(Update1: Shortly after this post went live, the story broke that Courtney Lee was traded to the Charlotte Hornets, according to Yahoo! reporter Adrian Wojnarowski)
With the NBA All-Star Weekend coming to an end, it's now time for the annual week of trade rumors. History shows that a possible trade deadline deal is on the horizon for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder have made a move at the trade deadline or immediately following it via signing a waived player or free agent in each of the past five seasons.
OKC Past Moves on Trade Deadline (Starting with the Most Recent)
- 2015: On Feb. 19th, OKC dealt Reggie Jackson to the Detroit Pistons and Kendrick Perkins to the Utah Jazz. In return, OKC picked up Enes Kanter and Steve Novak from the Jazz, and D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler from the Pistons.
- 2014: On March 1st, OKC signed Caron Butler, who had been waived by the Milwaukee Bucks.
- 2013: On Feb. 25th, OKC signed Derek Fisher as a free agent.
- 2012: On March 21st, OKC signed Derek Fisher as a free agent.
- 2011: On Feb. 24th, OKC sent Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins.
After a slow start and adjusting to new head coach Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City has rattled off 33 wins in its last 41 games, cementing itself as one of the elite teams in the NBA. . With past trade deadline moves yielding varied results, do the Thunder necessarily need to make a move before the trade deadline?
What Does OKC Need?
The Thunder needs the much-coveted two-way guard/small forward, one who can specifically provide 3-point shooting and sound defense. A combination of Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters, if you will. Teams aren't giving up these players easily.
The ideal player for Oklahoma City is a wing that can do it on both ends of the floor. The Thunder know Anthony Morrow can't defend. They know Andre Roberson can't make a consistent jump shot to save his life, and they know that Waiters is Waiters. With the coveted two-way players available on the trade landscape, does OKC have the assets to satisfy that need?
What OKC Has to Offer
1. Future first-round and second-round picks
The Thunder don't have any future first round picks to offer in 2016 because the Philadelphia 76ers have the Thunder's first-round pick. It's protected 1-15, but it's unlikely the Thunder finish in the bottom 15. If Philly gets OKC's first-rounder this year, the Thunder would have a 2017 first-round pick, but... it can't be traded due to a rule which prohibits teams from trading future first-round picks in back-to-back seasons.
As part of the Kanter deal, the Thunder owes Utah its 2018 first-round pick, unless it lands in the lottery (1-15), in which the pick would carry over to 2019 then 2020. Once again, this scenario is unlikely. But if a first-rounder doesn't go to Utah in those years, the Thunder gives up a second-rounder in 2020 and 2021.
2. Trade Exceptions
The Thunder have four trade exceptions at their disposal. Two of them ($2.2 million from Reggie Jackson trade; $861,405 from Ish Smith trade) are set to expire on Tuesday (Feb. 16). The other two ($2.75 million from non-guaranteed contract of Luke Ridnour; $2.03 million from Perry Jones trade) will expire on June 30 and July 30 (exactly a year following the date of attainment).
Trade exceptions allow the Thunder to trade for a player/players for up to the amount of the exception without having to send back that exact salary in the deal, as long as the player's salary fits within the amount of the exception. However, you cannot combine a trade exception with a player's salary to acquire a more expensive player.
The Thunder have let trade exceptions expire in the past, so there's no guarantee they will be used, but don't forget that OKC does have these assets in their back pockets.
3. Young Prospects
Alex Abrines, G, FC Barcelona: At 6-foot-6, the 22-year-old Spaniard is averaging 9.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game for FC Barcelona. The Thunder is thought to be high on Abrines, who was their second round pick back in 2013.
Mitch McGary, F, Oklahoma City Thunder: McGary is a young, promising big-man. He brings a nice energy to the Thunder, but he still has some time to go before he deserves some playing time. He has the talent and played in stretches last season where he was good, but there were times where he looked like the worst defender on the court. What's next for second-year forward McGary? The Thunder have one of the deepest frontcourts in the NBA, so McGary will continue to have limited playing time (barring injuries or trades). Therefore, McGary seems to be one of the Thunder's more intriguing trade pieces.
Cameron Payne, G, Oklahoma City Thunder: Although Payne would be the most desired of the young prospects, it's unlikely the rookie will be moved since he's firmly established as the No. 2 point guard.
4. Expiring Contracts
The Thunder have a few expiring contracts. One being Kevin Durant's, who won't be traded. The Thunder have traded players with expiring contracts in the past before they reach restricted free agency (ex. Jeff Green, James Harden and Reggie Jackson). The Thunder have three other players in the final year of their deals, which will expire after this season. D.J. Augustin ($3 million), Steve Novak ($3.75 million), and Dion Waiters ($5.1 million)
The thing is, expiring contracts aren't valued as much around the league as they used to be. Because of the new TV deal, every team will have so much more cap room in the very near future. With the extraordinary inflow of money coming to the NBA via a $9 billion TV deal, the current salary cap of $70 million is expected to increase to $90 million in 2016 and $108 million in 2017.
D.J. Augustin, G, Oklahoma City Thunder: Augustin may have lost his back up position to the rookie Payne, but there are still some teams who could use the veteran point guard.
Steve Novak, F, Oklahoma City Thunder: Novak is another veteran on the Thunder's bench who could be used as a trade chip. He's still a great shooter who led the NBA in 3-point percentage a few years ago.
Dion Waiters, G, Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder were in talks with Waiters over the summer about getting a deal done, but nothing was finalized before the Nov. 2nd deadline to extend rookie scale contract players. But like Kanter in the previous summer, the Thunder can match any offer for Waiters in free agency.
Not as many players cause as much anxiety to Thunder fans as much as Waiters does. The fourth-year player, who was drafted fourth overall in 2012, embodies the very meaning of "inconsistent."
He's the kind of player who can go off for 25 points on 7-10, including 4-5 from three (as he did against the Washington Wizards on November 10, 2015). But he's also the kind of player who can score just 1 point in 31 minutes on 0-7 shooting (as he did against the Atlanta Hawks on November 30, 2015).
A lot of his inefficiency is blamed on mid-range jumpers, mostly from step-back jumpers. But in his previous 10 games, Waiters averaged 10.9 points per game shooting 42.4 from the field and 41.5 from three-point range.
It doesn't seem the Thunder will get a valuable player by just trading Waiters, who hasn't upgraded his trade stock this season and OKC will need to package him with someone like Augustin, McGary, Kyle Singler and/or a couple of second round picks to gain some value.
Who Should OKC Pursue?
Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Russell Westbrook are untouchable, and it'd be a tall order to get a taker for Enes Kanter's monstrous deal right now. Before the season, maybe Denver's Will Barton or Orlando's Evan Fournier would've been a perfect fit, but those ships have sailed. Barton and Fournier have proven to be key pieces to their existing teams, and they would be reluctant to trade them.
Kanter cannot be traded anyways without his permission for one year, and he cannot be traded to Portland, due to a clause called a "matched offer sheet restriction." This was triggered when the Blazers originally signed Kanter to a max offer sheet, and OKC then matched it to retain the big man. Kanter seems to be a huge part of the Thunder's success, and is another player that shouldn't be dealt.
The Thunder might have to settle for two-way players who play for teams that have "thrown in the towel." Here are some of those teams that could be willing to trade with OKC.
Trevor Ariza, G/F, Houston Rockets: Ariza might be the perfect player the Thunder need to get over the championship hump. It has been reported that Houston has been shopping around Dwight Howard, so maybe they are willing to shop around other players as well. The Rockets are 27-28 at the break in the No. 9 spot in the West and are only half a game out of the playoffs. Regardless of still being in the playoff hunt, this has been a disappointing season for Houston, who were in the Western Conference Championship round a year ago. Are the Rockets standing strong, or are they selling? Ariza fits the profile as a swift 6-foot-8 player who can defend and hit 3-pointers. This season he's averaging 12.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. On a side note, Thunder general manager Sam Presti and Houston GM Daryl Morey have done business before.
Jerryd Bayless, G, Milwaukee Bucks: Bayless isn't a great defender, but he's been good from 3-point range this season (43.6 percent, fifth in NBA). The 27-year-old is making $3 million this year, and he's averaging 10.5 points and 3.4 assists per game. Also, the Bucks are 13th in the Eastern Conference at 22-32 and are likely out of playoff contention.
Robert Covington, F, Philadelphia 76ers: Covington is a legitimate wing who can defend, rebound and score the basketball. He's averaging 11.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. In the 76ers previous game against the Sacramento Kings, Covington scored a career-high 29 points (7-11 from 3-point range) and had 6 steals. With three years left in his contract, Covington is only making $1 million this season and could be had with one of the Thunder's trade exceptions.
Jared Dudley, G/F, Washington Wizards: Dudley is in the final year of his contract on a $4.25 million deal. Dudley, 30, is third in the NBA in 3-point percentage (46.6) on a discouraging Wizards team. He's averaging 8.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. The Wizards are 10th in the Eastern Conference at 23-28 (three games behind eight-seed) and are another team who are likely out of playoff contention.
Courtney Lee, G, Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis is fifth in the West, but will be without its superstar center Marc Gasol, who is out indefinitely with a broken right foot. Therefore, the Grizzlies could be sellers. Lee, 30, fits with his size (6-foot-5) and seems to be the ideal candidate. He's averaging 10 points per game with shooting splits of 45.8/37/82.6. He's a good defender from a good defensive culture and an excellent 3-point shooter. Exactly what the Thunder need.
Gary Neal, G, Washington Wizards: Is set to make $2.1 million in the last year of his deal, and he's another player who could be had with only a trade exception. He's averaging 9.8 points per game in 20.2 minutes on 46.5/41/85.5 shooting splits.
P.J. Tucker, G/F, Phoenix Suns: Tucker, 30, is a former Texas Longhorn (like Durant and Augustin) who can defend guards and forwards with his size (6-foot-6, 245 pounds). He averages 7.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. However, he's not the most ideal 3-point shooter (34.6 percent) and doesn't even average one attempt per game (0.8). He's still a solid wing who can defend, rebound and find other means to score. The Suns are 14th in the Western Conference and are one of the teams who have hit the "tank" button.
Although some of these players aren't the most ideal for Thunder fans, Oklahoma City doesn't have the assets to get whoever they want. If the Thunder do make a trade, it will probably be on a lower exception level from what Thunder fans are hoping for. Bottom line, the Thunder aren't the only team looking for two-way players, which makes it that much harder to acquire one. In the end, Presti might elect to roll with what they have, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Chad Waters is a senior at Oklahoma State University majoring in Multimedia Journalism. He enjoys breaking down and watching the NBA. This is his inaugural column at WTLC.