The Thunder sent a player to another team for literally nothing and brought in a player for a second-round draft pick. That’s the kind of trade deadline this was.
With the hype building and some fans giving wild ultimatums about the necessity of the Thunder making a big deal, Sam Presti and his front office went for the small play. Essentially a favor deal sending Eric Maynor to Portland for a trade exception, and a move to bring in Ronnie Brewer from New York for a 2014 pick.
Watching Maynor go is kind of sad, but that was expected, and necessary. He wanted a chance to prove himself worthy of a contract and wasn’t ever going to get it in OKC. So the story of this deadline for the Thunder is the acquisition of Brewer and what that means.
Here’s his vitals: A 27-year-old 6-foot-7, 230-pound small forward that is averaging 3.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 46 appearances for the Knicks. He’s a defense first player, a guy that is as tough and gritty as they come. He’s not an offensive weapon — his jumpshot might be stranger than Kevin Martin’s — but he’s athletic and is an excellent cutter and terrific transition player. Which with the Thunder, he should have ample opportunities in both aspects.
And here’s the kicker: He’s got a lot of history defending LeBron James. Playing two seasons with the Bulls, Brewer got very used to checking LeBron and while no one in the world could ever be considered a LeBron Stopper, Brewer at least seems to be a better option than Kevin Durant (who can’t stay out of foul trouble) or Thabo (who doesn’t seem to have the bulk).
A lot of people have been griping the Thunder didn’t do anything to improve their title chances because they didn’t do anything to beat the Heat. I would argue that’s exactly what the acquisition of Brewer is. Why else would OKC need another perimeter defender?
Keep in mind, the Thunder have one of the top two offenses in basketball and while the bench has remained a concern, I would suspect the postseason plan is going to be 44 minutes and more for the Thunder’s top two guys. OKC is all-in with Westbrook and Durant, not just in that it’s their team, but it’s THEIR TEAM. Their offense, their show. It goes as they go.
How much will Brewer play? Probably not a lot. He’s certainly knocked DeAndre Liggins down a peg on the depth chart and in a lot of ways he’s Thabo Lite, but there’s really nothing wrong with having an extra defender like that. I would expect more than a handful of minutes a night, depending on matchups. But I do think he’ll play. Scott Brooks loves tough, gritty, physical defenders and that’s basically what Brewer makes his living on. He was a favorite of Tom Thibodeau in Chicago, which I think should tell you something.
(Sidebar: I would expect the Thunder to use their last roster spot to sign someone for the stretch run considering they now have only two point guards on the roster. It’ll be a wait-and-see thing to see if anyone gets bought out over the next few days, a la Derek Fisher last season. Or they could just sign Delonte West. Kidding. I hope and think. Or Allen Iverson. Or Gilbert Arenas. Or heck, Derek Fisher again. Also kidding with those. I think.)
Now, I do want to make this part clear: I think the Thunder should’ve done more. I certainly didn’t like the idea of anything drastic, but a second tier move bringing in a dynamic scorer would’ve been preferred. Something that could relieve a little of the second unit pressure on Kevin Martin and given the Thunder a new spark.
At the same time though, you have to grasp the Thunder’s situation. By dealing Harden, they’re going to have more financial flexibility, plus a heap of young assets and picks. Yeah, they could’ve used them now, but judging the landscape of this deadline, not many teams were dealing.
Plus, you don’t acquire things like that Toronto pick and Jeremy Lamb and give them away for some three-month playoff rental. That is, and never has been, the Thunder philosophy. It’s always about the long view and by OKC’s deadline actions here, it’s clear the Thunder value Lamb, Perry Jones and the picks. At least enough to hold on to them for now.
Presti and Brooks obviously like this team a lot as is. They’re in this game to win it all and wouldn’t have jeopardized that at the deadline by allowing potential game-changing moves to slip through their fingers.
So the Thunder made a very small move that certainly appears to have improved them. By a lot? Probably not. But they’re better today than they were yesterday. At least when it comes to beating the Heat. Maybe by only a very slim margin, but consider the way the last six games against Miami have gone, maybe that’s all it will take.