I get it. Trade speculation and chatter is fun. Super fun. Thinking about what it would mean to give up This Guy for That Guy, how This Guy would impact the current team, how getting rid of That Guy would help in the future — I get it.
But this is real life, real NBA, real world. Real players, real people, real impacts with real results. The Thunder are definitely in an interesting position and there are assets and young players that make OKC a player at the deadline. But will they move?
One thing I’d definitely suggest: Don’t get wrapped in the idea the Thunder have make a deal. Just because you’re really into trades and love postulating and speculating about them doesn’t mean one of your great ideas is actually going to improve the team.
I’ve actually seen some comments and tweets saying that fans will lose faith in Sam Presti if he doesn’t deal. These are real things people are saying. I remember last season at the deadline, a lot of people looked at the Thunder as a team that HAD to make a trade. Had to get a backup point guard. Had to find some added roster help. Had to get better to compete.
And they went to the NBA Finals.
That said, the Thunder should be active. I don’t think that necessarily means they need to make a deal, but exploring options is certainly required. Remember: It takes two, sometimes three, or even four, to deal. Just because you have a young player like Jeremy Lamb doesn’t mean you have to part ways with him for a less than satisfactory deal. A player like Lamb is a valuable commodity — a young guard with big potential on a rookie deal. You don’t just let that go for something that doesn’t help you both now, and later. Eric Maynor is an obvious piece, but how much trade value does he have at this point?
Obviously the idea here is to get better, to improve your chances of winning a title this year. But in OKC’s case, as we know from past experiences, that improvement can’t come at the expense of anything in the future. The Thunder obviously want to win a title this season, but acquiring a bench piece doesn’t guarantee anything. With financial flexibility and draft assets in the pocket, the Thunder have options going forward. Jeopardizing any of that for a three month playoff rental doesn’t fit the philosophy and culture of the organization.
I don’t think it’s wise to build expectation that the Thunder will do anything groundbreaking to make a title push. If that’s the case, Presti would’ve rolled the dice and hung on to James Harden for this season to play it out. That was a clear move for the future and illustrates the philosophical approach the front office has. Presti has certainly caught me off guard before, but it’s hard to imagine anything substantial happening for the Thunder. Quit plugging Josh Smith and Al Jefferson into the Trade Machine. Think exterior pieces, added role players.
(Sidebar: Just because the Trade Machine flashed that big green “Your trade is successful!” doesn’t actually mean it’s a good trade. It just means under the current CBA rules and salary structures that the deal is allowed. You’d be surprised by how often I think people confuse that.)
It’s important to remember the Thunder are 39-14 and one of three or four teams with real NBA title chances. The way some people float trades, you’d think the Thunder were a mid-pack group that was watching its window close. There’s not much precedent for a big deadline deal paying title dividends. Pau Gasol and… I think that’s about it, right? Teams that go all in on deadline blockbusters often live to regret them.
So again, it’s about the fringes, about addressing apparent weaknesses. I think the most obvious one the Thunder have is the Heat, but outside of trading for LeBron, I don’t think there’s a good way to solve that. The one OKC could maybe address is the bench, something that has let the Thunder down at times. Kevin Martin isn’t James Harden — he’s not a give-me-the-ball-and-let-me-run-your-offense kind of player. He’s an elite scorer that can average 20 in his sleep, but preferably, he’d have some playmaking help.
So allow me to grasp at the low hanging fruit that is deadline chatter and toss out five players I’m intrigued by that I think the Thunder could reasonably get:
LeBron James, Kevin Love, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap (they’re one player now, right?), Blake Griffin, and Josh Smith. Come on Presti. Make it happen or you’re dead to me.
But for real, here are five players that play in the NBA that have names:
1. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: With the Bucks so stacked in their frontcourt, he’s being squeezed. He’s a tweener, but big and strong (6-8, 230). He’s signed through 2015, but is making just $4.3 million a year. He’s definitely another body to throw at LeBron if the Thunder are so lucky to play him again this season, but also brings a little lineup versatility into play. He can play the 4, or the 3. He could play alongside Durant, or not.
2. J.J. Barea: Berry Tramel said it pretty well. It makes sense.
3. Luke Ridnour: He’s signed through next season making about $4.3 million. Not a major financial or long-term commitment. But he’s a very capable backup point guard, someone that has a lot of experience, could play well with Russell Westbrook, has a history with the organization, and is pals with Nick Collison.
4. Darren Collison: He’s a restricted free agent this summer, so this could very well be a rental. A lot of targeting him would depend on the Thunder’s feelings on Reggie Jackson (same goes for Barea or Ridnour too), but I think he’s definitely an upgrade. The Mavs should be moving into full on blowup mode seeing as they don’t have playoff hopes, and will value financial flexibility and assets over anything else. How about Eric Maynor and their own pick that the Thunder own for Collison?
5. Rodney Stuckey: He’s owed $8.5 million this season and $8.5 million next season, but next season’s isn’t guaranteed. I don’t know the Detroit situation to really understand what their plan is, but after acquiring Jose Calderon, the Pistons have Stuckey, Brandon Knight, Calderon and Will Bynum all in the backcourt. Assuming they want to continue to groom Knight and that Calderon has a future with the team (he’s played very well since arriving there), Stuckey could be expendable. He’s still getting solid minutes, so the Pistons might prefer to keep him. Also, it could be a challenge figuring out a way to make the salaries match to make that one legal.
Don’t consider my listing of a few names as a full endorsement. Just a couple ideas. I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun.