Monday night, the Thunder were throttled by the Golden State Warriors in a battle of potential West superpowers, but it was hardly the only story of the night. Prior to the game, reports started coming out that the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers, and New York Knicks were involved in a 3 team trade involving Reggie Jackson to New York and Dion Waiters to OKC. Later reports suggested that Reggie Jackson was not involved in the deal and was not headed anywhere, for now. While the trade was received with a mostly positive reaction from Thunder fans, it leaves more questions than answers.
To begin with...
Who Is Dion Waiters?
Dion Waiters is a 3rd year combo-guard out of Syracuse that was drafted 4th overall in 2012 by the Cleveland Cavaliers. During his rookie season, Waiters averaged 14.7 points per game to go along with 3 assists and 2.4 rebounds, on his way to an NBA All-Rookie FIrst Team selection. In 2013-14, Waiters improved to nearly 16 points per game, but reports came out early last season that he was clashing with star point guard, Kyrie Irving. This conflict was likely the beginning of the end for Waiters. After the acquisition of LeBron James this summer, Waiters was on the record stating that he did not want to come off the bench. Will his attitude change in OKC? This year in 33 games, including 3 as a starter, Waiters was averaging 10.5 points per game. His stats certainly dropped off this year, which is somewhat understandable with LeBron and Kevin Love coming on board. Reports came out today via Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio that when approached by Coach David Blatt about becoming more of a spot-up shooter, he resisted. The report also states that Waiters believes he's better than Irving and that Irving was "favored by the Cavs organization."
How will Waiters fit?
Waiters' history shows that he has a lot of the same personality quirks of Reggie Jackson. Only time will tell how this changes in Oklahoma City, but we have to believe that Sam Presti has done his homework on the guy and how he'll affect the locker room in OKC.
As for the basketball aspect of it, the move was about getting another scorer/shot creator to come off the bench with Reggie Jackson. Oklahoma City got a good look at what Waiters can bring last season, when he erupted for 30 points against the Thunder.
As you can see, he's a pretty versatile offensive weapon that can score in a variety of ways. He will mostly be used as a backup shooting guard, likely pushing Anthony Morrow to the Small Forward, and Jeremy Lamb completely out of the rotation.
It will be interesting to see if Westbrook, Jackson, Waiters, and Durant ever see the court together, though it is unlikely in part becauseWestbrook, Jackson, and Waiters all struggle in the same area of perimeter shot-making. Waiters is a career 33% 3 point shooter, which is about on par with Westbrook and Jackson.
The future implications of this trade are the most fascinating part. The trade for Waiters, without giving up anything of value (they didn't have a roster spot for a first round pick next year), was a steal, but creates a potential logjam at the shooting guard. The Thunder now have 4 players who are listed as 2 guards. Of those 4 shooting guards, the two with the most similar games are Jeremy Lamb and Dion Waiters, another sign of Lamb's potential departure.
Another interesting aspect of this trade is that the Thunder used a trade exception created by signing-and-trading Thabo Sefolosha this summer. A trade exception allows you to take in more salary than you give out, but it does not have an impact on your salary cap situation.
Lastly, this is the first time in its history that OKC is going to be potentially over the luxury tax. Per Jon Hamm of The Oklahoman, the Thunder are $2.3 million over the tax line, this would result in paying about $3.5 million in luxury tax, unless they get back below the tax line before the trade deadline. Jeremy Lamb's 2014 salary is approximately $2.2 million and Reggie Jackson's is $2.3 million. Trading one or the other for a future draft pick or two would eliminate or almost eliminate any tax bill. Given the duplication of personnel, this move makes Reggie Jackson somewhat expendable as well and certainly gives OKC more leverage in contract negotiations.
The on-court product by adding Waiters should be interesting, but the long-term aspect will be even more fascinating.