Dealing at the deadline: Ranking OKC’s assets

I’m the kind of guy that loves trade deadlines. I love roster moves. I love speculating over what could be or what might have been. I love thinking about the what-ifs and the maybe-could-happens. So with Thursday’s trade deadline approaching, if you assumed that I was excited about it, you’d be right.

A lot of people in the know figure Sam “Give Me Draft Picks!” Presti and Oklahoma City will be major players at the deadline. The Thunder’s got expiring contracts, draft picks and a few enticing veterans on the roster. All that adds up to Presti spending more time on the phone than Kelvin Sampson.

But before you can do anything – in anything – you’ve got to know what you’ve got. You’ve got to take inventory and rank your assets. So that’s what we’ll do. (Nenad Krstic is excluded because he can’t be traded for another two months.) You can really break the Thunder’s roster into seven simple categories.

We’re going to want the keys to your city

1. Kevin Durant. He’s OKC’s top asset and he’s not going anywhere. There’s maybe two players in the entire league that I’d trade him straight up for. LeBron and Dwight Howard. Nope, not Kobe. Nope, not even Chris Paul. From what we’ve seen from KD in just this little time, I think we’re looking at a steady top five player with the potential to be a top three. And because by law, any time you talk about Kevin Durant’s awesomeness, you have to mention this: He’s only 20 years old.

It’s going to have to be good. Real good.
2. Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook. Uncle Jeff is quickly establishing himself as a scorer from both the inside and outside, but also as a quality defender and physical rebounder. Russell is considered by some to maybe be the best player from the 2008 draft. For these two, I honestly don’t know too many players I’d take in exchange for them. I love the chemistry between them and KD and with their ages being 20, 20 and 22, it gives OKC long-term stability. By “real good,” I’m talking, like really, really good.

3. 2009 first round pick.
Regardless of what happens from here on out, the Thunder are in the lottery. And most likely, barring some 25-game win streak, OKC will be in the top five or six. While with the way it’s looking, picks 2-30 don’t look all that wonderful, teams still would love to have the Thunder’s No. 1.

Your No. 1 pick or a quality contributor

4. Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith. Both contracts expire after this year. Either a team looking for a salary dump (New Orleans) or a team looking to add a quality, veteran big man (Boston) could be very interested in one of these two. I know, Chris Wilcox shouldn’t be No. 5 in any list except for maybe “Most Talented, But Frustratingly Unproductive Players in the League” but I think he’s valuable to lots of teams. Mainly because of his contract, but who cares? OKC could swing something pretty sweet because of that. Joe Smith is much more productive and that’s what makes him more lucrative. Together, these amount to almost $12 million which means someone looking to loose some salary could unload a pretty penny and get something quality in return.

We’d like to keep him but we’re listening
5. Nick Collison. As someone pointed out a couple of weeks ago, as soon as you deal Nick, you’re immediately looking for another player just like him. A contender would love his grit and effort. He’s the type of guy that will randomly win a playoff game for you by making big hustle plays. He’s under contract until 2011 and he’s a pretty good bargain at just over $6 million per.

6. Phoenix’s 2010 unprotected first round pick. With the Suns tanking like this season of 24 (so the African warlord is moonlighting as a regular immigrant boyfriend to a D.C. waitress? Whatever 24), this pick’s value is going up. Some even suspect Steve Nash wants out at this point. So let’s dream for a moment and wonder if the Suns ’10 pick could potentially be higher than the Thunder’s. And all of that for a future conditional second round pick. Thanks Steve Kerr!

7. 2010 first round pick. It’s still a valuable asset but it’s stock is falling faster than, well, the 2009 Phoenix Suns! But the better OKC gets, the less valuable this becomes. Especially with so many young pieces in place, the Thunder won’t be building through the draft a whole lot more anyway and may be looking to deal for veteran pieces as it is. But as of today, this is still a very valuable commodity.

8. The rights to Serge Ibaka
. This is such an unknown. Ibaka could be really great or he could be Mo Sene. But by the looks of him right now, he may turn out to be an absolute animal once he gets a little refining. Other teams are constantly asking about him. And we got him as a result of that 2007 Phoenix trade that also gave us that 2010 first rounder. Thanks again, Steve!

9. Earl Watson. He makes a little too much for what he produces and is under contract through next year. If his deal were expiring this year, he’d be right there with Smith and Wilcox, but the fact that OKC doesn’t have a true back-up point makes him currently more valuable to the Thunder than anyone else.

10. Kyle Weaver. Weaver is a guy that I’m beginning to really like. I’ve said it before but he has the looks of that perfect role player on a playoff team. Plays tough defense, is heady and (hopefully) can score a few points. He’s cheap (under $1 million per) and he’s locked up until 2012 (pending OKC exercises his option). He’s not going to draw interest on his own, but a lot of teams would love him as part of a deal.

11. Desmond Mason. He would be an extremely valuable piece for a contender if he weren’t hurt. His contract is up this year, he’s a great defender, the ultimate professional and an excellent leader. Mason said he wants to finish his career in OKC and since I’m in the “Re-sign Dez” camp, maybe in a backward, horribly twisted way, it’s a good thing he got hurt. If he hadn’t, Presti may have gotten an offer he couldn’t refuse. As it stands, I think Mason will get re-signed and be a really nice piece off the OKC bench next year.

The Throw-Ins

12. Denver and San Antonio’s protected 2009 No. 1. Both these teams are playoff bound so you’re looking at a pick anywhere between 15 and 30. There’s a few diamonds in that rough, but it’s rare. But that’s the good news because if they weren’t headed for postseason, OKC would lose the pick.

13. D.J. White. It’s really a shame he’s been hurt. He could have been a solid contributor for this team. But he’s below the Denver and San Antonio pick because I don’t think another team would rather have – a guy that hasn’t been able to step on the court yet – over somebody else that will be drafted in the same area he was.

14. Mo Sene. He’s a project whose contract expires this year. But unless he’s a throw-in in a big deal, he won’t go anywhere. He’s not going to contribute right now, but he could even out the numbers for a deal.

The Slop – What are you willing to offer?

15. Chucky Atkins. He was a throw-in so OKC could unload Johan Petro, so when he heads out the door he’ll be exactly what he was when he came in. He’s under contract through next year, but is cheap and serviceable.

16. Robert Swift.
Officially busted. He hobbles and wobbles up and down the floor, never looking comfortable. He makes Greg Oden look like Barry Sanders. The ONLY reason anybody would want him at this point would be because they are having major financial issues and they need expiring contracts. But in order for him to be traded, he’d have to give consent. Some GM may still believe that he can get healthy and turn into the lottery pick he was supposed to be, but at this point, nobody’s giving much for him. He would need a solid month of production to get any higher than he is now and frankly, he’s hasn’t been able to put a stretch like that together his whole career.

How about a tank of gas and a pack of Marlboro Lights?
17. Damien Wilkins. His trade value was killed by him playing. He got on the floor, was horribly unproductive and now nobody wants him. He has two years left and is making $3.1 million. He would have been a nice piece for someone but he’s played himself into and end-of-the-bench guy. He could be used to even another deal and in the right situation he might be a solid role player but at this point, I wonder what the Thunder could get.

18. Brian Davis. This year’s No. 1 pick and Brian Davis to the Knicks for Gus Johnson. Tell me you wouldn’t do this.

I know a lot of people have been eye-balling the Thunder’s potential cap space for this offseason (close to $20 million under) meaning there would be room to go after the quality, but very few free agents. The thing is, instead of holding on to that dough to try and grab Carlos Boozer, David Lee or someone else, the Thunder could swing a deal and grab a guy like Tyson Chandler and have him for two years – basically like signing a two-year free agent deal. With the free agent pool being relatively weak this offseason and with everyone clearing room for 2010, OKC could maybe do most of its damage in the trade market. Because in reality, it would be really difficult to nab Boozer or Lee, so a deal for someone like Chandler would be perfect.

(Channeling Digger Phelps) If the Hornets are willing to play, you absolutely make the Smith/Wilcox/Whatever Reasonable for Tyson Chandler deal. Why? Because OKC desperately needs an enforcer in the paint. Why? Because they do. Chandler is a superb shot blocker and a great rebounder. Why? I don’t know, he just is.

So absolutely, definitely, Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith (and the Nuggets or Spurs first rounder or cash if they want more ) for Tyson Chandler. Done. Lock it up.

(I know what some people are thinking. But if we get Chandler, then maybe we start winning a few more games, and you know… YOU KNOW. Look, I know people want Blake Griffin. Nobody wants him more than me. Nobody. Well, except for maybe Sam Presti. But you can’t let the “Are we winning too much, if you know what I mean” thought into our head. When we were sitting at 3-29, who thought we’d be close to having this discussion. The Thunder. Winning too much. Ha! What next, Alex Rodriguez is going to admit to doing steroids? What’s that?

More on this little situation later, but don’t let that thought cross your mind right now. Or I’ll find you and club you with a candlestick. I’m serious.)

I keep Earl Watson though. What, you crazy? I know. But I do. He crawled into our doghouse when he gutted out the first two months with a bum thumb. But he’s played solid lately and if contenders want him as a quality back-up point guard, why don’t we just keep him for that same purpose? If we don’t, then we might be in the same shoes other teams are in next year, scouring the league for a back-up point man.

I test the waters on guys like Robert Swift and Chucky Atkins, looking for any potential takers that would be willing to take on an injury-riddled project and a back-up, back-up point guard. But if you can swing another protected first-rounder out of it, I say do it. Cut your losses with Swift and move on. Especially if you land a guy like Chandler, then you wonder what good Swift does you in the future.

But you can’t over think yourself and get in a hurry. Chandler would be a major splash and would completely change this team. Other than that, you stay steady. I don’t think it’s wise to try and wheel and deal and bring in six new players. While obviously OKC needs help at the two, you don’t just run out and trade a good asset for C.J. Watson. Be patient and let your guy come into vision. OKC needs help on the perimeter, but the Thunder may find that solution in the draft. Heck, I’m still holding out hope on Kyle Weaver’s outside shot.

But let’s understand, I’m not an NBA general manager. But I play one on the Internet! And there’s a reason I’m not doing it for real. Presti has done a heckuva job collecting assets and putting a plan in place thus far. And I’m sure by Thursday at 2 p.m., something will have happened and the OKC roster will look a little different.

And how about a bonus Thundercast! Joe and I discuss OKC’s assets and the Tyson Chandler trade.