Happy trade deadline day everyone!
So far, there’s been zero movement within the Thunder organization, but don’t be surprised if Sam Presti makes a move for the 6th year in a row, whether it’s a player acquired before the trade deadline or picked up from the waivers afterward.
There’s been some talk from Thunder fans that a big trade needs to happen. This wouldn’t be the case for most teams who have hit the 40-win mark before the All-Star break. But there are two teams with better records who happen to be in the same conference and who also have been historically dominant.
Still the Thunder seems to be the Spurs' Achilles heel. OKC matches up well with San Antonio at every position and are a much more athletic team. The Warriors on the other hand present several problems for the Thunder. Their passing/spacing, small ball lineups and great 3-point shooting gives the Thunder’s perimeter defense some difficulties.
Is there a realistic trade the Thunder can make that would jump them ahead of the Warriors? Probably not. Something along the lines of what former Celtics coach Rick Pitino would say, "LeBron James isn’t walking through that door." The Warriors have caused teams to reconsider their status and possibly make some changes to play catchup. The truth is, that’s not going to happen, but even if it could the Thunder don’t have enough assets to make those changes.
The Thunder are still one of the few teams who can live with what they have and still compete with the Warriors, which is saying a lot. I mean, Golden State is on pace to become the best regular season team of all-time. Oklahoma City’s roster, while still flawed in some ways, has as much talent as any in the league with two of the top five players in the world, which can go a long ways.
Still some small, more reasonable trades can be made to upgrade the bench, so for the heck of it let’s look at some more possible targets for the Thunder.
More Possible Trade Options for OKC
1. Kent Bazemore, G/F, Atlanta Hawks
There were some rumblings yesterday that the Thunder were looking to acquire Bazemore, but those rumors died down quickly. Still, the Hawks are reportedly one of the teams looking to make some moves before the deadline, whether it’s Bazemore, Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap or Jeff Teague. Although Bazemore has been struggling over the past month, he’s been trending upward over the past four games, averaging 13.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
2. Ben McLemore, G, Sacramento Kings
With the circus show that has been the Sacramento Kings this season, the trade talks have been red hot lately. I mean, just recently, King’s general manager Vlade Divac has reportedly become overwhelmed with his additional GM duties…yikes. Although the Kings may be looking to trade some pieces, trading for McLemore would be like the Dion Waiters experiment last season. Waiters hasn’t lived up to his No. 4 draft selection back in 2012 and same goes for McLemore who was drafted at No. 7 a year after Waiters. This season McLemore’s averaging a career-low in points (7.7) and rebounds (2.1), but he’s averaging a career-high in field-goal percentage (45.1) and 3-points percentage (37.2).
McLemore would fall in line as a salvage project. He came into the league expected to be one of the much-coveted two-way wing players. Unfortunately, he has been inconsistent on both ends of the floor. However, if Waiters is traded before the deadline or isn’t traded and chooses not to re-sign with the Thunder then McLemore could be a good replacement. He’s younger than Waiters and still has some potential.
3. Victor Oladipo, G, Orlando Magic
Oladipo has two years left on his contract and with Orlando acquiring Brandon Jennings yesterday, Oladipo’s time with the Magic seems all but done. He has taken a dip in stats this season, going from 17.9 points per game to 14.3, although he is playing less minutes and shooting 2.6 less shots this season. The Magic traded with the 76ers back in the 2014 draft to acquire point guard Elfrid Payton last year, so with five guards fighting for playing time Orlando could be shopping Oladipo around. He could help with the much needed shooting guard position for the Thunder, but it would likely require OKC to give up too much (like Serge Ibaka). However, I like Oladipo if he can be traded for without a block buster deal (not likely). He’s a more athletic Waiters with more upside.
4. Mirza Teletovic, F, Phoenix Suns
The Suns are looking ahead to the lottery and are a team that might be having a fire sale to build for next season. Teletovic is only averaging 18.3 minutes a game this season, but he’s still averaging 10 points and 3 rebounds per game. He’s a good 3-point shooter (40.5 percent) who you can play at the 3 in a small ball lineup, with Kevin Durant at the 4 and Serge/Steven Adams/Enes Kanter at the 5. His defense may be no where near P.J. Tucker’s but the 3-point shot is there, which would help tremendously with the Thunder’s spacing.
5. P.J. Tucker, F, Phoenix Suns
Now I know that I mentioned Tucker in my previous column, but dammit I love me some P.J. Tucker. His play always seems to improve when he’s up against the better wings in the NBA, such as Durant. I think playing on a contending team would help with his already strong demeanor. He’s a physical player who can play at the 3 in a small ball lineup and give you both sound defense and better scoring than Andre Roberson.
Possible Moves After the Trade Deadline for OKC
One of the players most likely to be traded by the Thunder is Steve Novak. If the Thunder trade Novak and his $3.7 million salary then it saves OKC $8,362,500 off their tax bill, which adds up to a total of $12 million the Thunder could save, according to Royce Young:
Of note: If the Thunder trade Steve Novak's $3.7m expiring deal into someone's cap space, it saves them $8,362,500 off their tax bill.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) February 17, 2016
So add his $3.7m salary on top of $8.3m in tax savings and that's $12 million the Thunder could save. Seems like something sensible to do.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) February 17, 2016
I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t think Novak’s worth that much. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great locker room guy who you want on your bench but not for what the bill adds up to. Novak seems almost guaranteed to be moved by deadline as there are several teams who are under the cap that can absorb his contract (Philadelphia, Portland). If Novak is traded then that would open a roster spot, giving the Thunder the opportunity to pursue any available buyout candidates or free agents, as they have in the past (ex. Caron Butler, Derek Fisher).
So the Thunder will keep an eye out for any buy out opportunities for players such as Joe Johnson or Kevin Martin.
1. Joe Johnson, G/F, Brooklyn Nets
Another team that is having some internal issues this season is the Brooklyn Nets, who currently don’t have a general manager. This would make it difficult to make any trades or add any assets before the trade deadline. For the Thunder to have a chance to acquire Johnson the Nets would have to buyout his hefty $25-million-dollar contract. This would give Johnson the opportunity to sign with a contender such as the Thunder. Despite putting up some of the worst numbers of his career (11.5 points per game on 40 percent shooting), Johnson can still help a contending team with some veteran scoring and big-time shot making ability. He still leads the NBA in most buzzer-beating shots in the last 10 years with seven. Regardless of his age and career-low numbers, this move would still improve the team’s talent and add veteran leadership like Caron Butler and Derek Fisher have done in the past.
2. Kevin Martin, G, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kevin Martin is a name Thunder fans are familiar with as he was acquired as a part of the James Harden trade back in 2012. Martin is another player that is likely to be bought out by his team if he’s not traded by today’s deadline. He’s averaging 11.9 points in 22.6 minutes played per game. He’s missed the past nine games due to a right wrist injury, but he's expected to play on Friday. Although Thunder fans have been through the Martin journey before, this could be done to add some scoring to the bench. Along with Johnson this would be a low-risk possible high reward move, with the right price.
Trades that Could/Would be a Disaster for OKC
1. Trading Serge Ibaka
Trading Ibaka this season is highly unlikely. He’s been a core piece from the beginning right behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But while Durant and Westbrook have expanded their games, Ibaka, has sort of stayed put. Ibaka’s scoring and rebounding numbers may be down this season, but OKC’s still averaging second-best in scoring (110.1) and rebounding (47.7).
A team with Adams, Durant, Kanter and Westbrook don’t need more scorers or rebounders. They needs shooters, screen setters and ball movers. Ibaka provides two of those among other things. He has a solid mid-range game and has a good pick-and-pop game with Westbrook.
The Thunder are 13th in most points given up per game (101.9), so if you think the Thunder’s defense is bad with Ibaka, think about how bad it would be without him…no thanks.
There are plenty of players who just block shots but aren’t all-around defenders, but Ibaka isn’t one of them. He has the ability to stay with and contain smaller guards on switches and is an elite rim protector. When it comes to guarding multiple positions, he’s a poor mans Draymond Green, but still 3 inches taller. What more could you ask of your big-man?
When it comes to playing against a team such as Golden State, which plays smaller and spaces out the floor with its shooters, Ibaka is still someone who can be used against that lineup. Heck, I’d even say he’s one of the few players who can actually give his team an advantage against it, especially at his position.
It probably won’t happen this season or the next, but Ibaka’s $12.25-million-dollar salary may be useful if a blockbuster deal pops up. But only if a reasonable deal becomes available, and only then would the Thunder think long and hard about trading Ibaka. On another note: I don’t think breaking up the core by trading Ibaka, especially on Durant’s contract year is a wise decision.
Let's just ask Ibaka.
2. Trading D.J. Augustin
The Thunder are in a bit of a strange situation with D.J. Augustin. His $3-million-dollar salary and being a veteran point guard may be useful in a trade, but the Thunder have a thing about always having at least three point guards on the roster.
Trading Augustin and leaving Payne as the only backup point guard could be a risk. If they trade Augustin that would leave the Thunder an injury away from having one point guard on the roster, and OKC would have to go into the postseason with the rookie point guard. I’m not saying the Payne couldn’t handle it. He’s been a big help in getting the second-unit more involved offensively, but he’s had his "rookie moments" as every rookie does. Against the Warriors he looked skittish at times and rightfully so, it was the biggest game of his career, thus far. He will have plenty of primetime regular season games to get the hang of things, but as we all know, the playoffs are a different breed.
Of course, to avoid this scenario, the Thunder could bring in another point guard. Although this works, bringing in another point guard like a Darren Collison would most likely take away Payne’s minutes and give him the Mitch McGary treatment, as in a player who is a young, promising prospect but has zero chance of playing because of the depth in front of them. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Collison has another year left on his contract, so trading for another point guard, like Collison, who has multiple years left on contract, could hurt Payne’s chances to develop tremendously. The only reasonable point guard I can see the Thunder bringing in is a veteran like Gary Neal, who is on the final year of his contract.
However, as a rookie, Payne has shown a lot this season and the Thunder seem to like him a lot, therefore, I don’t see something like this happening.
3. Trading Dion Waiters
I know this sounds ludicrous, but hear me out. By no means would this be a "disaster." But why not keep your 6th man who’s on a contract year for once? The Thunder have gotten rid of several players on contract years who contributed in the past and didn’t let them play the season out. Now of course one exception is if you were able to get a better and more consistent player for Waiters, but that is highly unlikely because of Waiter’s trade value.
However, this is still an important year for Waiters. He’s on a contract year meaning he needs to improve his value, which he still has plenty of opportunities in the tough remaining schedule and playoffs to do so. He just needs to show he can become a solid role player and mesh with better players such as Durant and Westbrook. I understand he hasn’t necessarily fit that role yet, but I think Presti should stick with him for the rest of the season. He’s never been in the playoffs or even played for a contending team. I’d like to see how he plays in big games. I say give him a chance to do so.
If No Moves Are Made, All is Good
I don’t think there are any realistic block buster trades the Thunder can make this trade deadline. Last year was the time Presti really needed to make a move with the Durant injury and the Reggie Jackson situation.
If the Thunder don’t make a move today, then there needs to be two areas of improvement. 1) Better defense and 2) the Thunder need a consistent third scorer whether it’s Ibaka and/or Kanter one night or Waiters another night.
It’s presumed that the Thunder aren’t quite good enough to overthrow the Warriors, so they need to make a bold move to improve the roster and close the gap because it’s Durant’s contract year. But there are other means to keep Durant satisfied.
A deep run in the playoffs or a championship this season is the best recruiting tool for Durant. But also keeping this young core together built around two superstars is another important thing that shows Durant that this team is serious about winning a championship. And despite what the Spurs and Warriors are doing, the Thunder are still a title contender this season with what they have.