The 2022 offseason was relatively quiet and can be defined by what did not happen. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving did not find a route out of Brooklyn. DeAndre Ayton’s max offer sheet was matched by Phoenix and he stayed with the Suns. Even Russell Westbrook, the player whose name has been tossed around in trade talks for the last two months has not gone anywhere.
The only notable deals that have occurred are related to the Jazz’s teardown. Rudy Gobert was sent to Minnesota for Malik Beasley, Walker Kessler and a hatful of draft picks. After a protracted saga involving the Knicks, Donovan Mitchell was eventually sent to Cleveland for a haul.
The juiciest pieces of business have been done and so the league’s attention has turned to the next young star on a rebuilding cycle. You can almost hear media members salivating when discussing fantasy trades for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander amid some belief that Shai is unhappy in Oklahoma City and desperately wants out.
It is quite amusing to see this cycle finally roll back round to the Thunder after years of hearing far-fetched rumours about Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and more recently, Donovan Mitchell.
I understand why Gilgeous-Alexander’s name is commonly talked; Shai is an exceptional talent on a team-friendly contract. He is the sort of player that GMs dream about building around. This is exactly why Sam Presti would not let Shai go cheaply and would ask for a prohibitively expensive haul. You do not build teams to simply trade away your best players.
From a purely basketball side, it is a non-starter. The motivations of the player are a little harder to determine as Shai is not one to speak openly to the media on a regular basis. Gilgeous-Alexander does not do many interviews and so it is hard to gauge exactly how happy he is.
I would argue that professional athletes are never truly happy until they have won silverware and even trophies are not a cure-all. Kevin Durant won two rings in Golden State and was seemingly more miserable after reaching the promised land.
That being said, Gilgeous-Alexander does seem satisfied in Oklahoma City and it is evident that Sam Presti is committed to the idea of putting talent around Shai. In the last two years, Presti had added young talent such as Josh Giddey, Tre Mann and Jalen Williams to the roster. He has also added experienced veterans such as Mike Muscala and Kenrich Williams who relieve some of the leadership burden off Shai’s shoulders.
This is not the situation that DeMarcus Cousins faced with the Kings. Cousins had to deal with poor draft picks namely Thomas Robinson, Nik Stauskas and Georgios Papagiannis. He also had to deal with a revolving door of coaches, highlights including Paul Westphal, Michael Malone and Keith Smart.
In the seven years that DeMarcus spent in Sacramento, the roster got worse year upon year. The same cannot be said for the Thunder who have added talent to the roster every single year.
OKC have also been a very stable franchise during Shai’s tenure with the organisation. Gilgeous-Alexander has played under two coaches who both preach the same selfless, passing-oriented philosophy. He has not had to experience massive upheaval every season.
The other indicator is a change of representation. Players change from one representative to another to try and gain additional leverage. It must be noted that NBA agents are a little like head coaches, they all have their own strengths.
For example, someone like Mark Bartelstein, the founder of Priority Sports Management, is very good at getting role players paid. His clients include Joe Harris, Tim Hardaway Jr and Bobby Portis. All three players are on long-term contracts worth north of $40m and are probably a little rich for what they contribute to the team.
Thad Foucher is Shai’s current agent and has been closely associated with the Thunder for years. In the past, Foucher has represented Andre Roberson, Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort are both clients of his who play for the Thunder right now.
In the last few months, Foucher split ways with Westbrook, his most valuable client and his statement was quite telling. He publicly advocated for Russell to stay with the Lakers and rebuild his value instead of seeking a trade to a situation where Westbrook could put up numbers. He took an active interest in maintaining good relations with the team instead of constantly looking to move his client on.
In 2018, Anthony Davis ditched Thad Foucher and appointed Rich Paul of Klutch Sports to be his representative. It was a huge shift as Paul is notorious for being ruthless with his representation. Between himself and LeBron James, they put the Cavs’ front office over a barrel to compete every single year by only signing one year deals.
Paul is one of the foremost power brokers in the NBA and Davis appointed Klutch to orchestrate a trade which would get him out of New Orleans. The saga ended up being messy and acrimonious but Anthony Davis suited up for the Lakers in the following season.
James Harden has sporadically employed an agent over the last five years. He prefers to counsel his mother and business manager, Lorenzo McCloud. Harden has only hired an agent to grease the skids for a trade request. James hired Jason Ranne of the Wassermann Group in January 2021 to negotiate a trade to the Brooklyn Nets.
The key takeaway from these two examples is that a player changing their agent is a sign of a desire to play basketball elsewhere. This has not happened so far for Shai. Given this indicator and his seeming contentment in Oklahoma City, I think we can put these trade rumours to bed for the time being.
I do think that it is entirely possible that Gilgeous-Alexander asks for a trade down the line but that is the future, it is not now.