It’s deadline time and while we’re all wasting hours at work putting together incredible four-team deals on the trade machine, nothing is probably happening for Oklahoma City Thursday. Maybe something small, but for the most part, I expect the Thunder to ride out the existing roster to the summer.
The front office has built this team with a mind to let a young group of players learn, grow and develop together. And that’s what is happening. The fact that the process sped up last season with the team winning 50 games has increased a lot of fan’s eagerness to try and win now. And while Sam Presti and the Thunder decision makers definitely want to put a team on the floor that can win a championship, they also aren’t willing to jeopardize the future to do it. That’s always been the mantra since day one of the Presti administration.
The Thunder’s calling people. They’re talking deals. They’ve inquired about a number of big men around the league. But mostly of that is just conversation. Something could materialize, but OKC is perfectly fine in seeing what the current group can do this year if that no-brainer trade doesn’t present itself. You may not like it, but you’re not in charge. So deal with it.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take inventory. It’s asset ranking time. (Here’s last year’s if you want to compare how things have changed.)
1. Kevin Durant. Do I really need to waste your time with 200 words explaining why Kevin Durant wouldn’t ever get traded? I mean, do I? I’ll put it this way: LeBron for Durant — I still take Durant. Season 4 of “The Wire” for Durant — I take Durant. Free Chick-Fil-A for life for Durant — OK, that’s a little tougher, but I still go with KD.
2. Russell Westbrook. I said last year that Westbrook was nearly as untouchable as KD. If that gap last season was an inch, it’s a millimeter now. Most see Westbrook as taking The Leap this season, but he really took The Step last year. He went from erratic, out of control youngster into a real, legitimate playoff point guard. And one of the best playmakers in the league.
Westbrook is going to get paid by the Thunder and I don’t think Presti anticipated having to drop the dollars on him that he will. But every penny will be worth it. Put it this way in comparing KD and Westbrook: If Presti showed up at Durant’s doorstep at 12:01 with an extension in hand, he better be at Russ’s door at 12:01:01.
3. Serge Ibaka. Yep, I have Ibaka in the not-to-be-touched camp. The Thunder organization thinks extremely high of Ibaka, but honestly there aren’t too many deals out there not involving Dwight Howard that I think OKC would do involving Ibaka.
I can rattle off all the upside things about him. He’s just 21, he hasn’t played organized basketball that long, his rapid improvement of the past two years has been insane, he’s just now finding an offensive game — but really it’s just that even right now, Serge Ibaka is really, really good.
SUPER CLOSE TO UNTOUCHABLE, BUT WE’LL HEAR YOU OUT
4. James Harden. I will fight you if you try and tell me the Thunder blew it on Harden and should’ve taken Stephen Curry. Mainly because I remain convinced Harden is just the right fit for this roster. Playing alongside two of the most talented offensive players in the world, Harden has had to figure out how he fits. And while some nights he disappears, the guy is a 22-year-old second-year player that’s trying to adjust from being an All-American scorer in college to a second unit role player. I’m sure that’s not easy.
But Harden has been coming along. Compare him to other Sixth Men of the Yeah candidates and he’s really not far off. He’s shooting 36 percent from 3 and continues to pick up confidence, which appears to be his achilles heel. At some point Harden will become the starter, but it really doesn’t matter as long as he sees ample minutes. He’s not quite untouchable because the Thunder could live if they traded him, but only if it filled a major need somewhere else. I truly believe if you subtracted James Harden from this roster without putting anything back, you could also subtract at least 10 wins too.
AVAILABLE, BUT IT HAS TO MAKE US BETTER
5. Jeff Green. At this point, if you haven’t plugged Jeff Green’s name into the Trade Machine at least once, I’m not sure you’re actually a Thunder fan. Last season, he was on the untouchable side of things, because people (read: me) were still holding out major hope for a big jump in a contract year. That hasn’t really happened. Green still plays his role well, but he hasn’t stepped into that strong power forward OKC was hoping for.
Green’s name has been brought up in a number of trade scenarios for the Thunder and while I don’t think he’ll be dealt, he’s at least available. The Thunder still thinks highly of him so it’ll take a really good deal for OKC to pull the trigger on moving him. Green’s future with the Thunder if he remains is probably a role adjustment, which I think he’d be fine with. That’s why the organization loves him so much. He does what he’s asked and never bucks about it. Other teams are intrigued with him because if he were placed in a more central role they feel he might put up bigger numbers but again, it’ll take a big deal for OKC to agree to anything.
5. Nick Collison. Reality is, Collison isn’t going anywhere. He just signed an extension with OKC and the organization loves him. It wouldn’t shock me if he spends his entire career with this franchise. But it’s kind of ridiculous to say Collison is untouchable because let’s face it, if a great deal presented itself and Collison was part of it, I’m sure we’d part ways.
6. Morris Peterson’s expiring contract. This is probably the most likely thing to get dealt. Expiring contracts are the currency of the NBA and Peterson has a nice mid-level, $6.5 million contract. And honestly, he’s not a bad player either. If space cleared in front of him on a depth chart, he could contribute. So not only would he be an expiring deal, which is valuable, he might actually add something too.
The reason OKC might not want to deal him is because having an expiring deal works two ways. It also expires for you too. Over the past few years the Thunder has shown it prefers to keep the expirings (Etan Thomas, Kevin Ollie) and just let it tick out and help the salary cap on its own.
7. Eric Maynor. The situation with Maynor is one of those where you tend to overvalue your own guys, but he’s one of the two or three best backup point guards in the league. What keeps him down a bit is that I’m not entirely sold on Maynor being a legit starter for someone. He absolutely has the capability to spot start because of injury, but 82 games of carrying the load? I’m not sure. And I don’t think other teams are either. Which is why he’s a little lower on the list. Still though, the Thunder isn’t giving away Maynor for something that’s not terrific.
8. Clippers 2012 protected pick (top-10 protected through 2015, unprotected in 2016). With the way things are looking up in Clipperland with Blake Griffin and company, this pick’s value might take a hit. Then again, it’s the Clippers.
OPEN FOR DISCUSSION
9. Cole Aldrich. This feels low for Aldrich, I agree. But he was taken to make an impact on this team on the boards and in the paint, but it hasn’t happened. I think the team likes him and is perfectly fine waiting out his development a bit, but I also don’t think they’d balk at dealing him for a player that could actually impact the team this season.
10. Nenad Krstic. Much like Morris Peterson, Krstic has an expiring deal and is a productive player. The Thunder would absolutely trade Krstic at the drop of a hat, especially if they felt confident in Cole Aldrich’s ability to step in and play. Or if Krstic helped net a good player.
11. Thunder 2011 first round pick. First round picks are always valuable because you get a potentially good player at a cheap rate. Even though the Thunder’s pick will be in the 20s somewhere, it’s still something good to add in to a deal. Plus, the Thunder doesn’t really need to use it this spring. The roster is already pretty jammed up as is.
12. Thabo Sefolosha. Thabo has really slipped in value, mainly because he’s not nearly as important to the Thunder as he was last year. James Harden’s defense is rapidly catching up and Thabo is and will always be an offensive liability. He signed an extension with OKC last year and is a player that’s cheap and potentially productive on one end, but the Thunder’s not married to him.
13. Daequan Cook. I went back and forth about how I felt about Cook. A month ago, he may have been near the bottom. But recently, he’s played really well and actually is probably a better value than Thabo. He’s only signed through this season unless he gets a qualifying offer in 2012. He’s come along recently and may actually deserve more playing time than Thabo, but I get the feeling the Thunder wouldn’t hesitate in throwing him into a deal.
14. D.J. White. For someone, White is going to make an impact. He’s been stuck in a bad spot since he arrived in OKC. He’s dealt with injuries and the depth chart his entire time with the Thunder. He can be productive off the bench for someone. I’m convinced.
15. Byron Mullens. Who wants a project big man? Anyone? Anyone? (I will say though that something in me feels like Mullens has some potential. For a 7-1 guy, he’s got good touch. He just doesn’t know how to rebound or defend. And that’s why he bounces between OKC and Tulsa.)
16. Royal Ivey. A solid third string point guard that can defend. That should count for something, right?
17. 2011 second round pick. Just think, with this pick, you could get someone like DeJuan Blair! (cries wildly into a pillow)