Grantland.com's Zach Lowe recently posted a list of 32 predictions for this upcoming season, and one of his predictions featured the Thunder making an unexpected trade this season. This is how Lowe sees the decision tree progressing:
1. The Thunder put out feelers on Kendrick Perkins, hoping to dump him for a slightly more useful player, using their first-round pick as bait. If the Thunder could dump Perkins to a team with lots of cap room - Phoenix or Philly, basically - that might unlock the midsize trade exception the Thunder received in the Kevin Martin sign-and-trade.
2. Finding no takers, the Thunder add Jeremy Lamb or some other young asset to the Perk platter.
3. Finding no takers, the Thunder switch gears, come to grips with the fact that Perkins is theirs for the long haul, and try to cobble together enough salary to snag a midlevel wing type such as Lou Williams.
Certainly, the Thunder can do with an upgrade to their roster. Reggie Jackson seems to be in line for a breakout season, and Jeremy Lamb should be mostly fine even if he struggles with things like consistency in his first stint in a NBA rotation. However, Kevin Martin walked this summer and nobody of note was signed to replace him. There is an uneasiness in the air for the Thunder, even if they've generally done well relying on player development thus far.
Obviously, Perkins is going to be the guy the Thunder look to dump. After hard (and often illegal) screens, decent post defense and a general tough-guy attitude, he doesn't offer much on the court. That's not a skillset any team would want for about $9 million for each of the next two seasons, much less a contending team like the Thunder. Of course, that goes both ways and trading him could prove difficult. Even throwing in their first-round pick will only do so much when it's a pick that'll likely fall into the mid-20s.
Philadelphia could definitely entertain taking on Perkins with the pick packaged. They're below the salary floor for this season, and while the "punishment" for not reaching the salary floor is simply to pay the difference to the current players on the roster, it wouldn't set them back by much to take on Perkins. With rookie center Nerlens Noel out for the season and current starter Spencer Hawes expiring after this season, Perk can at least act as a stopgap until his contract expires after next season. Meanwhile, the pick gives them another asset to use while they rebuild. It's hard to be optimistic about much of a return for such a package, though.
Lowe's suggestion of adding on a young asset might help a bit. When Russell Westbrook gets healthy and Reggie Jackson gets pushed back to the bench, Lamb becomes a potential trade asset if Sam Presti becomes desperate. The 12th overall pick just last year, Lamb should have some solid trade value. The Thunder's other options include Perry Jones (though his trade value is significantly lower than Lamb's) or this year's 12th overall pick, Steven Adams (unlikely he'll be traded so soon, but they were shopping the pick before they drafted him).
Phoenix's Marcin Gortat or Houston's Omer Asik (most likely through a three-team trade) may be in play for the Thunder if they wanted an upgrade at center. If Washington or New Orleans panic in their hunt for a lower playoff seed and look to quickly add center depth (the Wiz already employ Nene and Emeka Okafor, but both have struggled with injuries recently including an ongoing neck issue for the latter), the Thunder may be able to snag something from them.
Lowe also raises the prospect of trading the Mavericks' first round pick from the Harden trade or Serge Ibaka for LaMarcus Aldridge, but both of these seem unlikely. Sam Presti has generally liked to keep flexibility through his draft picks, and that Dallas pick could become very nice in a few years. Ibaka is more vital to what the Thunder do now as the anchor for their defense, and he's become an extremely polished offensive player compared to what he was just a few years ago when he was drafted. It's hard to imagine that the Thunder would trade the 24-year old Ibaka for 28-year old LaMarcus Aldridge, who's being paid more and expires after next season.
Of course, desperation can be a powerful motivator. Early struggles without Westbrook may prompt Presti into action. Their salary figures look awfully unfriendly even a few years down the road, and if Presti gets worried about being able to compliment Durant and Westbrook adequately any time soon, he might pull the trigger on a big trade. Trading that pick would purely be a 'win now' move, and Aldridge is a significantly more skilled offensive player than Ibaka who might help them both now in the short term as well as give them some more cap flexibility when he comes off the books (two seasons sooner than Ibaka).
Zach Lowe predicted the trade market to be much more active overall this season than last year. There are a lot of moving parts, including possibly better trading options than what the Thunder have to offer, but there certainly are reasons for the Thunder to consider joining the party. As the season unfurls and especially during the early portion without Westbrook, this could be an interesting subplot to watch.