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One Wing Short: An OKC trade deadline and buyout market preview

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The Thunder may be active at the trade deadline this year, but who can they pursue?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It it likely going to be a quiet trade deadline for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The team does have needs on the roster- they are one solid wing player short (Abdel Nader and Hamidou Diallo have given them good minutes, but depth and veteran experience never hurts) and perhaps one more big man, since the team’s defensive rebounding collapses without Steven Adams on the court. Ideally, any player the the team could add would be able to shoot the 3-ball well, as the Thunder are still light on shooting even with Terrance Ferguson and Jerami Grant shooting better than expected from beyond the arc.

The Thunder’s ability to acquire any player by trade, however, is limited by their near complete lack of assets. The Thunder cannot trade a first round pick until 2024, as their 2020 and 2022 picks are owed from previous trades. They owe this year’s second round pick to Charlotte, and teams may not view OKC’s second round picks for the next few years as much of an asset, as it seems likely the Thunder will be quite good through Paul George’s prime.

Beyond picks, the Thunder do have some intriguing young players they can offer up: Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo & Abdel Nader have had good seasons and might interest some teams. But Ferguson and Nader are also on cheap contracts and under team control for years to come- something hugely important to an OKC team that has blasted beyond the luxury tax line to an unreal degree. You know how once you get high enough in an airplane you can’t see the ground anymore? That’s OKC and the Luxury tax line- and being that far over means a steep bill.

When you’re that far past the tax, even small salaries translate to millions of dollars in savings- that was the reasoning behind OKC dumping Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot to the Bulls for nothing last week.

That move saved OKC a lot of cash, but it now opened up another roster spot. If they want, OKC could try to find two more contributors- or, they could add just one, using the money saved by getting rid of TLC to offset the new player’s salary. Either way, OKC seems likely to make at least one move to shore up the roster. But with so little to trade, Sam Presti may wait until after the deadline to sign a player bought out by another team, as he did last year by adding Corey Brewer.

With all that in mind, here are some players to keep an eye on around the league in the run up to tomorrow’s deadline and afterwards:

Wesley Matthews

When Matthews was traded from Dallas to New York as part of the Kristaps Porzingis blockbuster, he instantly became the hottest buyout candidate in the league. The 32 year old has slowed down a bit, but he is still a capable defender on the wing and an excellent 3 point shooter. In Dallas, he helped a young team with big dreams keep their playoff hopes alive for half the season, but now he’s on a New York team actively tanking and who should be focused on giving their young players as many minutes as possible. That makes Matthews a prime buyout candidate if New York can’t trade him by tomorrow. And it seems unlikely they will- Matthews has a massive $16 million salary that would be hard to match for any of the teams interested in his services.

Of course, once he is bought out, Matthews can choose his destination. He’ll have his pick- in addition to OKC, Houston, Philadelphia and even Golden State are all obvious suitors who could make use of a guy like Matthews.

If OKC does win the sweepstakes, Matthews will be an immediate help. The team could start him at the 2, but given how well the starting lineup has worked with Terrance Ferguson, they might elect to bring him off the bench, where he would still fill a major role. If Billy Donovan chooses to continue staggering Westbrook and George, you can expect Matthews to be on the court just about every minute that Westbrook or George isn’t. He can play the 2 in between Schroder and George in PG + bench units, and would also give OKC the option to go small by sliding George at the 4 and playing Ferguson and Matthews as the 2 and the 3.

Given how much Patrick Patterson has struggled, that flexibility could be key for OKC in the playoffs. Matthews will also be hugely helpful in allowing OKC to survive the minutes George rests. If the team wants to continue playing Westbrook and Schroder together in those minutes, they need shooting and wing defense to make up for the deficiencies of the two point guards. Matthews can do both, and while he may not be able to defend the very best wings in the league, smart coaching should mean George is always on the court against those guys.

Keep your eyes out for news on Matthews once the trade deadline passes, assuming NY is unable to move him.

Garrett Temple, Justin Holiday & JaMychal Green

Take everything I wrote about Matthews above and decrease my enthusiasm by 25%, and you’ll have my thoughts on Temple (folks, this preview is going to be long, so I’m asking you to use your imagination here). He can fill the same positional roles, but is a weaker shooter- 35% from 3 this year, as opposed to 38% for Matthews. Defensively, it’s probably a toss-up.

The one plus to Temple — OKC could actually trade for him instead of waiting for the buyout market. Temple’s $8 Million salary fits into the $10.5 Million trade exception OKC created in the Melo deal, so they don’t need to worry about making the salaries work evenly. Of course, OKC probably prefers to send out at least some salary to avoid sending their luxury tax bill further into the stratosphere. OKC could offer up Alex Abrines (whoso spot in the rotation Temple would be taking) and either Hamidou Diallo or a second round pick as a sweetener. OKC should be hesitant to give up Diallo, who’s on a cheap, team friendly deal in exchange for a rental, unless they think it significantly increases their odds of winning the championship this year. That seems unlikely in the face of the Golden State juggernaut.

Justin Holiday and JaMychal Green are also on relatively low, expiring contracts. Abrines for Holiday works straight up, but Memphis might be looking for an unreasonably high price for Holiday after they foolishly overpaid for him last month, giving up two of their own second round picks. The sunk cost fallacy could scuttle a deal here. If Memphis is willing to accept that they screwed up and aren’t going to get back what they traded for him, maybe a deal could get done. Abrines and a second round pick might not be enough, while Abrines and Diallo might be too much from OKC’s perspective.

Green would be an upgrade on Patrick Patterson, who has never looked quite right since arriving in OKC. Green can fit into Patterson’s offensive role as a low volume stretch 4, but he won’t wow you with his defense or rebounding. He’s a modest offensive upgrade but potentially a slight downgrade on defense- overall, not a huge upgrade. Is giving up Diallo or Nader worth a Patterson for Green swap for this year only, when those two could help round out the rotation in OKC for years to come?

It’s worth kicking the tires on all 3 of these guys, but OKC’s very limited pool of assets might mean they’re better off waiting to see if any of these guys get bought out. If that’s what they’re hoping for, they should hope Memphis succeeds in dealing Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, ideally for young players who will need Temple’s minutes.

Various Hawks Players

The Hawks are selling, but there’s probably no deal to be made. Jeremy Lin isn’t needed with Dennis Schroder on roster; ditto Dewayne Dedmon with Nerlens Noel.

Taurean Prince is also reported to be available and would be a decent fit, but OKC probably doesn’t have enough to trade for him. Maybe the Hawks really love Hamidou Diallo (I know I do), and are willing to do a trade along the lines of Diallo, Nader and a second round pick for Prince. Prince is a young guy still under team control with 3-And-D potential, just the thing OKC needs, and he’s more playoff ready this year than Diallo or Nader. Unlike with a lot of these other deals, Prince is under contract going forward (and on a cheap deal), so OKC should be more willing to part with a young player to get him. But this feels like the kind of deal you’d need a first round or really good second round pick to pull off, and OKC just doesn’t have either.

J.R. Smith

The Tanking Cavs have a surplus of players and a payroll way too expensive for a team going nowhere in the immediate future. Alec Burks and Smith are both in expiring deals and can play (J.R. was a starter on an NBA champion!), but don’t factor into the long term plans of the Cavs. The problem is making the salaries work. OKC has a big trade exception from the Melo deal, but not big enough to absorb Burks or Smith’s salary. The Thunder, per the Ringer, are interested in Burks. To make the salary work, you probably need to trade both Abrines and Patterson, and then throw the Cavs an asset, like a second round pick or two. Trading 2-for-1 leaves OKC short a big man in their rotation- even with Patterson’s struggles, he still plays important minutes. Maybe OKC pairs this with signing a backup 4 on the buyout market. Or maybe they prefer to wait and see if the Cavs buyout one or both of these guys.

Update: The Cavaliers traded Burks to the Kings

Terrence Ross

Ross showed OKC exactly what he can do Tuesday night, dropping 26 points in OKC’s eventual victory. If it was an audition, Ross nailed it. Ross fits everything OKC is looking for- he can play the 2 or the 3, he can shoot the 3 and can even create offense for others. Best of all- he fits into the Trade Exception OKC created in the Melo deal, unlike Burks, Smith or Matthews, and is a better player than Temple or Holiday. Ross is the perfect target for OKC.

The only problem- Orlando might not be ready to give him up. Despite being 5 games below .500, Orlando is only 3 games out of the playoffs in the pathetic Eastern Conference. If Orlando doesn’t trade Ross, it’s likely because they still want to go all in for that 8th seed and ensuing first round sweep- which means Ross won’t get bought out.

If Orlando has decided that the season is lost however, OKC could try and make an offer for Ross. Even with the trade exception, OKC would probably like to shred some salary, so again they probably send out Abrines (who Orlando could even try to re-sign) and a sweetener- Diallo or Nader, or perhaps a second round pick.

Really, a trade hinges on either another team finding OKC’s second round picks appealing, or OKC being willing to include someone like Diallo or even Ferguson. The latter seems unlikely- Sam Presti has to understand that even with one of these players added to the roster, OKC is unlikely to finish off Golden State this year. On top of that, those young pieces will be hugely important to filling out the roster next year, which will probably be the Thunder’s one true shot at a title if Kevin Durant leaves Golden State as expected. I would expect Presti to hold onto these guys until then.

Unless some other GM decides a pick that probably becomes #55 in the draft is better than nothing, there won’t be a path to a trade. That means tomorrow will mostly about watching to make sure no other team trades for these targets, and then seeing if the Thunder can add one on the buyout market. Even if Golden State is too far to catch, adding one more rotation player may be the difference between another first round exit or a run to the conference finals. I expect Presti to strike- but it will likely be through the buyout market, not a trade.

But you never know in the NBA.

Poll

Do you think the Thunder will make a move at the trade deadline or in the buyout market?

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  • 75%
    Yes
    (564 votes)
  • 24%
    No
    (185 votes)
749 votes total Vote Now