HammBag – Post-trade deadline edition

NBAE/USATSI

NBAE/USATSI

Less introduction. More questions and answers. Mailbag now.

Along those same lines, did you know the Hazelnut… actually not a nut, it’s a seed?

Ben 10. LEGO Ninjago. Power Rangers. My Little Pony Princess Magic. Wild Kratts.

Look, I have kids. They get the benefit of Netflix far more than I do. It’s a small miracle that I can break away and watch the Thunder like I do.

However, I do have a watchlist ready in the event that I get smashed by a bus and forced into bed rest for a few months. Maybe then I’ll be able to plow through Mad Men (insert “Jon Hamm doesn’t watch Mad Men?” joke here), Black Mirror, Sherlock, Breaking Bad, The 100 and Portlandia. And that’s in between re-watching all 150 episodes of Scrubs for the eleventeenth time.

What surprised me most is that the Thunder was able to land a 22-year old center of Kanter’s caliber despite being over the salary cap and in the luxury tax.

Make no mistake; the Thunder did give up quite a bit in order to secure Kanter as well as the other players in the trade. Young bigs like Kanter don’t come up for grabs very often and the fact that the Thunder were able to pounce on him was surprising. I had gotten the vibe that other teams had little interest in helping out the Thunder. But the Jazz were in a pinch with Kanter just like the Thunder was in a pickle with Reggie Jackson, and the Thunder had the package that the Jazz liked best. This league is weird sometimes.

If you look at just the Utah/OKC aspect of this deal, it’s reminiscent of the Pau Gasol trade to the Lakers. Obviously Kanter is not at Gasol’s level, so this isn’t a direct comparison. But I see so many similarities. Kwame Brown and Kendrick Perkins were both oft-criticized and in the final seasons of their big money contracts. The Thunder had a former second round prospect (Tibor Pleiss), the Lakers had a former second round prospect (Marc Gasol). The Lakers had a prospect (Javaris Crittenton, now an inmate somewhere), the Thunder had a prospect (Grant Jerrett, not currently incarcerated). The Lakers added two future first round picks, the Thunder added one. Told you it wasn’t a direct comparison. But there are weird similarities.

The Gasol trade paid immediate dividends for the Lakers. They were 29-16 at the time of the trade, a .644 winning percentage. After the trade the Lakers went 28-9, a .757 winning percentage. They also went on to win the title that season. Let’s hope this scenario, admittedly an imperfect comparison, also applies to the Thunder.

Salary Cap

Larry Coon explains it best here, but I can elaborate a bit on these things.

Important distinction: what matters is where your payroll is at the end of a transaction. Teams can’t use these tools if they wind up over the apron – $4 million above the luxury tax line – as a result:

  • Cannot use a more lucrative Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception, which allows teams to sign a player for up to 4 years at certain set amounts. For 2014-15, the maximum first-year salary of the NTMLE was $5.305 million. Otherwise, teams can only use the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception, which is limited to 3 years. For 2014-15, the maximum first-year salary of the TMLE was $3.278 million.
  • Cannot use the Bi-Annual Exception, which can be for up to two years and had a first year max salary of $2.077 million in 2014-15. This exception can’t be used two years in a row. This can be handy if a team wants to outbid another team on a player getting minimum salary offers.
  • Cannot acquire a player via sign-and-trade. A couple of years ago, there was noise about the Nets working a sign-and-trade with the Lakers for Dwight Howard. I forget all the specifics, but the Nets were DEEP in tax waters. The only way Brooklyn could have done such a thing is to also dump some $20+ million in salary on other teams in addition to putting together a package the Lakers wanted.
  • Limited to taking back only 125% + $100,000 of outgoing salaries in simultaneous trades. Non-taxpayers have more flexibility when trading less than $19.5 million in salaries.
  • Risk losing the ability to match offers for Early Bird free agents because they don’t have the NTMLE at its disposal.

Lots of numbers are fluid at the moment but as I wrote for NewsOK, the Thunder is ready to pay a significant tax bill next season to keep this new core together.

Yes, but it will be a new contract, not an extension. His contract expires at the end of the season and can’t be extended before then. However, the Thunder can and will make him a restricted free agent. I believe the team has every intention of keeping Kanter long-term.

As for contract value, it’s very hard to gauge right now. For example, at this time last year it never crossed my mind that Chandler Parsons would land $45 million over three years in free agency. One desperate team with cap room could throw a max offer sheet at Kanter and it wouldn’t shock me at all. Kanter at $15 million per season may seem like a lot under today’s salary cap. But Kanter at $15 million when the salary cap is $90 million or more? That fits. The Thunder may be able to get in early and negotiate that number down a bit.

Some aspects of my previous answer apply here as well. I mean, Landry Fields once landed a 3 year, $18.75 million deal simply because the Raptors were trying to sabotage the Knicks’ ability to sign-and-trade for Steve Nash. That example isn’t perfect because Fields was an Early Bird free agent whereas Singler will be Full Bird. But one crazy team can be a jerk and do these sorts of things.

Singler may be less of a lock to return. If some team throws a ridiculous offer at him, the Thunder could elect to let him go. I wonder if another team sees Singler as a poor man’s Chandler Parsons and tries to make him a rich man as a result.

Waiters is under contract through next season and will be eligible for an extension. The sense I get is the Thunder loves him and wants him as part of the team long-term. Again, with the salary cap on the verge of taking a massive spike, these guys can fit together financially. Whether all of these wing players will be satisfied with their roles is a whole other question.

I don’t get the impression that anything has changed with Huestis. The Thunder can easily move someone to create a roster spot for him.

You may be on to something. To be clear, if the Thunder could have signed Gasol someway, somehow, it would have been a steal. The Thunder couldn’t offer anything close to what he got from the Bulls because the Lakers had little interest in helping a Western Conference foe. But 3 years and $18 million for Gasol would have been an outright theft. And as we’ve seen with a big man of Kanter’s skills, Gasol would have been an amazing fit with this team as well.

But after three years, then what? The whole replacement process would have started again. Now, the Thunder managed to land a pair of players that they can re-sign for up to four seasons. One of those guys is 22 years old and the other is 26. They are set up much better for the long-term with the deadline trade.

I believe the Thunder want all of them back. The only possible exception is Novak, who could potentially be moved. I believe Huestis and Semaj Christon will be added this summer and, barring something significant and unforeseen, the Thunder won’t need to add anyone else.

They WILL, however, need to create roster spots for Heustis and Christon.

The Warriors and Spurs are pretty stacked, but the Thunder may be deeper than both of them. Think about this: come playoff time Perry Jones, Mitch McGary, or Jeremy Lamb will be on the inactive list (Novak will likely be the other perpetually inactive player). There aren’t many other teams with that kind of inactive talent on hand.

And it’s funny, after all of the “JUST PAY THE TAX!” narrative the past few seasons, I’ve seen people question why the Thunder didn’t deal Lamb or re-route Novak to get under the tax. As injury-marred as this season has been, the Thunder were willing to pay to have depth. They can alleviate logjams after the season.

I’m personally hoping Augustin hits a game-winning shot so the headline can be “D.J. GOT US FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN”.

Related: I’m terrible at making up creative headlines.

The Thunder is going to make it difficult for him, as well as Westbrook and Ibaka, to walk away from what’s been built here. There will be other enticing options available to Durant so the Thunder is no lock to retain him, but he’ll have a hard time landing in an equal or better environment.

Lineups

Only if the Spurs start Baynes, Splitter, Duncan, Leonard and Parker. Or Memphis starts Koufos, Gasol, Randolph, Green and Conley. In other words, I see little chance of running that lineup unless there is a dire circumstance, like they only have 8 players available and the other three are McGary, Collison and Novak.

Besides, I really don’t think having Ibaka chase around the likes of Harrison Barnes or Matt Barnes or Nic Batum is the best spot for him. And the days of Kevin Durant as a shooting guard left with P.J. Carlesimo.

You said it: defense. Take the Thabo Sefolosha/James Harden dynamic and apply it to the center position. Now watch Adams start doing numerous pump fakes and missing open layups…

But seriously, I think it can work with Adams getting his usual 24 minutes per game and Kanter getting, say, 28 (he was averaging 27 the past two plus seasons in Utah). I believe Kanter can play a few minutes per game alongside Adams.

Having said that, Kanter has slipped in very well offensively and he’s been pretty good on defense. Having Ibaka around helps out a lot there. I’m very curious to see him alongside Adams.

The closing units will be the Big Three and then a host of options based on matchups. Against Memphis, maybe you remain big and pick a shooter to finish the game. Against Golden State, maybe you go smaller and run with a pair of shooters. They have the ability to mix and match so much better now. Scott Brooks must feel like The Man Upstairs from “The Lego Movie” with all these pieces.

He’s averaging 27 minutes per game since coming to Oklahoma City. Waiters got a lot of opportunity because Reggie Jackson was more focused on attempting to escape from a Russian Gulag, apparently (Tears of joy #godisgreat). Once everyone is healthy, I don’t see any way he can continue to get those minutes. And further, I think he may lose time to Singler, who is a better defender and shooter and a more natural frontcourt fit. Also, this Augustin/Westbrook backcourt has some potential.

I’ll say this though: when Waiters has shot the ball well, the Thunder generally wins. And the Thunder loves his toughness. Royce Young and Andrew Schlecht brought up a few advanced stats in the most recent Down to Dunk Podcast that show how he positively contributes to the team. Skip to the 37 minute mark for those comments.

But if you look at Thunder 5 man lineups and sort by Net points, you have to go to the 18th result to find a lineup with Waiters. In fact, it’s hard to find any 5 man lineup that is terribly impressive with Waiters present. Lineups with Anthony Morrow seem far more effective.

Playoffs??? Playoffs!!!

I think the 7 seed is definitely in play. The Thunder is only 2.5 games behind the Spurs with 25 games remaining. Two of those games are against the Spurs, and the Thunder has largely owned them when at full strength. Getting higher than that will be tricky. The Clippers didn’t fall off the planet when Blake Griffin had to have elbow surgery as some thought. And of all the current West playoff teams, the Clippers have the fewest versus teams with winning records. That helps.

Giant disclaimer here: so much depends on Kevin Durant’s availability and health. If the most recent surgery alleviates pain in his foot and allows him to play at his usual other-worldly self, the sky’s the limit for this team. Even if Durant misses several weeks, the rest of the schedule is very favorable to Oklahoma City. As long as they keep stinkers to a minimum (example: at New York on January 28) they are in good shape.

It’d require a scenario that I don’t even want to describe. Just think back to the brief Lance Thomas/Sebastian Telfair era if you want to know what I’m talking about. It’d take something like that. Even if the Pelicans get Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson back soon, I don’t think they have enough to get back into the playoff picture.

But at least the Pelicans will have a lottery pick to build… oh that’s right; it’s going to Houston from the Omer Asik trade. Their previous two first round picks went to Philadelphia in exchange for Holiday, and those were both lottery picks as well. There’s nothing wrong with smartly building through the draft, guys.

That’s a tall task. One example I used on Twitter recently was for the Thunder to finish 19-7 while Portland finishes 14-13 and the Thunder get the tiebreaker. Considering the Blazers are 6-11 in their last 17 games, maybe that’s not so far-fetched.

Around the League

I was going to say Chicago, and I had that team in mind even before news broke that Derrick Rose suffered a torn meniscus in his knee. I felt that Chicago needed to try something to address the Noah/Gasol pair, even if it meant dealing Noah. But that matters not now.

The Raptors are a good pick. They probably should have looked at shoring up their defense. They’re currently 17th in the league in Defensive Rating and in the bottom third of the league in defensive effective field goal percentage (translation: teams shoot well against them). Who knows what all they discussed, but they probably shopped Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross around a little bit. I mean this seriously: what if the Raptors had Timofey Mozgov instead of Valanciunas? Not that the big Lithuanian is a bad player, but he gives them issues defensively. Mozgov would have been an awfully good fit, I think.

I actually kind of somewhat get Sam Hinkie’s plan. Teams win with superstars in this league, and it seems like he’s moving parts around in search of a young superstar or two. Michael Carter-Williams was not going to be one of those, but that pick they got from the Lakers might be. Or, it might be part of a package to get that guy. It’s easy to lampoon them but I can’t shake this feeling that Hinkie is a few steps ahead of all of us.

They have really taken the Thunder (and previously, Blazers) approach to the extreme. Hinkie has a plan and ownership has bought into it. You do have to wonder when patience will run out, though. The Thunder/Sonics tore down and rebuilt within three seasons. The 76ers aren’t anywhere close to that. I hate to say it, but it doesn’t seem like they’re turning the corner for at least another year or two. Unless Hinkie sold ownership on four or five years of losing, someone will expect to see results before too much longer.

This is certainly the deepest team they’ve had since the move to Oklahoma City. I’m hesitant to make too many bold statements until we’ve seen more games with the new faces (and that Durant fella gets back) but it’s hard to ignore the potential this team has now.

Luxury tax status is determined based on what Team Salary looks like on the last day of the season. If they did manage to move, say, Lamb and take back nothing before the draft, it wouldn’t affect their tax bill. The only way they could get out from under it this season is if Novak agreed to a significant buyout before the end of the regular season. I doubt that’s going to happen. And believe it or not, the Thunder are OK with it.

How dare you, sir? How dare you?

Oh…

Let’s be honest, if Durant were to bolt in free agency for some reason, it would be terrible if the Thunder looked like the 2010 Cavaliers afterward. So certainly, while there’s no replacing a player like Durant, the team can at least soften the blow if they have a deep talent base.

Deep Thoughts From a Shallow Mind

A few things on my mind…

Not one question this time around about Scott Brooks. Nothing about his future. Nothing about his ability as a head coach. Not calling out people because there was a point in time (January 5-7) when it sure seemed like the team had tuned Brooks out. I believe I alluded to this scenario in the last mailbag. Clearly not the case. I’d argue that he has their attention now.

Not one question this time around about Sam Presti. Are we all cool with him again?

About a month ago, I had a conversation with a local media person about the Thunder. He was ready to move most everyone not named Durant or Westbrook. That included Sergeballu LaMu Sayonga Loom Walahas Jonas Hugo Ibaka (or Ibaka Ngobila Serge Jonas). This was during a stretch where Ibaka was shooting 38% from the field and 29% from three, took only eight free throw attempts in seven games. He still averaged 9.7 rebounds per game in that stretch though. Funny how much can change in a month.

In that same conversation, I mused whether the Thunder should regroup and prepare for 2015-16. Not saying throw in the towel for this season, not tank for a lottery pick, but perhaps write the season off as a sunk cost and refocus on next season. So what the hell do I know anyway?

Remember when Reggie Jackson was reportedly almost traded to Denver?

Anyone else notice that the Brook Lopez talks spread like wildfire, but we didn’t know a thing about the Kanter deal until it actually went down? It is possible to make deals without it winding up on HoopsHype first.

NBA trade rumors are empty calories, man. Sweet, delicious, calorie-laden empty calories.

There’s been a dogpile on Jackson since his trade to Detroit. I try not to join in on it, but I can’t resist the occasional quip now and then. Clearly, Reggie didn’t handle his situation very well. Then Reggie and/or his agent took their one-sided sob story to Adrian Wojnarowski after the trade. There’s this old saying that says, “there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth.” I feel like Reggie didn’t accept much, if any, responsibility for his attitude this season. But it wouldn’t be fair to assume there was no fault among his teammates or within the organization, either. It became an unfortunate situation. Reggie is a good guy. To quote The Fray, “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.” He’s going to do well in this league.