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Free Advice: Don’t Trade Your Best Player for No Reason

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The Thunder have zero reason to trade Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. That will not stop people from speculating.

Syndication: The Oklahoman BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The NBA Finals have come and gone (congrats Giannis!) which means focus will be shifting to the draft and free agency. With Oklahoma City in possession of the #6 pick and in the midst of a rebuild, the Thunder will be back in the national spotlight for the first time in months. For Thunder fans that means one thing: terrible takes about your favorite team, coming soon!

Take, for instance, the bevy of blogs and articles about the Thunder potentially trading franchise cornerstone Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Most of these articles appear to have sprung into existence due to a similar pattern: an ESPN reporter made an offhand comment on a podcast, which got talked about on Twitter, which in turn got aggregated into articles which created even more Twitter buzz. At no point had anyone ever reported that OKC was interested in trading SGA.

The offhand train of thought that led to all of this is “Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has already finished his third season in the league. The Thunder are in the midst of a rebuild, they do not appear likely to make the playoffs next season, and Sam Presti has preached a patient approach to team building. Therefore, it might make sense to trade SGA for a high pick in this year’s draft, and then build the team around that slightly younger player to give the team more time.”

Look; there is a certain logic to that sort of thinking, which is where the speculation comes from. But think about it, SGA is 23 years old!! He just finished his third season in the league. The Thunder do not have a timeline that SGA needs to fit; SGA IS the timeline. He is why the Thunder are not facing a decade of misery like other rebuilding team have suffered through.

The Thunder had their foundational star in place before the rebuild even started; in fact, SGA was so damn good as a sophomore that he caused the Thunder to unexpectedly make the playoffs and delay the rebuild by a season! (Chris Paul was obviously a major factor in this as well).

Look back at the 2018 draft. SGA is the third or at worst fourth best player from that draft. Luka Doncic and Trae Young have outperformed him to date and recency bias could cause one to make a case for Deandre Ayton as well (I could also see an argument for Michael Porter Jr). It makes little sense to trade the player who has already proven himself to be the third best player in a very recent draft for a pick that, if you are lucky could become the third best player in this draft!

It would be one thing to consider trading SGA for the #1 overall pick if the pick in question was a LeBron James/Anthony Davis/Zion Williamson home run, can’t miss pick who projects to be clearly better than SGA. Does Cade Cunningham inspire that kind of confidence?

He has a chance to be better than SGA, but he is not the unlimited ceiling level of prospect as other #1 picks. If Cunningham has a similar level of production through three seasons as SGA has through his first three seasons, the Pistons should be thrilled (SGA would have an All-Star appearance already if he played in the Eastern Conference). That is not to say Cunningham definitely will not end up being better than SGA, but there’s no guarantee.

The idea that OKC needs to trade SGA for timeline purposes does not make sense either. SGA has one year left on his rookie deal, and will receive a five year max extension on top of that deal. He has another six years before he can reach free agency. He could try to force his way out at some point, but typically we see stars do that with a year or two left on their deal.

OKC has years to build a winning team around SGA and keep him happy. Look at the Phoenix Suns. Devin Booker just finished his sixth season. The Suns made it to the playoffs exactly zero times throughout his first five seasons. Draymond Green was calling for Booker to play for a better team less than a year ago. Booker and the Suns just played in the NBA finals.

A team can be bad for years, but if they accumulate the right pieces along the way, things can improve rapidly once everything clicks. The Suns did that by drafting Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges and then making their big swing to acquire Chris Paul. The Thunder have more than enough time and draft assets to make similar moves over the coming years.

But for now, how about we focus on building a team OKC already has instead of fretting that a twenty three year old is somehow “too old” for OKC’s timeline? If you need something to speculate about, how about speculating about what kind of players would look great next to SGA in OKC, rather than speculating about how he would look on another team? The former is way more likely at the moment.