Disclaimer: If I know my audience, and I think I do, you are a basketball junkie who craves basketball discussion regardless of whether it is assinine or enlightened…especially during the off-season when basketball isn’t being played. On the other hand, if I’m wrong, there is a chance you may be annoyed following the illogic of theoretical transaction possibilities that have very little possibility of ever coming to fruition. If the latter description fits you, you may want to stop reading. Of course, since you’re visiting a Thunder basketball blog on May 27th (weeks after the team finished playing for the season), I doubt that is the case. So, proceed.
With Oklahoma City having zero chance of winning the NBA draft lottery, I expected the night to have no hope of gaining my interest. Then, the funkiest outcome made it intriguing.
For most of the year, the lottery has been assumed to be “The John Wall Sweepstakes” based on belief that Kentucky’s freshman point guard was far and away the best player available. So, of course, the team that wins the lottery is among the worst possible places for him to wind up.
With the Washington Wizards, who tied for the fourth worst record, hop scotched Golden State, Sacramento, Minnesota, and New Jersey to wind up with the first selection in the draft. Odds are, they will still pick Wall despite the fact that their star player plays the same position and is likely untradeable. That will probably lead to them starting two point guards and seeing the two fight over who runs the offense. Of course, this likelihood will feed discussion about whether the Wiz should trade the pick or choose another player who would allow them to continue playing a more traditional line up.
In the end, all that discussion will wind up as a nil point. Wall will be first overall, he will wear a Wizards jersey, and then the discussion will be about how he will be unable to reach his potential when he has to wrestle with Gilbert Arenas to touch the ball (BASKETball, you sickos). What should wind up being a more interesting debate is what the 76ers, who wound up with the #2 overall pick, will end up doing.
After Wall, Evan Turner is the concensus number two player in the talent pool. He was a nightly threat for a triple-double for the Ohio State Buckeyes while playing three positions. Unfortunately, like Wall’s mismatch for Washington, Turner also duplicates strengths Philadelphia already possesses.
Keep in mind, these are two teams that have lots of weaknesses. Otherwise, they would not have been in position to get such early draft choices. Yet, when their turns arrive, both teams will be in position to bolster the minimal strengths already on the roster. Washington won’t give up the opportunity to take the player with the most star potential since their fans would riot. Philly, though, has more room to maneuver. They could go with the next best player (either of two big men — Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins) or, and this is where the Thunder come into the picture, trade the selection.
Per ESPN’s Chad Ford:
You can expect teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, in particular, to make a strong push to get a deal done with Philly. As I wrote on Friday, the Sixers have been telling teams that they’ll have to take back the remaining three years, $50 million of Elton Brand’s contract to make it happen. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sixers softened their stance by the draft. I don’t see any team willing to take on Brand’s contract at this point.
Let me re-phrase what Ford is saying here: In return for the #2 pick in the NBA Draft (a draft expected to have about five impact players), the 76ers are demanding that their trade partner also take an all star post player. Of course, they may back off that unreasonable demand.
Why is it unreasonable? Brand makes a lot of money, and has been a bad fit in Philly. Considering that the 76ers aren’t about to start competing for championships, the big dollars Brand is taking out of the cap ruin their financial flexibility. On the same token, the interested teams mentioned by Ford would also have similar issues if they took on the two-time all-star.
For the Thunder, however, this is not as much of a hindrance. With the projected cap space the Thunder have, they could absorb Brand’s contract simply by releasing Kyle Weaver. (Note: Since a player currently on the roster would probably be included in any trade, I only bring this up to show that the Thunder have the cap space to make it happen, not to say Weaver would have to be cut.) Meanwhile, Brand could possibly be the well rounded big man the team needs to put them in the upper tier of contenders, and they could pocket a potential future superstar for taking on the financial burden.
Looking past the fiscal conservatism tenant this would break, this seems like the kind of deal Sam Presti is constantly pulling off. The Thunder would getting a lot more than they would be giving up (from a talent perspective) and the biggest cost would be cap space.
Before analyzing the pros and cons, here is what the deal I imagine would look like:
From Philadelphia — Elton Brand and #2 pick in 2010 Draft
From Oklahoma City — #21 and #26 picks in 2010 Draft, (one of) Nenad Krstic/Nick Collison/Jeff Green, and (one of) Byron Mullens/D.J. White
No matter what, the two draft picks would be in the package. From there, the Sixers will want at least one veteran (preferably with a small contract) to bridge the gap immediately, and an upside player. The upside player is pretty easy. My guess is that Philadelphia would prefer Mullens since they are already developing Maurice Speights to be their power forward of the future. Which veteran would be included is trickier.
Presti would most likely prefer to shed Collison or Krstic whose salaries are currently larger and whose minutes would disappear with the addition of Brand and a draft pick that could turn into Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins. The 76ers, on the other hand, would want Jeff Green who is more talented and has upside, himself. Considering the haul the Thunder would be getting, that seems like a steep, but reasonable price.
In the end, though, I don’t think Presti would have to give up Green to make the deal happen unless that’s what he wanted. Why would he want to give up Green? Well, bringing in Brand’s mammoth contract would basically be adding a max contract to the books for the next three years. For two of those years, Kevin Durant should be earning a max deal, and in that third year, Russell Westbrook will stand to make that or something close. That would put the team in luxury tax territory for the 2012/13 season, particularly if Jeff Green signs an extension with a big raise. Except, with potentially two new true post players in the mix, Green would not be earning the minutes to justify a big raise (playing primarily as a back up to K.D. and the four in small ball situations–a sixth man role).
Anyway, the pros and cons to such a deal would include:
McClendon, a co-owner, and honestly the guy who finances most of the team, is a Duke graduate who loves being a Duke alum. I’d bet all my Chesapeake stock that he would be in favor of adding a Blue Devil legend…which would temper the financial risk.
Elton Brand got the contract that is now too rich for the 76ers because he was considered one of the league’s elite big men. His numbers have been down in Philadelphia, but with the Clippers, he was a double-double machine. He would immediately become the Thunder’s best rebounder, low post scoring threat, and second best scorer on the team. Because of his skill set and ability to operate around the basket, defenses would either have to let him score at will, or double team. Double teaming him would mean that Kevin Durant would be single covered, or better yet open, giving Oklahoma City so many more easy baskets.
For his career, Brand has been a player who seeks little attention. He is a basketball player first and foremost.
The DeJuan Blairs and Brendan Heywoods of the world would not feast on the boards when having to deal with a load like Elton Brand.
One reason Brand chose to sign with the 76ers rather than re-up with the Clippers is that he thought he would be more successful playing in the slower paced Eastern Conference. That has not been the case. His game flourishes more when his team doesn’t grind it out, which is a good sign that he can keep up with Westbrook, et al.
Between Serge Ibaka’s explosive athleticism and Brand’s powerful skill set, putting the two in the same starting line up would be an incredible “thunder (no pun intended) and lightning” type of pairing.
Again, God forbid. Seriously, if I were Catholic, I’d be lighting candles for K.D. just for thinking about this possibility.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE # 2
Keep it: Holding on to the pick would probably mean taking Derrick Favors. I know Sam Presti is supposedly interested in DeMarcus Cousins, and he was definitely the better college player. However, I can’t imagine his surly attitude meshing in Thunder culture, or Presti trying to make it happen.
Trade it: There are several teams with top-10 picks that would like the opportunity to take Evan Turner.
- Minnesota (#4) — The Wolves have three picks in this year’s first round. If they were willing to give up the #16 to move up two spots, the Thunder could take whichever of Cousins or Favors is still on the board, and grab a shooter, like Luke Babbitt to back up at small forward with that selection. Of course, Minny could hope that Turner somehow slides to them at 4 and stand pat.
- Detroit (#7) — I’m not sure what Detroit would offer (future #1?), and the Thunder would be placing themselves at #7 in a draft with five impact players. They could still take a good big man that could develop behind Brand, such as Greg Monroe.
- Indiana (#10) — Again, probably taking a future first to swap, but if Presti is really enamored with Daniel Orton, he would still be available here.
This draft is loaded with high potential interior players, so whether they kept the second pick or traded down, the team could come away with an excellent big guy. Unlike the other teams who would pick in the lottery, the Thunder would not be in a hurry to get the guy playing big minutes. By the time Brand’s contract expires, this player will have had three seasons to learn without being tossed into the fire.
Considering the frontcourt is the biggest complaint I hear from fans, this has to be an exciting thing to consider.
You’re reading this and thinking, “Didn’t you mean to put that on the con list, Clark?” I did not. By being over the cap before free agency begins, the Thunder have some options they would not have had if they had, for instance, spent all their cap space on one of the max-type players. Starting free agency over the cap allows them the option of offering a mid-level exception or bi-annual exception, potentially, to a shooter. If they started out free agency under the cap, they would only have the option of spending whatever money was available underneath the cap, and once that was used, only minimum contracts.
Last season, Etan Thomas’ $7.35 million expiring deal made him the highest paid Thunder player. Brand will make double that next season, and has two more years after that.
Brand missed almost the entire 07/08 season with a torn achilles. His first season in Philadelphia was ended very early by shoulder surgery.
The Thunder were blessed last season by a team of players who genuinely liked each other. Any changes challenge the continuance of that great chemistry…especially if Jeff Green (a team captain) has to be involved in the deal.
I don’t know if market size matters to Elton Brand. No information has come to me regarding the former Duke star living large in glitzy places. However, in his pro career he has played in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. While Philadelphia is the only place he chose with his own free will, he has become accustomed to living in huge cities.
Another treat to team chemisty is the “disease of more.” Once success has been achieved, players begin to demand more minutes, more shots, more whatever. Kevin Durant won a scoring title last season and Russell Westbrook blossomed into a star. Suppose they fall into the “more” trap and the team brings in another guy who is going to command touches. There is only one ball.
As I mentioned before, Brand has had injury problems. He’s also surpassed thirty years old. If those are the reasons for his decline in production, he could be shades of Jermaine O’Neal. Being in luxury tax territory for paying max money to a washed up player would really sting.
One of the big trends in basketball right now is having a power forward who can score from the perimeter. Supposing Jeff Green is included in the deal, the Thunder are shedding their “stretch 4″ and limiting themselves to the more antiquated style of offense. This could cause problems against teams that go small.
Committing to Brand means committing to Brand. The Thunder are in a unique situation to be capable of acquiring him. If he comes in and does not fit as hoped, it would be close to impossible to deal him again. Plus, there’s the whole question of what the next Collective Bargaining Agreement will mean for team finances. Adding a max contract now may be really problematic long term.
Personally, I think this is actually a pro because the odds of landing a big name were small, and the small names are going to get overpaid because of all the competition for their services. Also, Chris Bosh has already eliminated OKC from consideration (I’ll refrain from doing a “told you so” soapbox here.)
This could be addressed by flipping the #2 pick or taking advantage of the mid-level exception, however, those options carry risks. Using the mid-level reduces future financial flexibility even more and trading down for a shooter means taking a lesser player than what could be had at the top of the draft.
Again, assuming Green would be traded, there is no player on the roster that is a true small forward. Sefolosha could shift down some and the position could be addressed in the same way as the above bullet point.
So those are the pros and cons I see. How one weighs the issues affects whether that person thinks I’m crazy for even bringing it up, or whether they are about to leave a comment begging for this to happen. I lean toward the pro category because I think acquiring Brand would give the team instant contender status. The draft pick(s) would maintain the Thunder’s contention for years to come. This might be the time to take a big plunge.
Look at this depth chart and tell me if you disagree: