HammBag: Tweet @ Me, Bro!

NBAE/Getty

NBAE/Getty

I sent up the Bat-signal to my Twitter followers and they responded. I’ve never done a mailbag column before. Always thought it would be a fun interaction with other Thunder and NBA fans, who seem to enjoy them as well.

Mailbags used to be somewhat of a Daily Thunder staple but let’s face it, Royce is a bit busy these days. Between writing for the Worldwide Leader, writing for DT and being a father to a newborn, I’d estimate he has approximately 4 minutes and 26 seconds of free time per day. While I’m no Royce (on a related note: Ish Smith is no Russell Westbrook), allow me to try and attempt to fill the mailbag void.

Yes. The idea that the Thunder could miss the playoffs is still giving some people heartburn. I kind of get it. These are uncharted waters. I’d love to refer back to some point in NBA history and offer up a similar situation but it doesn’t exist. However, barring another significant, long-term injury, this Thunder squad will make the playoffs. I don’t think there’s any doubt.

Of those three, Jackson is the most likely to still have a locker room nameplate on February 20, 2015. There’s a chance Jackson could be traded but there are some complications. The Thunder need Jackson, or a Jackson equivalent, in order to realistically chase an NBA title this year. Jackson’s low rookie scale salary (approximately $2.2 million) makes trading him for an equivalent talent extremely difficult. Think of the players that are in Jackson’s tier; the likes of Jamal Crawford, Kemba Walker, Eric Bledsoe, or Nic Batum, for example. Those players are making significantly more than Jackson (disclaimer: I’m not suggesting that there’s a possibility of dealing Jackson for one of those players). Sure, there’s the obligatory “add Perk to the deal!” but now you need to come up with a backup big man along the way as well.

If one were to graph the production of Lamb and Jones this season, it would resemble an earthquake seismograph. I’d say either player is up for grabs. I just don’t know how much value they have. It doesn’t seem likely that they could be parlayed, either alone or together, into a rotation upgrade, but you never know.

If I were the Thunder GM, the very first thing I would do is fire myself and hire someone competent to run the team. I also understand how knee surgery works and can explain it to you, but I probably shouldn’t be performing any procedures.

I’d love to, but there’s a slight problem: Nobody knows what’s going to happen with the future salary cap yet. The league and the players are negotiating how to handle the tidal wave of money that’s coming into the league in 2016. To keep it as simple as I can, here’s the basic concept: things such as the salary cap, maximum salaries and luxury tax are set percentages of Basketball Related Income (BRI). All of these numbers are set to rise and create something of an inflation effect in the league. The league has pitched the idea of “smoothing” in the tidal wave of money over a few years. This would artificially lower the cap, tax, and max salaries for a few years (the league would then cut a big check to the players at the end of the season so they get their guaranteed share of BRI). Or they could just leave things alone, let the salary cap rise from approximately $66 million to $90 million or more in a single season and allow all hell to break loose.

Know this, though: the Thunder are in good shape from a salary cap standpoint. They don’t have gobs of dead money on the books. They don’t have any long-term “what the hell were we thinking?” contracts on the team. They’ve played things very conservatively, which can be maddening and often mistaken for being cheap or frugal. But generally, this team has a pretty good idea of what it’s doing. Remember in the summer of 2013 when the Thunder were reportedly pursuing swingman Dorrell Wright? The Thunder were likely offering minimum salary money (around $1 million per season). He got a 2 year, $6 million deal from Portland. Wright’s been a giant dud in Portland.

Long story short: the Thunder are in position to pay Jackson pretty much whatever he can command regardless of what happens with the cap. If the Thunder chose to part ways with Jackson, it wouldn’t be due to Luxury Tax fears.

I included this because I wanted to take a moment and show our old Serbian friend some love. The Thunder signed Krstic in late 2008 at a point when the team was 3-29 and was the subject of some “worst team of all time” chatter. They were trotting out Robert Swift, Johan Petro, Joe Smith and Nick Collison at center. Adding Krstic wasn’t exactly the catalyst that turned the team around, but he added some solidity to the center position and the Thunder won 20 of their final 50 games.

Krstic was a restricted free agent at the time and was playing in Russia. He hadn’t garnered much interest in the free agent market mostly because of his restricted status, but also because he was still recovering from a late 2006 knee injury. The Nets were luxury tax adverse at the time and were just a tad under the tax line. The Thunder threw an offer sheet at Krstic that the Nets were unlikely to match, and they passed as expected. It was a smart acquisition at the time and Nenad was solid during his stint in Oklahoma City.

See, in order for this to work the Thunder would have to include Kendrick Perkins. I don’t know about you, but that’s when the deal starts to fall apart for me.

Heck no. Suffice it to say, I don’t sit courtside like Royce does for most (all?) of the Thunder home games. I don’t quite get the same experience sitting in the living room of Stately Hamm Manor. Big props to Royce for being able to respond to Russell’s foolishness. If Russ asked me that question, my response would have involved urine-stained pants, probably.

This is a fascinating idea. I mean, who in the world knows what Sacramento actually wants? They could insist on Ish Smith rather than Jackson. They could insist on Russell Westbrook in any package for McLemore. They might need owner Vivek Ranadivé to run some simulations on NBA 2K15 first.

On the surface, it would seem to make some sense for both teams. But again, the Kings are the team that essentially traded Isaiah Thomas for Collison, then decided they wanted to play fast. My head still hurts trying to wrap it around that concept. It’s like saying “I wish I could get rid of this headache”, taking medicine, then smashing your head into a solid object for an hour.

I really like what Smith brings to the team. He’s super quick. He closes out extremely well defensively. He’s capable of breaking down opposing defenses and garnering assists. That’s pretty much the extent of his offensive ability, though. He has a Sebastian Telfair-esque inability to finish at the rim and has almost no range outside of the restricted area. Might explain why he’s on his seventh NBA team in five seasons.

But again, Smith works hard and does what he’s asked. Those attributes will help keep him in the league for a while. I don’t see him as a long-term piece in Oklahoma City, though. In fact, he might not even be on the team past January 10, 2015. That’s the date that all NBA contracts become guaranteed for the remainder of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Thunder waived him prior to this date, though they could bring him back on a pair of 10-day deals afterwards and then decide whether or not to keep him for the rest of the season.

This is very hard to gauge. In a vacuum, and if one viewed Jackson based on the numbers he’s posted as a starter the past couple of seasons, AND assuming a big jump in the salary cap, he’s probably max money-worthy (remember: max money in 2015 will be far less than “max money” in 2016). Will he actually find a team to give him that kind of money? Will he be the Chandler Parsons or the Eric Bledsoe of next summer? What teams would want to back up the Brinks truck for him? It’s way too early to puzzle that out. To paraphrase Montgomery Scott from 2009’s “Star Trek”: “It’s like trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet, whilst wearing a blindfold, riding a horse.”

But Dan brings up an interesting idea: something of a delayed sign-and-trade. It is possible that Oklahoma City could match any offer for Jackson with the idea of dealing him later. There are issues with doing a straight-up sign-and-trade. The team acquiring Jackson would be subject to a hard salary cap of $4 million above the tax line for a year (also known as “the apron”). That may not seem like a big deal, but the Clippers are hard-capped this year and find themselves in a straightjacket (for example, they had to surrender Jared Dudley and a future first round pick in order to acquire players they could waive and open up room under the apron). Teams may not want to sacrifice that kind of flexibility just for the sake of acquiring Jackson. And then there’s the complication of something that used to be called “Base Year Compensation” and I’ll stop there before people start hammering the “Back” button on their browsers.

If Jackson signed an offer sheet and the Thunder matched, they could not trade Jackson for one year without his consent. They also could not deal him to the team that signed him to the offer sheet at all for that year. Sam Presti loves flexibility and this takes away some of that. That could be avoided if the Thunder just re-sign him before he inks an offer sheet elsewhere. For example, in 2012 Roy Hibbert was a restricted free agent and the Blazers were willing to sign him to a maximum salary offer sheet. The Pacers decided to just offer that same amount to him instead, rather than jumping through the procedural hoops of Hibbert signing an offer sheet and having to match within three days.

The Thunder have added Derek Fisher and Caron Butler to the team via this method in the past. Much was written last year about how the majority of late-season buyout pickups barely moved the needle for their new teams. Hopefully if there is a void on the roster that needs patching, the Thunder opt to fix this via a trade instead. It’s hard to tell who might be available via a March 1 buyout (and this can change based on what happens by the trade deadline), but unless there’s an impact rotation player available (and why would such a player get bought out?), hopefully the Thunder won’t rely on this for late season upgrades.

I’m including this question, but I don’t have a good answer. I’m a terrible judge as to what trades are realistic and what aren’t. It really is rare to see “talent for talent” trades these days. The vast majority of trades have some financial angle to them, like some old credit default swap. It’s hard to understand what another team’s motivation for making a trade could be. Do they want to trade and upgrade talent? Do they want to move someone at any cost in order to open up room for someone else? What are agents doing in the background and how are they manipulating moves? Lots of moving pieces. I know that answer makes me 1,000% less fun as a person, but these are the things I think of.

I think most people expect Pleiss to be in Oklahoma City next season. Little known fact: did you know that the Thunder paid around $3 million to acquire his draft rights in 2010? That’s no small investment.

I don’t know for certain what Pleiss’ salary is this season for FC Barcelona (where, incidentally, he’s teammates with the aforementioned Abrines). My hunch is the Thunder would sign him using all or part of the taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($3.376 million).

I don’t have a good read on Abrines’ situation. It seems unlikely that he would come over with Pleiss. The sense I get is that he’s a year or two away from coming to the United States. But there could be a need for his sharpshooting next season, especially if the Thunder give up on Lamb. One under-the-radar idea: the Thunder could use the full Mid-Level Exception next season ($5.464 million) and bring both players over.

I imagine there is a personality in sunny Southern California that has 10,000 words written up about this already.

I think the idea of Kevin Love far outweighs the reality of Kevin Love. Not that he’s a bad player but I think we’re starting to see that he was overrated in Minnesota (Darnell Mayberry saw this long ago, for what it’s worth). The rebounding numbers are great. The three-point shooting is neat for a big man. But even Jeremy Lamb could look at his defense and say, “Dude, you’re doing it wrong.” The Thunder would almost certainly have to give up Ibaka in any such deal. No thanks. Even with Serge’s deflated numbers this season, no thanks.

For those that are unaware, Trade Exception is Venezuelan prospect. It’s pronounced trah-DAY ex-SEP-she-own, very similar for former Cincinnati Reds great Dave Concepcion. I’m sure the Thunder will bring him over any day now.

I waffle between “might be a good package for Wilson Chandler or Jeff Green” and “why bother”. Again, my hangup is with dealing Perkins (again, the “back” button on your browser is at the top and to your left). Not that Perkins is indispensable, but there aren’t many quality free agent bigs to be had. There are even fewer available for trade. It may be time to worry about perimeter play more than post play, but that idea makes me nervous. I have these visions of getting lit up by Zach Randolph in the playoffs at the expense of keeping Courtney Lee and Qunicy Pondexter in check. Tough call. Tougher than people think.

To answer the first question, Brooks’ shortcomings haven’t prevented the Thunder from making a deep playoff run yet (save for 2012 when some knee injury got in the way of things). But it is fair to wonder if Brooks is the “closer” as a coach, so to speak. Problem is, coming up with better candidates is hard. Or better stated: it’s hard to come up with better candidates that wouldn’t also want Presti’s job as well. And those that wouldn’t (such as Mark Jackson) probably aren’t worth the overall headache.

If the Thunder made a coaching move, the first two names I think of are Rex Kalamian (current Thunder assistant coach) or Troy Weaver (current Thunder assistant general manager). No, those names don’t get me excited either (although more than a few Bulls fans said “Phil who?” back in 1989). Neither Kalamian nor Weaver have held a head coaching job at any level. They just don’t seem like the kind of guys you would throw at a championship-level squad.

This has been fun. Let’s do it again sometime.

Jon Hamm is salary cap stud and contributor to Daily Thunder and NewsOK.com. Follow him on Twitter, natch.