It's draft day. You find yourself in the body of Sam Presti, with the ability to have the final say on any move that the Thunder make. All of a sudden, we hit pick 12. All of the top-flight guards are gone from the draft, and there's a plethora of big men to choose from. Do you pick a guy with a high ceiling, knowing very well he could be the next Cole Aldrich? Do you pick a sure thing? Do you trade the pick for someone proven? Do you pick the guy with the highest value and try to tempt other teams?
There's no one right answer, but these were the questions I was faced with as I ran the Thunder's ship during the SB Nation 2013 NBA Draft Mock. Of course, I wasn't alone. I had the entire Welcome to Loud City crew to back me up, and I had 29 other sites running their own respective things. There were a million possible routes, and it was very exciting.
Before we begin, here's the rules for the mock.
1. All trades must make sense under the current CBA.
2. All trades must be approved by the commissioner (in our case, SBN NBA Manager Seth Pollack).
3. Only the first round will be drafted.
As the mock began, I asked our writers what they'd like to do with our current situation. The first sentiment I got was, "Trade up!"
I like trading Perk for a top 5 pick to grab Zeller or Len.
You could look at the Cats or the Pelicans.
The Cats could use a big man.
Pelicans want to run something like the Grizzlies, starting two big men. So offer Perk and pick twelve or twenty-nine
When it comes to trading up the team I target is the Suns and see about Perkins, #12, Perry Jones III for the #5 pick and hope Victor Oladipo SG from Indiana is still there. He is a guy who is a top level athlete who can step in a play defense right away. He is a JR so the learning curve should be shorter than younger player.
My immediate response was one of skepticism. You see, as much as we might value Perk, everybody saw how poorly he performed in the playoffs. And nobody, aside from the Celtics, really wants him. It's not really a question of his talent, because everyone knows that some talent is there. It's moreso a question of his contract, which goes on for a couple of seasons. Nobody wanted to pay Perkins 8 mil in 2 years.
I looked at offering the Suns or Bobcats something to move up, but the situation just wasn't right. The Suns were having a firesale, trading anyone they could to grab more picks. Meanwhile, the Bobcats were standing pat, and we would have likely had to take on the contract of Tyrus Thomas to move up. No thanks.
Trading Perkins was a common theme in general, but I just didn't get very much interest in the actual player. The only way a team would take Perkins is if we were actually to give up more. The best offer I got was from All That Amar of SLC Dunk, who offered #21 and the 2015 Nets 2nd Rounder for Perk and the 12 Pick. Again, no thanks.
The Marcin Gortat Saga
However, the Suns firesale did present another opportunity. I went ahead and sent them an offer with Kendrick Perkins that I thought they couldn't refuse. Pick 12 and Perkins for Marcin Gortat. The Thunder have been looking for an upgrade at center for a good long while, and Gortat provides that upgrade. Dave King of Bright Side of the Sun gave me a really solid maybe, and also offered to tack on Jared Dudley if we offered up Jeremy Lamb. After consulting with our writers, I ended up nixing the second part of the deal, because we all wanted to see how Lamb would develop.
Sadly, Dave came back saying that he really didn't like Perk's contract, and that he wanted to increase what he would get back on his end. The new offer was Perkins, #12, and Lamb for Gortat and Pick 30. I consulted with our writers again, and the response was overwhelmingly negative. I agreed, basically telling Dave that taking this trade would constitute trading James Harden for Gortat and two end of first round picks (#30 this year and PJIII), so I rejected the offer.
Dave responded with another solid "maybe" on the original deal. I asked if the Dudley for Lamb swap would help swing things in another direction, and he responded with another solid maybe. I decided to wait the thing out, and he eventually ended up trading Marcin Gortat to the Trail Blazers for pick 10, straight up. There wasn't much we could have done to beat the offer, so I couldn't really blame Dave for taking it. Dave was still interested in pick 12, offering Dudley and Shannon Brown or Hamed Haddadi for it and Perk, but I politely refused. A solid center is harder to get than you'd think.
Some Other Offers
There were a few other offers that I kicked around for the 12th pick, but none of them ended up working out.
One of them was a discussion with Steve Perrin of ClipsNation, who was shopping Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe is a really solid backup point guard who I think would work well in tandem with Reggie Jackson, allowing Jackson to work as a scorer off the ball. I offered Steve the package of Perkins and Pick 12 for Bledsoe, but he didn't seem that interested. I got the impression that he kept it around as a backup offer, but never really intended on executing it unless he absolutely had to. Again, Perk's contract doesn't excite a lot of people. Eventually, he said that he got a better offer and would do the deal if I added in Thabo, but there was no way that was going to happen.
Another discussion I had was with Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers. He was really interested in moving Thaddeus Young. Young has the potential to provide some serious scoring support on the bench, but the price Michael gave was just way too high. He would only take Perk if we sweetened the offer substantially, and even without Perk, he wanted Perry Jones, Thabo Sefolosha, Hasheem Thabeet, and Pick 12 for Thaddeus Young and Pick 42. Individually, those players aren't a lot, but it would make us way too thin at center. So I rejected the deal (but forgot to respond via email- sorry Mike!).
Making the Pick
So basically, long story short, there simply wasn't a deal out there for the Thunder. Sure, I could have contacted a few more teams about offers. But the simple truth is that the Thunder are looking for an immediate impact, and not a lot of teams are looking to enter this draft. It's true that the value of an end of lottery pick is around the same that it always is, because this draft has a lot of mid-level talent, but the public perception is that there's not a whole lot of reason to get excited.
Thus, I woke up one morning faced with the reality of actually selecting a pick, rather than dishing it off for a known quantity. When I was put on the clock, here's how the draft had gone thus far.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: NERLENS NOEL
2. Orlando Magic BEN MCLEMORE
3. Washington Wizards OTTO PORTER
4. Charlotte Hornets ALEX LEN
5. Phoenix Suns VICTOR OLADIPO
6. New Orleans Pelicans TREY BURKE
7. Sacramento Kings ANTHONY BENNETT (for Philly)
8. Detroit Pistons C.J. MCCOLLUM
9. Minnesota Timberwolves KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE
10. Portland Trail Blazers RUDY GOBERT (for Phoenix)
11. Philadelphia 76ers MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS (For Sacramento)
In short: All of the guards were gone. Even though we were looking at somebody who might be able to create his own shot, it just wouldn't make sense to reach for a guard with the 12th pick. The best we could hope for are guys like Sergey Kasarev, Dennis Schroeder, and Shane Larkin. All of them seem destined for careers as role players.
Thus, I had to face my fears. It made the most sense to draft a big man. We all know what happened the last time we drafted a big man at the end of the lottery. We got some guy named Cole Aldrich. He never really played, and never really showed any potential. My most prominent memory of Aldrich is watching him brick skyhooks in the Summer League. Eventually, after two years of sitting on the bench, Aldrich would be dealt as salary filler in the James Harden trade. He was later dumped onto the Kings, who will probably let him walk in free agency this year. Basically, after three years, his NBA Career is all but over.
Now, I'm in the GM Chair, and I'm facing an opportunity to redeem the Thunder from their mistakes, while also facing the pressure of avoiding a repeat affair.
I went to my panel of experts to get their quick take on things before I made a final decision.
"Ugh, I think Zeller is the smart choice over Adams, but, I dunno, seems EXACTLY like some of the others the Thunder have wiffed on in the past and I kinda got sold on Adams when I was researching him. Up to you."
"I go Gorgui Dieng. Pairing him with Ibaka gives them a pretty insane defensive front court."
"I like Adams, but that's just because I really dig Kiwi's. Safe pick is probably Zeller."
All of them had valid points. The way I saw it, two higher-level talents had dropped below where they should have: Cody Zeller and Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad is a really exciting player, but he basically fills the same position as Perry Jones, and he has a huge potential of busting. He just wasn't worth the risk at #12.
Cody Zeller, on the other hand, is a pretty darned sure thing. Being a tall white center from the midwest with a lot of similar attributes to Cole Aldrich was definitely scary to look at. But it's obvious that Zeller has a better touch around the basket and sense of where to be on the court. Basically, he looks to me like the second coming of Nick Collison. Not somebody who's ever going to be an All-Star or blow your mind, but somebody who's going to be a solid contributor for many years to come.
It kind of sucks to settle for a low ceiling, so I looked at other options. Like Craig and J.A. mentioned, the other two guys to look at were Gorgui Dieng and Steven Adams. Dieng is a defensive monster, and has a decent shooting touch for his size. The only problem is his total lack of offensive skill at such an advanced age. But, I have to admit, it would be nice to have someone who could defend better than playoff Perkins. Adams is somebody who was listed as a top of the lotto prospect going into this season, billed as the best Kiwi player since international phenom Kirk Penney. The knock on him is that he's still really raw, and will need a few years to develop. Outside of those two, the best prospect would probably be Kelly Olynyk, out of Gonzaga. He's got an excellent array of offensive post moves and a decent shot, but there's lots of questions as to whether he could make the transition to the next level.
At the end of the day, I liked Dieng and Adams more than I liked Zeller. But I also had to look at market value. If I drafted one of those two, I'd be letting a prime prospect slip to a team one or two picks down the line, and I'd be stuck with who I had. If I drafted Zeller, it would put me in the driver's seat in terms of negotiations. I could use him as bait for the teams that drafted Dieng or Adams, and potentially get a bonus out of that deal. The absolute worst case scenario is that I'd be stuck with Zeller, and have to deal with having a backup big that's a lot more reliable than Thabeet. I could live with that.
Stay tuned to see whether anything came of the trade negotiations, and who we selected with the 29th pick!