With the reports out that Oklahoma City is one of the most aggressive teams about moving up in the draft (15 days!), the question starts to become: Who’s ready to play with the Thunder?
Sam Presti has the assets. He has the bevy of picks. But none of this works if Oklahoma City can’t find a partner that is willing to deal.
I would imagine by “move up,” the Thunder would like to get into the lottery. And it’s not going to be easy. Though draft picks – even high ones – don’t always work out, they are extremely valuable assets and are difficult to pry away from teams. They’re cheaper than a veteran and they also give you a fresh player to maybe inject some life into your franchise. So despite what some local sports pundits might say, it will likely take more for OKC to move up than just “packaging” its picks with D.J. White or Kyle Weaver. The trade partner has to get something in return of value. Whether that’s a good player or some breathing room by unloading a contract, a potential trade buddy for the Thunder won’t be easy to reel in.
I get the feeling the Thunder don’t really want to give up any significant players in a trade. Nothing like Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Eric Maynor and so on. Maybe some the of the second-level guys could fit into a deal (Weaver, White, Mullens, the rights to Robert Vaden, etc).
You look through the lottery teams and honestly, in some cases there could be very good opportunity to jump the boards, but in others, no shot. Washington isn’t deal unless Presti offers a guy with the initials K and D. New Jersey probably would rather use its No. 3 pick. Sacramento probably wants to stand pat and draft at five. So the question is – who can the Thunder seek out that might work with them? Let’s wildly speculate on such matters.
Pick: No. 2
What Philly wants is someone to come wipe their slate clean and hand them a get out of jail free card. They messed up with Elton Brand. They freaked out, got caught up in some excitement and overpaid him. Now they’re strapped for about $66 million through 2013. They want somebody to take that off their hands. If you’re willing, they’ll talk about the No. 2 pick. If you’re not, they’re hanging up. So the question is, does OKC want to take this risk? You give away all of your cap space and flexibility to tie it up in a past-his-prime star that can still play a little. But you also get the second pick which you could use on Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins, your big man stud of the future.
HOWEVA, you do this move and who plays? Does Brand get minutes in front of Serge Ibaka? Does he get minutes from Favors/Cousins? It’s quite a quandary. It’s kind of a high risk, high reward play which is not how Presti operates. If this were to happen, I think Presti has a second suitor for Brand lined up so he can dump his fat contract on somebody else. But that’s pretty unlikely. Plus, I’m sure Philly wants more than just to unload Brand’s contract. A contributing player would have to be included and that’s a lot to give up if you’re Presti. In the end, there’s just not much chance of this happening.
Pick: No. 4
Much like Philly, Minnesota has soured a bit on Al Jefferson and his hefty deal. Word is they would like to unload that and take a big man a little further down. The problem is, Oklahoma City may be drafting too low to please Minny. So the Thunder would have to send something of value. Serge Ibaka is off limits, but surely the Wolves will ask. Someone like Nick Collison might suffice, but something tells me Collison is kind of off limits at this point unless he’s part of a deal that couldn’t be passed up. No. 4 and Jefferson might be just that.
Jefferson could step in and play, but if Sam Presti isn’t willing to take a chance on Tyson Chandler’s big toe, what makes you think he would bring in Jefferson and his crumbling body?
Pick: No. 9
This looks like the most likely landing spot to me. Utah needs a little relief, especially if they want to re-sign some of its key guys. The Jazz already proved with Eric Maynor that they’re willing to give you a player for nothing if you just help them out financially. The question is, how bad do they want to keep their guys? They could let Boozer walk and have Paul Millsap step in. They could let Boozer walk and draft a big man to potentially fill that role. Utah is stressed a little, but not THAT much.
Andrei Kirilenko is making far too much money, but Utah doesn’t have to make a move. They probably want to keep Wes Matthews and he’s going to have to be re-signed. They’re in a bit of a tight spot, but it’s not something where its hand is forced.
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
Pick: No. 11
I think the Hornets are a very long shot and plan on using their pick on a power forward. But, there could be a chance that they’d like the unload Emeka Okafor’s big contract or maybe even James Posey’s $6.9 million deal. I don’t really think the Hornets are a prime player with OKC, but you never know with cash-strapped franchises. NOLA was once willing to give the Thunder Tyson Chandler for little to nothing. So maybe money is an issue again. But to me, while Okafor is a nice player, is he really worth taking on about $50 million over the next four years just to move up to No. 10? I don’t really think so. However, New Orleans could significantly lower payroll if they got rid of Peja and his $14 million contract. I’m not sure they want to wait until after this season and let it expire.
Anything can happen on draft day. OKC has assets, has cap space and has tradeable players. There’s no telling. Keep in mind, Washington traded pick No. 5 last year for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. So it doesn’t take a TON to move up high. If the Thunder’s willing to take on some money, but give a little back, I would imagine they might be able to move. The problem is, teams are going to ask for things Presti doesn’t want to hand over. So while it’s easy to say, “We’ll just take a bad contract and here’s two picks and a few backup players,” that’s not always reality.
Do I think a deal will happen with OKC involved on or before draft day? No, not really. But if it were to happen, in my mind those four teams might be the best suitors to talk with. But also, keep in mind: I’m an idiot. That’s key here.
OKC has the option to take on a contract, play the free agent market or doing nothing at all. Would it be better to play the market than to draft a young player and take on a contract? Bow and arrow to my head, I’m betting the Thunder takes two players at 21 and 26, takes an international player and a quality college player in the second round, extends Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, signs a minor role player to replace Kevin Ollie/Etan Thomas and waits for training camp. But that’s just my guess. Something very well could go down and it could happen any day. And it could also happen with someone other than the teams I listed. The lesson here is, we’re all really just guessing. Sam Presti holds the cards. And he’ll play them when he’s ready.