2012-13 NBA Trade Season: how can the Thunder improve?

Sam Presti, are you going to make a move? - W. Bennett Berry

The Thunder are flying high right now, but as the trading season opens, we wonder if there are any moves that can be made to strengthen OKC even more.

The Thunder have won 11 games in a row, have one of the best offenses in the NBA, and they're getting better by the day. Is it possible for them to add more talent to an already over-stuffed roster? Let's take a look.

Is OKC a buyer, seller or both?

The Thunder have an entrenched 9 man rotation that is unlikely to change much for the rest of the season (barring injury). With that rotation in place, is there even any room for the addition of another? While there are a number of small pieces in terms of either players on rookie contracts or bargain basement deals, the real power for the Thunder is in the kind of packages they can put together in order to gain what they want.

What are the Thunder's needs?

It is difficult to even reasonably argue that the Thunder 'needs' anything, and if anything is truly needed that they can find most of it on their current roster. Most of what the Thunder might be looking for are players to fill roles down the road, not necessarily in this season. If we had to make a list, it might look like this:

  1. Upgrade at center/backup center
  2. Future replacement for Kevin Martin
  3. Perimeter scoring

In regards to #1, obviously Kendrick Perkins is the team's center and locker room leader, and he is surely functional for the tasks he is given. OKC can win a championship with him in the middle. That said, there might still be players either on other teams or in the draft that could replace much of what he does for the Thunder. Likewise, Hasheem Thabeet has played better than anybody thought he would and he's extremely cheap, but if a better viable option comes along, he is certainly expendable.

For #2, Martin is in the final year of his contract and is playing like he's hunting for another one. At $13 million a year, Martin isn't cheap, and I would bet that the Thunder aren't interested in extending the kind of offer they were offering James Harden over the summer. Unless Martin is willing to take a pay cut and keep coming off the bench, it is probably best to see him as a one year option, so the Thunder are going to need to try and find another efficient bench scoring guard/forward.

For #3, the Thunder already have Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb on the roster, and they chose not to sign Andy Rautins before the season began. They seem to be stocked at this position, yet for some reason Scott Brooks has not yet given them designated roles in the regular rotation. If there is a better perimeter shooter available, they might make a move.

Bottom line - if OKC is going to pursue anyone, it is likely going to be a player who is either in the middle of a reasonable contract or being paid on the rookie scale.

WHO COULD OKC TARGET?

The player whose name is on everybody's minds right now is Anderson Varejao. He as a player would fit into OKC's structure extremely well and really, he's the only player out there who in any way materially upgrades the Thunder's team. In fact, our brethren at Fear the Sword agree. I'll let them explain:

Oklahoma City sends Perry Jones III, Jeremy Lamb, Toronto's top 3 protected 2013 pick, and Kendrick Perkins to Cleveland for Anderson Varejao.

Why it works for OKC - Most reports say that OKC is happy with their team at the moment and aren't looking to make a deal. Still, you have to think that adding Andy and getting rid of Perkins deal would be something appealing to them. Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefalosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Anderson Varejao and a deep bench is a pretty darn good team.

Why it works for Cleveland - Lamb theoretically is perfect with Kyrie Irving, and could even play in three guard sets with Waiters and Irving. I would talk about this for 300 more words, but you have heard enough from me on Lamb. Perry Jones, meh. Maybe he figures things out. I don't know. The first round pick should be pretty valuable.

Ultimate Verdict - This is probably the most popular Varejao trade, and it makes a lot of sense. It seems to work for both teams.

How do we at WTLC feel about this notion?

Zorgon's take:

This trade is basically a pie in the sky type of deal. But with the Cavaliers well on their way to another losing season, I think it would be cool to take a crack at grabbing Anderson Varejao. The Thunder could try to dish Perkins, Lamb or Jones, and the Raptors pick (almost a guaranteed lotto) for him, or they could try throwing the Cavaliers the expiring contract of Kevin Martin, along with something like a Lamb, Jones, or pick. It'd be pretty hard to try to get the Cavaliers to take on Perk's contract, it would suck to lose Kevin Martin on the floor, and we'd be dooming our future a little bit. Plus, you can't underestimate the presence Perk has in the lockerroom. But the fact is, Anderson Varejao is unselfish, plays with a lot of heart, can rebound better than anyone on our roster, and would fit in perfectly on the floor. He's not as good of a screen setter, lane clogger, or low-post defender, but what we give up is little compared to what we gain.

You might not like the offer above, but consider this. The package of Martin, the two picks, and Lamb is enough to grab any superstar in this league if Sam Presti so chose. I think he's more concerned with clearing cap space right now than anything else, but if the right opportunity presented itself, it's not hard to see another quality player coming to Oklahoma City.

Bill Champion's take:

Like Z, I was thinking Varejao. It's the most realistic but I'm not sure I'd want to trade away Thabeet with the way he's been progressing. My "it'll never happen but it'd be cool" trade is Maynor/Sefolosha/Lamb and draft picks for Rondo. Of course, Boston would never go for this.

Sherman's take:

The only reason...the ONLY reason...why I could see Presti not pulling the trigger on this kind of deal is because Varejao is such a bargain right now, at $8.4 million this season and $9.1 million the next, and he's in for a huge payday when it comes time for his contract re-negotiation. If Roy Hibbert is worth a max deal, then surely Varejao is worth something close to equivalent. While the Thunder could certainly make the numbers work, it just begs the question of whether GM Sam Presti wants 3 max-contract players on his roster. He didn't last summer, and it is unlikely that he's changing that opinion now.

Would it be worth it to basically trade 3 years of Perkins for 2 years of Varejao and in the end lose both of them?

The answer is not easy, but I look at it in these terms - which team is going to be coming out of the East for the next 2-3 years, and what is their lone weakness? I think that clarifies things a bit.

Other random trade musings:

If there is no currently established player out there worth going after, what about some of this year's rookie class?

  1. Damian Lillard - Haha, yeah, right. I'm sure the last thing Portland is going to do is give away another franchise player to the Thunder.
  2. Anthony Davis - Davis is stuck in a tough situation, but ideally the Horn-icans are hoping he has a Durant-like arc. That said, if OKC offered to New Orleans everything listed above, that's kind of a mother-lode of rebuilding assets. It isn't so far-fetched.
  3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - see above.
  4. Bradley Beal - Would Leonsis give up Beal for even more young talent, which could delay his team's rebuilding even further?
Lastly, the upcoming draft class:
With OKC's current assets, they are in prime position to trade up and grab a lottery pick. I think they are looking and waiting for a big man to show up on the radar in order to supplant Perkins. Who is available?
  1. Alex Len, Maryland - C
  2. Cody Zeller, Indiana - PF/C
  3. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky, PF/C
***
In conclusion, it is likely that OKC will stand pat and ride their current car toward the playoff promised land. However, if there is one thing we've learned about Presti, he holds his cards close and waits until HE has the advantage. If the advantage tips his way, he's not afraid to pull the trigger.
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