has aged. That increase in weight has allowed Durant to not only play in the post more as an offensive player, but also to better defend post players on the other end of the floor. Shifting Durant to PF permanently wouldn’t be that big of a jump for the Thunder. He’s already leading the team in rebounding and is second on the team in blocks per game at 1.2.

Thirdly, Steven Adams has become the prototypical post player for this new NBA. Someone who is athletic enough to patrol the entire paint, but also strong enough to play the enforcer role. He’s younger and more mobile than Ibaka, and he comes at a much cheaper price, for now. That’s where the decision will come into play after this season. Adams still has one more year left on his rookie deal after this season, but the Thunder have first dibs on an extension after this season. Adams will likely command a salary upwards of $12 million. Ibaka comes up for free agency the same year Westbrook does. If the Thunder are able to keep both Durant and Westbrook, they’ll be no way they can also keep Ibaka and Adams.

Again, I’m not saying it’ll happen this season. But Ibaka’s $12.25 million dollar salary may be useful if a jackpot deal pops up. And if that deals becomes availalbe, the team may think long and hard about trading Air Congo.

2. Expiring Contracts (DJ Augustin and Steve Novak)

The Thunder have a couple expiring contracts that may come into play during the trade deadline. DJ Augustin and Steve Novak are both on the final year of their deals, while Dion Waiters is on the final guaranteed year of his rookie contract. If Waiters is traded, the team he is traded to will have the right to match any offer Waiters is given in the offseason. But Waiters plays a big role on the Thunder as a multifaceted guard and will likely remain in that role throughout the season.

The Thunder are in a bit of a precarious situation with Augustin. His $3 million dollar salary may be useful in a trade, but the Thunder have to make sure they get a veteran point guard either via trade or as a buy-out signee. If the Thunder trade Augustin without getting another another veteran point guard, they risk heading into the postseason with rookie Cameron Payne as their only other option behind Russell Westbrook. While Payne has been good, the Warriors’ game showed that the postseason lights could a little too bright at this moment for the first year player out of little Murray State. The Thunder may just keep Augustin around as the veteran third string point guard.

Novak, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to be moved by the deadline. His $3.75 million dollar contract is big enough to fetch a player of value for the Thunder. But also, the Thunder may just trade him to a team that needs salary in order to have an empty roster spot for a buy-out candidate, such as Joe Johnson or Kevin Martin.

3. Mitch McGary

The second year big man showed a lot of promise in the offseason and preseason. But a concussion in the preseason kept him out of the final week of practice heading into the season opener, and he has yet to find his footing in the rotation this season. McGary may be the Thunder’s most attractive asset as a young big on a cheap rookie scale contract. But that may also be the reason the Thunder keep him.

4. Multiple 2nd rounders and trade exceptions

This year, the Thunder have their own 2nd rounder and, likely, Charlotte’s 2nd rounder, which is protected for picks 56-60. In addition, the Thunder still have their 2nd round pick for 2017 and Memphis’ 2nd rounder for that year also (protected 31-35, unprotected in 2018). Second round picks are good filler for trades involving players that bring little to nothing to the table. For example, if the Thunder trade Steve Novak to the Trailblazers as a salary dump, then attaching a 2nd round pick will probably make it worth the Blazer’s while to take on Novak’s salary for the last 2 months of the season.

In addition to the 2nd round picks, the Thunder also have two trade exceptions. The Jeremy Lamb trade exception is worth $2.13 million and the Luke Ridnour trade exception is worth $2.85 million. While those amounts are relatively small, if a team is looking to unload one of their younger players without taking on salary, a trade exception may be the way to go.

5.  Alex Abrines

The Thunder own the rights to the 22 year old Spanish guard who is currently averaging 8 points per game on 41% shooting from 3-point territory for one of the premier teams in Europe, FC Barcelona. He is signed through 2019, but has a buyout clause. He lacks the athleticism to be a regular rotation player in the NBA, but would be a good addition as a 3-point specialist (a la Anthony Morrow) for a team that may need perimeter scoring in the future.

For as good as the Thunder have been this season, they still have holes that can be filled to further contend with the top teams in the league. Here’s a look at some of the areas of the need the Thunder could possibly fill.

Targets

1. 3 and D player

In this new NBA, the premier role player is that of a 3 and D wing. The Thunder have about 4 players in their rotation that masquerade as 3-and-D wings. The only problem is that those that are good at 3-point shooting (Anthony Morrow) struggle on defense, and those that excel at defense (Andre Roberson and Kyle Singler) struggle at consistently hitting their perimeter shots. The only player on the roster that qualifies as a viable 3-and-D wing is Dion Waiters, and he is great at neither.

Keeping up with the Warriors and Spurs of the league necessitates a team to have players that can be effective on both ends of the floor. The two players most commonly associated with the Thunder for this position are PJ Tucker of the Phoenix Suns and Courtney Lee of the Memphis Grizzlies. Both players are in the $5.5 million dollar range and could be had for an expiring and either McGary or Josh Huestis.

Some other surprising candidates may be Mirza Teletovic of the Phoenix Suns ($5.5 million) and Ben McLemore ($3.16 million) of the Sacramento Kings. Thunder GM Sam Presti has a habit of running misdirection plays where everyone in the media thinks he’s going one way, but he ends up going an entirely different direction (think last year with the Brook Lopez/Enes Kanter trade deadline happenings). While Teletovic is a bit too big to be a wing, he does bring the “3” part of the equation with him. He would allow the Thunder to stay big, while going small (Teletovic at 3, KD at 4, and Serge/Adams/Kanter at 5). McLemore would fall in line as a Presti reclamation project. The third year guard has never lived up to his No. 7 draft selection and has seemingly fallen out of favor in Sacramento. He came into the league as a player that could possibly be a good 3-and-D wing. Unfortunately, he has been inconsistent on both ends of the floor. McLemore could be a good replacement for Waiters if he bolts for greener pastures in the offseason.

Another name to watch out for is Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic. This one would probably require Serge Ibaka to move the needle enough for Orlando to make that trade. This one is likely not to occur this season.

2. Veteran Back-up Point Guard

If the Thunder plan to use DJ Augustin’s expiring contract in any of their trades, they would also need to obtain a veteran back-up point guard to buffer any of the inexperience Cam Payne would bring to the playoffs. A couple options are Michael Carter-Williams of the Milwaukee Bucks and Darren Collison of the Sacramento Kings. Carter-Williams is a big point guard that is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the floor. But his inconsistent jumper and being turnover prone continue to affect his play on the court. In addition, there are rumors that MCW isn’t really the easiest guy to get along with in the locker room. These are probably all reasons why the former Rookie of the Year could possibly end up on his third team in three years.

Darren Collison has been one of the best back-up point guards in the league. If Sacramento is indeed having a fire sale and looking to build for next season, then Collison may be one of the players that could be had from them. Unfortunately for the Thunder, he has another year left on his contract after this one. The Thunder really like Payne and getting Collison could stunt his development into next season.

3. Empty Roster Spot/Lower Tax Bill

The Thunder may eschew taking on another player in favor of just trading one or both of their expiring contracts in a salary dump to open up roster spots. Empty roster spots can be very valuable during this time of year. The buy-out market begins once the trading deadline has passed. Players like Joe Johnson, Kevin Martin, and Andrea Bargnani are a few of the names mentioned that will likely be bought out after the trade deadline. While none of those players would likely be a regular rotation player for the Thunder, they could be great in a specialist role off the bench. In addition, the Thunder have a couple players on their D-League team that could have some value to the Thunder. JP Tokoto has been good as a wing for the Blue, averaging 12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. Tomislav Zubcic, who was a late addition to the Blue roster from his native Croatia, has been averaging 8 points on 42.6% shooting from deep this season.

In addition, the Thunder currently sit about $12.4 million dollars over the luxury tax line. It’s a given they will pay the tax for a second straight season. But being that much over would mean the Thunder would have to pay out about $22 million. If they can lower their bill, it would be that much less the Thunder  has to pay out to the rest of the teams that aren’t over the luxury tax.

While the Thunder don’t seem to have the assets to do something big, if they feel this is the right time to pull the trigger on something, they may do it. Durant’s upcoming free agency and the fact that the Thunder are in the thick of things as far as contention goes, may sway them to do something outside the ordinary. As is the case usually with the trade deadline, all everyone is waiting for is for the first domino to fall.

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Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 6 of 82)

reggie jackson tony allen thunder grizzlies

  • When: Friday, 07 November 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder come into Friday night’s match-up against the Memphis Grizzlies at 1-4. A far cry from the number 2 seeded team they were in the playoffs last season. Don’t let the record fool you, though. Yes, injuries have bitten the team hard, but in that stead, a champion’s heart has started to emerge. Even though the team has fluctuated between 7-8 healthy players, the Thunder have been in every game heading into the 4th quarter except one. That is a testament to the players’ wills and to the coaching staff for having the team prepared. With that said, the season stops for no team and continues on.

The Thunder vs. Grizzlies match-up is a rivalry that has been building for the past few seasons. Both teams started their ascension to the top of the Western Conference around the same team, with the Thunder having gone a little bit further in that time span. Last season, the Thunder won the season series 3-1, but nearly got ousted by the Grizzlies in the first round. That playoff match-up was one for the ages with Games 2-5 being decided in overtime. The series featured game-saving 4-point plays, epic 4th quarter comebacks, super-nova’ed bench players, and Perkins hitting a game-tying put back to send one of the games to overtime.

The Opponent

allen randolph gasol conley grizzlies

The Grizzlies come into the game with a 5-0 record, boasting the best defense in the league. They allow a league low 86.2 points per game and are 2nd in Defensive Rating. The offense, while not high scoring, is one of the better half-court offenses in the league. Mike Conley continues to play his part as “most underrated point guard in the league.” With per game averages of 15.4 points, 6.6 assists, and 1.4 steals, Conley continues to be one of the most consistent point guards in the league. Up front, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol make up one of the most formidable front court duos in the league. Their size and skill in the post creates problems for most teams. On the wing, Courtney Lee is currently shooting an unsustainable 70% from 3-point territory and Tony Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league (just ask Kevin Durant). The Grizzlies’ bench is veteran-laden, featuring Vince Carter, Quincy Pondexter, Kosta Koufos, and Beno Udrih.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tony Allen
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Jeremy Lamb
  • SF – Lance Thomas
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pace – The Grizzlies play at one of the slower paces in the league. They take their time, look for efficient shots, and keep turnovers to a minimum. Although the Thunder don’t have the horses to run like they normally would, a quicker pace may be advantageous to them in this game. If the Thunder play at the Grizzlies’ pace, they may play into the opponent’s hands (paws?).

2. Perimeter shooting big men – The Grizzlies love to pack the paint and dare you to shoot jumpers. Their anchor on the interior is Gasol, the 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. But a line-up with any two of Serge Ibaka, Lance Thomas, or Nick Collison, who can do damage from the perimeter, could take Gasol and Randolph out of the comfort zone of the interior and open up driving lanes for Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Sebastian Telfair.

Jeremy Lamb

3. Jeremy Lamb – This will likely be Lamb’s first game of the season. It will be interesting to see how Lamb reacts, not only to being one of the primary offensive options on the team, but also to having no restrictions or pressure on him. Even if he shoots awful, there is no one behind him in the depth chart to take his place.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder series preview

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

So it’s set. First up on Oklahoma City’s platter is the team that knocked them out of last season’s playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies. It took a bit longer than expected for the playoff seeding to be decided, but in the end, it was almost manifest destiny for these two teams to meet in the playoffs once more. It’s like fate didn’t really like how the series played out last season (you know, no Russell Westbrook and all), so she decided to initiate a do-over.

Fate has a habit of matching the Thunder against opponents they have a history with. Last season it was James Harden-led Houston Rockets in the first round (and the subsequent Patrick Beverly fallout). Two seasons ago, it was the Dallas Mavericks, who had beaten the Thunder the previous season in the Western Conference Finals and the Los Angeles Lakers, in a metaphorical passing of the torch.

Regular season series

Wins in the regular season don’t always paint a clear picture as to how a series will play out. Many variables exist during the season that do not exist during the playoffs. Scheduling, fatigue, and sample size are all factors that come into play during the regular season, but have little to no bearing during the playoffs. But there are always factors within a season series that are highly applicable to the playoff series.

westbrook conley thunder grizzlies

The Thunder won the season series against the Grizzlies 3-1. Injuries played a major role in the outcome of a couple of the games. In the first game, a 116-100 OKC victory, the Grizzlies were without Marc Gasol, who was out with a knee injury. In the second game, a 90-87 Memphis victory, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook, while the Grizzlies had their full complement of players.  In the 3rd game, both team were without their starting point guards, but the Thunder prevailed 86-77. The fourth game, a 113-107 OKC victory, saw both teams basically at full strength (even though Kendrick Perkins was out and Thabo Sefolosha only played 4 minutes) and is probably more indicative as to how the series will go.

Schedule

  • Game 1 – Saturday, 19 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 2 – Monday, 21 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 3 – Thursday, 24 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)
  • Game 4 – Tuesday, 26 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)
  • Game 5 – Tuesday, 29 April 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
  • Game 6 – Thursday, 01 May 2014 TBD (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)*
  • Game 7 – Saturday, 03 May 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*

* If necessary

Probable Starting Line-ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tayshaun Prince
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol
  • Bench depth – Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, Beno Udrih

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins
  • Bench depth – Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Series

Post defense – Strength on strength. The Grizzlies’ offensive strong suit is the Thunder’s defensive strong suit. The Thunder have no problem packing the paint and retreating back on shooters. In fact, it’s what they do best (not the retreating back on shooters part, though). The Thunder have 4 players capable of defending Gasol, Randolph, and Kosta Koufos. What will be interesting is who starts off on who. Positionally, it should be Ibaka on Randolph and Perkins on Gasol. But, style-wise, Randolph’s bruising style is more suited for Perkins and Ibaka should be able to stay on Gasol, who likes to operate from 15 feet in.

perkins ibaka randolph gasol thunder grizzlies

Pace – Memphis tries to muddy up the game and keep it in the 90’s. If they are able to run their offense (half court-oriented, using a lot of the clock), and are able to dictate how you run your offense, that keeps them in their comfort zone. But if you force turnovers, score in transition, and don’t allow them to settle in defensively, it becomes very difficult for the Grizzlies to keep up in the scoring department.

Point guards – Probably the biggest factors in the series. Last season, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook for the entire series. This season, the Grizzlies come into the series with a point guard that may have a nagging hamstring injury (Conley) and no back-up, due to Nick Calathes being suspended for 20 games due to a failed drug test. The Grizzlies come into the series with a slightly injured starting point guard and Beno Udrih. The Thunder on the other hand, come into the series with both their point guards in tow.

X-factors

For Memphis – Their X-factor is Mike Miller. The one way to combat a defense that focuses on the paint is to punish it with perimeter shooting. Mike Miller has the ability to punish teams from the outside, and it’s one of the reasons the Thunder pursued so aggressively in the offseason.

miller thabeet thunder grizzlies

For Oklahoma City – Their X-factor is Reggie Jackson. With Calathes being suspended for the series, Jackson should run roughshod when he’s in the game against the bench.

Prediction

Thunder in 5.

Two things: First thing, not only is Russell Westbrook back and healthy for the Thunder, but the point guard depth for the Grizzlies took a hit with Calathes’ suspension. Secondly, Kevin Durant has taken last season’s disappointment and learned from it. He’s more adept at finding the open man and willing to punish teams with the pass, instead of firing up an ill-advised jumper with two or three defenders draped on him.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 59 of 82)

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Three

  • When: Friday, 28 February 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Okay, guys. This whole “we’re just getting acclimated once again to life with Russell, while also missing Perk” thing was cute for about two games. Now, it’s kind of becoming a bit of a thing. The problem is, the offense has not been the issue. Many people thought the offense would suffer a bit as Westbrook tries to work out the kinks on his road to recovery from a 3rd knee surgery in an 8 month period. Instead, it is the defense that has looked abhorrent. The Thunder have given up two 40+ point quarters in the last two games, while allowing their opponents 114 points per game in the last 3 games. That is definitely not Thunder basketball.

This will be the 4th meeting of the year between these two teams. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1, with the last two games being dog fights that were decided in the 4th quarter. The Grizzlies eliminated the Thunder from last season’s playoffs in the 2nd round in 5 games. In the last 8 meetings between these two teams, Westbrook has only played in one of those games, a 116-100 Thunder victory.

The Opponent

gasol conley allen randolph grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies currently sit at 32-24, half a game back of the 8th seeded Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference. Participants in last season’s Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies were looked at as one of the dark horses to come out of the West this season. Injuries have played a part in their current position in the conference, but with the entire team finally healthy, the Grizzlies have reeled off 6 wins in their last 8 games. The cornerstones of the offense, Mike Conley (ankle) and Marc Gasol (knee), have worked their ways back from injury and are starting to find their rhythm. Zach Randolph continues to be an effective double/double machine averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Due to the health of the team, the bench has gotten a boost from the return of Tony Allen from a hand injury, and the consistent play, of late, from James Johnson and Kosta Koufos.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tayshaun Prince
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Foul Trouble – Randolph, Gasol, and Koufos are all crafty big men that play the game with as much IQ as they do brute strength. They know that Ibaka still bites on pump fakes a bit and that Steven Adams is just a rookie. It’s important that Ibaka, Adams, and Nick Collison use their fouls wisely and don’t get into foul trouble.

NBA:  Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

2. Transition – True to their motto, Memphis loves to grind the game down to a half court affair with the big boys inside while also caring for the ball. They average only 12.6 turnovers per game, good for 3rd in the league. Look for the Thunder to swarm the ball when it goes to the post to try and create turnovers.

3. Pace – Does this game become a grinder or do the Thunder impose their will and push the pace. Look for the Thunder to go small if the game is close in order to push the pace a bit and get the Grizzlies out of their element.

The Thunder and the 32nd pick

draft pj 3

The Oklahoma City Thunder hold 3 draft picks in this upcoming draft. They have two in the first round, No.12 and 29, and one in the second round, No. 32.  While people are usually enamored by the first round picks, it’s the early second round picks (No. 31-35) that hold more value to teams. It’s an opportunity to grab first round talent without the constriction of a guaranteed contract. Here’s a list of notable players that have been drafted in the 31-35 range in the last 5 season: Nikola Pekovic, Mario Chalmers, DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Singler, Jeffery Taylor, Jae Crowder, Draymond Green. The difference in talent from the last 5 picks of the first round and the first 5 picks of the second round is infinitesimal.

For teams holding a slot in those first 5 picks of the 2nd round, it is an opportunity not only to draft a talented player, but also to procure a trade for an asset. The fact that a team can take a flyer on a player without having to offer a guaranteed contract, makes these picks more valuable than those in the lower end of the first round. These picks becomes doubly valuable before the beginning of a maddening free agency season. When teams vying for free agents want to clear cap space and/or not take on anymore guaranteed salary, they dump players and first round picks in exchange for high second round picks.

presti

Thunder general manager Sam Presti took advantage of this during the last frenzied free agency class, where he also owned the 32nd pick. We arm-chair GM’s love to talk about the would’ves, could’ves, and should’ves. But we have that beautiful thing called hind-sight in our back pockets. Real NBA GM’s don’t have that advantage, but those few great  GM’s have a little thing called foresight. While we focus on our team in the present tense, great GM’s look at the health of other franchises and plot how they can take advantage of their needs. Presti is great at this and seems to be on the prowl again in this draft.

On July 27th, 2009, the Thunder traded Damien Wilkins and Chucky Atkins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Etan Thomas and 2 second round picks. Most people thought this was just one of those offseason trades where a team trades 2 bench players for another bench player. But the haul in that trade was actually the 2nd round pick that turned into No. 32 in the 2010 NBA draft.

Etan Thomas, Andrew Bynum

The 2010 offseason was known for one thing and one thing only….the summer of Lebron. That was the offseason where most of the bumper crop from the 2003 draft class was coming up on their 2nd extensions, while other players like Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, and Joe Johnson were also coming up on unrestricted free agency. If you were a team that believed in quick fixes, this was the summer for you. While a handful of teams were trying their hardest to unload as much salary as possible, the other teams were more than willing to take on decent players (salary) and first round picks.

The Thunder had assets galore in the 2010 draft with 3 picks in the first round (18, 21, and 26) and 2 picks in the second round (32 and 51). The consensus with most teams is that you don’t head into training camp with five rookies. So, the Thunder knew they had to wheel and deal to get what they wanted in this draft, which was a defensive minded big man and more assets. Their first move was to trade the 32nd pick to Miami for the 18th pick and Daequan Cook. Miami was looking to cut salary to position themselves for the summer of Lebron. The Thunder knew they couldn’t get what they wanted at 18, so they traded it to the Clippers for a future first rounder. They eventually traded up to the 11th pick where they picked Cole Aldrich. The future first rounder from the Clippers helped to facilitate the trade with the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins at the trading deadline that following season.

benchmob

There are a lot of similarities between this offseason and the 2010 offseason. First off, the top tier in this free agency class includes some franchise players, such as Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Josh Smith. Secondly, these free agents are available and willing to hear out every offer on the table. Thirdly, there are team already vying to dump salary and 1st round draft picks to clear cap space. And, fourthly, the Thunder have the 32nd pick.

The story behind the 32nd pick is akin to the story of Hebrews wandering in the desert for 40 years in the book of Exodus. A little bit of controversy, a little bit of disobedience, and finally back to where it ultimately needed to be. On December 19, 2011, the Thunder traded Byron Mullens to the Charlotte Bobcats for their unprotected 2013 2nd round pick. Simple, right? Wrong! When the Thunder traded for Perkins, they sent Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green to Boston along with that Clippers draft pick. Everything was going good until doctors discovered the following season that Green was suffering from an aortic aneurysm, would need immediate surgery, and would miss the entire 2011-12 season. Boston contended that Oklahoma City knew of this condition previous to the trade. On June 16, 2012, the NBA decided to give Boston the Charlotte pick as compensation for the Green debacle. On July 20, 2012, the Celtics traded the pick to the Houston Rockets as part of a three team trade for guard Courtney Lee. Finally, on October 27, 2012, the pick was sent back to Oklahoma City as part of the James Harden trade. I’ve joked that, to everyone outside of Oklahoma City, the trade between OKC and Houston will be known as the James Harden trade. But to the people in Oklahoma City, the trade will be known as the “reacquisition of the Charlotte 2nd round pick” trade.

Oklahoma City is in prime position to make a significant move to improve their team in this draft. The rumor mill is already rampant with teams wanting to dump salary and picks for a chance at one of the top tier free agents. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports reported that Houston is looking to unload the No. 5 pick from last season’s draft, Thomas Robinson, in order to clear further cap space. Chad Ford of ESPN.com reported that the Dallas Mavericks were looking to trade away the No. 13 pick in order to avoid the $1.6 million cap hold that the pick carries. Also, Atlanta has picks 17 and 18, but are also looking to throw their hat in the free agency fray. There will be plenty of opportunities to nab a necessary piece on this draft day.

Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony

Also, there is one more thing to look out for in this draft. There might be an epic free agency class coming up next offseason. Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade all have early termination options to become free agents in 2014. Add to that, the 2014 NBA draft is predicted to be a lot stronger than this draft class, and you have the perfect storm for further wheelings and dealings. Look for the Thunder to not only get what they need in this draft, but also to pick up assets for the 2014 draft. Let the madness begin!

The Thunder and their tradeable assets

After the pomp and circumstances that was the NBA All-Star Weekend, it is now time to get to the meat of the NBA season. But before we even reach that point, there’s a little something called the trade deadline that can change the fates of aspiring championship teams. For the next 4 days, you will hear every sort of rumor, from the asinine to the very believable. And that is what makes this time of year one of my favorites.

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In the last two seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have made some sort of move at the trade deadline. In Feb. 2010, they traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Last season, they eschewed a trade, instead choosing to sign veteran guard Derek Fisher for their playoff run that went all the way to the Finals. This season, the Thunder made their big splash before the season started, trading reigning 6th man of the year James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and 3 draft picks. The Thunder went from a team with hardly any assets to one brimming with them. Any one of those assets or combinations of assets could be used to make a bigger move to help the Thunder either in the short term or in the long term.

Here are the top 5 tradable assets for the Thunder in terms of their desirability from other teams.

5. Eric Maynor

Two seasons ago, when the Thunder made a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals, Maynor was viewed as one of the top back-up point guards in the league. The fervor that is currently surrounding Los Angeles Clipper’s back-up point guard Eric Bledsoe was akin to what was being said about Maynor two seasons ago. A young floor general that was good enough to start for many other teams, and maybe even good enough to start ahead of Russell Westbrook. 

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The Thunder, sensing that Maynor’s rising stock may make him difficult to keep, drafted guard Reggie Jackson in the 2011 NBA draft. At the beginning of last season, it became increasingly evident that Maynor’s game had stagnated and hadn’t really improved that much during the offseason. Then, before the season was even 10 games old, Maynor tore his ACL and was lost for the season. While Maynor was rehabbing, Jackson was receiving his baptism by fire and earning precious playing time on a championship contending team. When this season started, Maynor was given the opportunity to earn his spot back as back-up point guard. He played as the primary back-up point guard for the first 23 games of the season. What became evident was that the injury had sapped Maynor of what little athleticism he had, and the Harden trade had robbed Maynor of his greatest asset off the bench. Thunder coach Scott Brooks chose to go with the more athletic Reggie Jackson off the bench to anchor the 2nd team from there on out.

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Maynor is in the final year of his rookie contract that owes him $2.34 million. He has value as a cheap rental for a team looking to scout point guards for next season. Maynor has recently shed his bulky knee brace and is moving around a lot better than he did at the beginning of the season. He is just 14 months removed from major knee surgery and may be getting back to being healthy again.

Percentage the Thunder move Maynor: 65% (The Thunder aren’t going to move Maynor just to move him. If they are able to acquire any value, such as a high 2nd rounder or a young player, they’ll make the move. If not, they’ll roll with Maynor for the rest of the season as the insurance point guard.)

4. Charlotte’s 2013 2nd round pick

Second round picks are usually tossed back and forth between teams in almost comedic fashion. Most players selected in the 2nd round usually never make it onto an NBA roster, instead spending most of their careers in the D-League or overseas. The beauty of 2nd round picks, though, is that their contracts aren’t guaranteed and don’t fall into the pay scale system of the 1st round picks.

The valuable 2nd round picks are those that fall in the 31-35 range. In those picks, you can get a good player that has slipped into the 2nd round for a variety of reasons. A good example would be Dejuan Blair of the San Antonio Spurs, who slipped into the 2nd round because of injury concerns with his knees. Being that this pick belongs to Charlotte, who currently owns the worst record in the league, it could be a good asset as the first pick of the 2nd round.

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Percentage the Thunder moves this pick: 0.000001% (The Thunder fought long and hard to get this pick back. They initially obtained this pick in the trade that sent Byron Mullens to the Bobcats. The pick was later given to the Boston Celtics by the NBA as punishment for the deal involving Jeff Green, who had a heart condition that the Thunder may or may not have known about. Boston then sent the pick to the Houston Rockets in an off-season deal that sent Courtney Lee to the Celtics. And then the Thunder re-obtained the pick in the James Harden deal. I honestly think Thunder GM Sam Presti would have dealt Kevin Durant to get this pick back.)

3. Kevin Martin

This was the player the Thunder got back in the James Harden trade that could be labeled as “of equal or comparable value”. Martin is one of those fringe All-Star players that can average 20 points per game in the NBA, but bring little else to the table. Martin has done a good job this season of reproducing the offensive production that Harden gave the Thunder last season. Martin’s trade value, though, comes in the fact that he has a $12 million expiring contract.

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Martin is still a really good player that could still average 20 points per game if he were on a bad team. He’s one of the top players in free throw percentage and 3-point FG percentage and averages 15 points per game off the bench. He had done a good job of assimilating himself to his role on the Thunder and assimilating himself to the culture of the city. He has made it known that he would like to stay in Oklahoma City and sounds like he would be willing to take a pay cut to stay. (Annnd, cue Thunder fans saying “We’ve heard that before”).  

Percentage the Thunder move Martin: 12.5% (Having already made a major trade to start the season, I doubt the Thunder make another major trade in the middle of the season. They have the 2nd best record in the league and Martin has been a willing participant in his bench role. Unless the Thunder are able to acquire 2 players for the price of one, I think the Thunder head into the playoffs with Martin as their 6th man.

2. Jeremy Lamb/Perry Jones III

When you are a rookie on a championship contending team, playing time can be at a premium. This is where the Thunder and their rookies currently find themselves. Besides end of blowout situations, Lamb and Jones III have gotten most of their playing time with the Thunder’s D-League affiliates, the Tulsa 66ers. Their lack of playing time is not indicative of their potential, though. On a bad to mediocre team, these two would be logging major minutes. But on this team, their major function this season is in developing their game.  

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The league still views them as rookies dripping with potential. And that is where their value lies. I’m pretty sure many trade proposals have started with Eric Maynor and ended with one or both of these rookies. Young players on rookie deals are like gold in the NBA, and the Thunder have 2 bars in their safe.

Percentage the Thunder move either of these players: 10% (With their future salary cap situation (2 max players in Westbrook and Durant, Ibaka’s upcoming extension, Perkins’ contract, and Martin possibly resigning), the Thunder place optimum value on young players on rookie scale contracts. Both of these players emulate the Thunder model (athletic, long, and able to play multiple positions) and have performed well in their time in Tulsa.  

1. Toronto’s protected 1st round pick (2013 – Top 3 and 15-30 protected, 2014,2015 – Top 2 and 15-30 protected, 2016,2017 – Top 1 and 15-30 protected, 2018 – unprotected)

Before Toronto acquired Rudy Gay, this pick looked like it was going to be in the 6-8 range. Since the Gay trade, Toronto seems to be a much tougher out for opponents and reeled off 4 straight wins before the All-Star break. The Raptors currently sit 6 games out of the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference, so while it is not an impossibility for them to make a run at the playoffs, the hole they dug themselves before the trade may be too much to overcome this season.

Rudy-Gay-Raptors

For a team looking to rebuild, a pick in the lottery is a steal. Any draft pick is a gamble, but those in the lottery have a higher percentage of panning out than those outside of the lottery. The Raptors picks is now looking to be in the 10-14 range.

Percentage the Thunder deal this pick: 10% (The same logic that applies to the Thunder and why they probably won’t deal Lamb or Jones III, applies to this draft pick. Earlier this season, this pick looked like it was going to be in the 4-6 range. But even where it stands today, this pick probably has more value for the Thunder than for another rebuilding team, especially in a draft that is perceived to be weak.).

One thing to look out for is the empty roster spot the Thunder have. If they don’t fill this spot with someone in a trade, look for the Thunder to sign veteran forward Rasual Butler. Oklahoma City fans may remember Butler from his days with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. He is currently playing for the Tulsa 66ers and may be what the Thunder need in a 3-point shooter and perimeter defender.

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The fact is that the Thunder have the 2nd best record in the league and are coming off of a Finals appearance. Sam Presti is not known to deal in haste or for a quick fix. He believes in sustainability and cap-flexibility, so any deal will have to work for the Thunder’s present and for their future. Needless to say, I don’t really see the Thunder making a move this trading deadline….but I’ll be watching.