The NBA trade deadline is Thursday, Feb. 8th at 3 PM EST. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, the Thunder need to make a move at the deadline to improve their chances of making a deep run in the playoffs as well as show to Paul George they’re willing to go all in on pursuing a championship as long as he’s in OKC. With Andre Roberson’s injury and the Thunder’s defensive struggles in his absence, improvement has become even more critical. A first round exit can’t be the outcome of this season.
The Thunder don’t have much to trade; Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson, and Josh Huestis are their most interesting prospects, and OKC can’t trade a first round pick until 2022 unless it has some very odd protections on it.
The challenge is steep. But last year, Sam Presti managed to turn Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow,and Joffrey Lauvergne into Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a second round pick. That may not be quite be turning straw into gold, but it’s at least turning straw into some very nice sweaters. Presti will once again try to make something out of nothing this year.
With that in mind, here are some names to keep an eye on over the next two days:
RK and I both advocated for this move in the past couple days; read both posts (especially his). Long story short — Allen is more or less an Andre clone (or is Dre an Allen clone?), except TA is much older. Even if Allen’s best days are behind him, he’s a smart defender who could return some much needed punch to OKC’s struggling defense, especially when they start losing shooters on the perimeter.
Allen is probably going to be released by the Bulls, which would allow the Thunder to simply sign him rather than give up assets to make a trade. That won’t happen until after the deadline, so be on the lookout for that in the days following Thursday; it also means the Thunder can look to make another trade in addition to targeting Allen, since they shouldn’t have to give anything up to get him.
Speaking of Roberson clones, the Celtics have reportedly made Smart available for a first round pick, which they hope to turn into Tyreke Evans or Lou Williams. Smart would be a great Roberson replacement this year defensively, although as a side note, The Celtics have an identical defensive rating with Smart on or off the court. Given that the Celtics have the best defense in the NBA, that seems more like a testament to the team’s defense and Brad Stevens work as a coach than any sort of mark against Smart, but it’s something to keep in mind. Roberson, famously, was the difference between the Thunder being a bottom of the league defense whenever he sat and the best defense in the league when he played (Side note to this side note: I miss Andre).
Offensively, Smart is...also not great, but at least you can’t hack him likes Robes- Smart makes 73% of his free throws. He’s also on the perfect contract for the Thunder’s uncertain future — Smart’s contract is up this year but he’s a Restricted Free Agent, meaning if the Thunder acquire him, they could match any contract he’s offered. If Paul George walks, you can re-sign Smart and hope he grows into your third star; if PG returns on a max deal and you can’t afford to pay Smart, you let him walk.
If Smart was actually attainable, he’d be my favorite target on this list- alas, I don’t see it happening. The Thunder simply don’t have the assets- 2022 is too far away for the Celtics to really be interested in the pick, and it sounds like Boston only want to move Smart as a way of getting to Evans or Williams, so they won’t be interested in taking back any Thunder prospects. If Presti can make this happen though, you’ll have the perfect Roberson fill in.
Hood is also set to be a restricted free agent this season, and the Jazz apparently do not want to pay his next contract- his name has been popping up in trade talks all month. Unlike Smart, with Hood you’re not trying to replicate Roberson’s defense but instead hope that an improved offensive output from your shooting guard can make up for the defensive slide. There might be something to that- The Thunder have experienced a decline on defense AND Offense since Roberson went down, with only the 20th ranked offense in the league during this stretch (they’re 9th on the year as a whole). On the other hand, there might be diminishing returns to playing Hood, who is in the 93rd percentile of usage rate per Cleaning the Glass, alongside fellow high usage players like Westbrook, George and Melo. He has shot nearly 40% on three’s this year- playing him in a spot-up role with the starters and giving him more play making chances on the second unit might work out. As with Smart, his contract situation means you can move on if George and Melo return; if PG leaves, you can re-sign Hood, who’s still only 25, and hope he blossoms into something more alongside Russ and Adams. Not ideal, but better than having nothing at all.
The Jazz have sounded like they want to move Hood all year, but a recent winning streak could change their minds. ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote in his trade deadline preview “If Utah, now on a six-game winning streak, gets a first-rounder of any sort for either Favors or Hood without also absorbing blah contracts, it will be a victory.” If the Jazz feel the same way, there may be an opening for Presti to pry hood with a very far-off first rounder, or if the Jazz are truly determined to get off Hood, with a second rounder and one of the young guys.
Sticking with the Jazz, Favors may be on the move too. The Roberson injury has meant most of the talk around the Thunder has been on getting help on the wing, but the Thunder could really use a backup big too; when Steven Adams sits, the Thunder’s offensive rating falls from 1114 to 105.2- a pretty massive drop. Part of that is because Adams’ rest tends to lineup with Westbrook’s rest, and the Thunder continue to struggle every time Russ sits.
But the Thunder’s rebounding on both sides of the ball also takes a huge drop without Adams — unsurprising when looking at the big men behind him. Favors isn’t the offensive rebounder Adams is (to be clear; NO ONE is the offensive rebounder Adams is), but he can help. Favors can play both backup center and some power forward alongside Adams. The Jazz have posted an elite defensive rating of 99.8 when Favors played alongside Rudy Gobert in twin towers lineups this year; unfortunately, that’s been paired with a 102.2 offensive rating, which is dreadful. The Thunder could try an ultra big lineup of Favors and Adams along with Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Westbrook, hoping to match that defense Utah was able to achieve and betting on Russ, PG and Melo have enough offensive talent to overcome the cramped spacing that results from Adams and Favors playing together. Running twin towers against the Warriors and Rockets in the playoffs is probably a recipe for disaster, relegating Favors to only backup center minutes in those series, which lessens his overall value compared to adding wing talent.
One last Jazz name. It’s been reported that Johnson wants out of Utah, and might be available on the buyout market this year. Johnson has been far from great this year, and the Jazz have been way better on the Offensive and Defensive side of the ball. I don’t think he’s worth giving up anything for in a trade, but if he does become available on the buyout market, it might be worth seeing if the veteran wing looks better alongside two all-stars in OKC than he did in Utah. Even if he’s not great, he’s at least another body to try on the wing- Alex Abrines and Terrance Ferguson remain unready for prime time.
I advocated for this a few weeks ago, and I still like the fit, but it looks like OKC is going to get outbid — Memphis wants a first round pick, and Woj says there are four teams making serious pushes for Evans:
Three frontrunners (Boston, Denver and Philadelphia) and a fourth team (Miami) staying engaged on Memphis' Tyreke Evans, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 6, 2018
However, if nothing has materialized by early Thursday afternoon and the Grizzlies are getting antsy, there’s always a chance Presti swoops in and gets the Grizz to take less than they’re demanding now.
I’ve seen several Thunder fans suggest this. Temple fits what the Thunder are looking for, talent wise — he has defensive skills, he’s shot 37% from 3 this year, and has a pretty low usage rate. He’d work in the starting line-up. The trouble is, he has a player option for $8 Million next year, which he will almost certainly exercise. If the Thunder resign George this summer, they’re almost certainly going over the Luxury tax, which ownership is loathe to pay. They’re going to need to shed salary elsewhere on the roster, and adding another $8 million makes that even harder to do.
Those are just some of the names we could see move — it’s entirely possible Presti finds a deal no one is considering right now. The best outcome, in my opinion, is the Thunder grabbing a younger guy like Hood or Smart who can help this year and can be retained next year if George walks, and then also picking up someone like Allen or Johnson in the buyout market to round out the roster for this season. Whatever Presti decides, the roster as it stands now isn’t quite ready to make a deep playoff push. Hopefully by 3 PM Thursday, it looks a little different, and a little stronger.
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