Mailbag: Eve of New Year’s Eve Edition

NBAE/Getty

NBAE/Getty

It’s been awhile since I sat down and wrote a meaningful article. To my complete surprise, radio turned into my second career instead of writing. Over the past few months I’ve focused on trying to do good work for The Franchise (107.7FM in Oklahoma City, 107.9FM in Tulsa) and haven’t had much time to write. Allow me to exercise those muscles a bit.

If the Thunder decided to trade McGary it would almost certainly be as part of a package deal because of his low salary ($1.46 million). I suppose one of Philly’s low-salary swingmen could be in play for McGary alone – if they’d part with Robert Covington, I’m listening – but I don’t think there’s much there that moves the needle.

I wasn’t quite sure what the story was here, so I turned to Josh Poteet who follows the Blue. It seems the Thunder organization is trying to develop and improve offensive aspects of McGary’s game. Makes sense, because when he’s played it’s mostly been in a “Bull in a China Shop” sort of way. The fact that he isn’t starting every game is probably a non-issue. Josh thinks it’s hard to play McGary and fellow prospect Dakari Johnson together.

It appears so. There is some precedent here. Back in 2012, Reggie Jackson was thought to be a better option than Eric Maynor as the backup point guard. Jackson got some garbage time minutes early in the season and spent some time in Tulsa with the 66ers. The game before Christmas that year, Jackson got extended playing time because Kevin Martin sat out with a quad injury. On Christmas day versus Miami, he officially supplanted Maynor as the backup. Payne’s introduction to the league looks eerily similar.

Fun aside: since I have a media credential this year I’ve attended several of Coach Donovan’s pregame press conferences. I’ve stayed quiet because I didn’t want to nervously blurt out something stupid like, “Score good in basketball sport. How basketball round?” This isn’t how I wanted to wind up on SportsCenter.

On Christmas day, I finally conjured up the courage to ask a question. I forget the exact wording, but I asked if Payne was being brought along slowly because he’s a rookie point guard. To my relief, Donovan answered the question thoughtfully and waited to laugh at my stupid question behind closed doors (probably). Donovan said it wasn’t necessarily a matter of bringing Payne along slowly, he just preferred Augustin’s experience at this point.

And now Payne seems to have supplanted Augustin. Now I’m not saying I had anything to do with it but clearly I did, right?

Perhaps the corner has turned in regards to Payne. As for McGary, I get why Donovan might be hesitant to use him. Collison is a better defender than McGary (help defense, ability to switch, communication, ability to draw charges, etc.) and obviously more experienced overall. Donovan seems to be leaning toward experience at the moment. And putting McGary and Kanter in the second unit together would bring back bad defensive memories of 2014-15.

McGary could still be unleased at some point, and hopefully not because of some significant injury.

Since Sebastian hit me up to do a new mailbag, he gets to ask all of the questions he wants.

1. See above. This question came in after the Nuggets game, and now it seems pretty clear that Payne is going to get an extended look with the second unit.

2. I like Dion. I think he’s a good dude and a good teammate in this environment. I’ve patiently waited for him to level out as an NBA player, and I’ve even prematurely swam to (and from) Waiters Island on several occasions. But I don’t think the Thunder can accomplish their goals if they have to rely on him like they do. Royce suggested that Payne’s role could increase at the expense of Dion’s. If that’s the case, I don’t think Dion can be terribly helpful in 12-15 minutes per night.

His role is already slipping a bit. He’s averaging 27 minutes per game on the season, but he’s playing under 20 in his last four games. It also doesn’t help that his play has been atrocious in that stretch (20% from the field, 0-5 from 3, 2.5 points per game). He also hasn’t attempted a single free throw in the past five games.

So who would want him? It’s hard to think of another team that would want to get an inexpensive half-season look at him. Portland, Philadelphia, and Utah all have room under the cap and could acquire him while giving up next-to-nothing (a protected second-round pick, for example). I don’t see Utah having any interest or need for Dion. Portland and Philadelphia might make sense on some level. Maybe there’s some multi-team trade scenario that I can’t envision right now.

3. Martin is an interesting buyout-and-sign candidate. He’s currently out of the Minnesota rotation while the team tries to trade him. Unless someone trades for him in order to keep him, he’s likely to hit waivers at some point before March 1.

As for Johnson, I think he may be done. His stats are awful this season and I don’t think it’s all because of a positional change. There’s just something about the Thunder signing him that screams “CARON BUTLER!!!” to me.

4. One of the reasons I’ve pushed for Payne is the hope that he would be able to get Kanter – and Morrow, to a slightly lesser extent – more involved. Kanter has been doing some work the past five games: 16.2 points and 9.5 rebounds in only 22 minutes per. He’s also shooting 64.5% from the field and nearly 90% from the line.

Matchups. Give Donovan credit for this: he seems more willing to adjust game-to-game and in-game lineups than his predecessor did.

Seems like Waiters. Morrow’s skill is valuable and Roberson likely wouldn’t net much of a return. I’ll be surprised if that same trio is here after the trade deadline.

I’d thought the same ever since he briefly left the December 23 game at the Lakers. He didn’t look well against the Bulls on Christmas Day or against the Nuggets on Sunday night. I doubt it’s anything serious. He looked better against the Bucks last night.

That hypothetical Lopez deal came with risks. Not just in terms of health, but Lopez became an unrestricted free agent. The Thunder was rightly concerned about putting most of their tradable eggs in that basket and having nothing to show for it a few months later.

Then there’s the matter of the cost to re-sign Lopez. He would up re-signing for 3 years and $63.5 million. Kanter will earn ~$51.3M over that same span. And, even though this doesn’t sound like a bonus right now, they were able to sign Kanter and Singler for a little more than the cost of one Lopez. If Singler can revert back to form, this will seem like a better package than it does now.

I am so over State Farm. Unless their commercial has the great J.K. Simmons in it, I’m not interested in seeing it more than once.

I think it’s definitely possible. Portland seems like the perfect trade partner and could help out the Thunder a lot. The Blazers are about $14 million under the salary floor (and before we go much further, know that there isn’t much of a penalty for failing to reach the floor). The Thunder could deal Novak and/or Huestis to the Blazers and take back one of their minimum salary guys like Tim Frazier or Cliff Alexander. If they do this before January 10, the Thunder could acquire and waive one of those guys before their contract becomes guaranteed for the season. The Blazers get to add the full-season salary of the acquired player(s) to their Team Salary and thus get closer to the salary floor. The Thunder could also save a lot of luxury tax money in the process.

Such a deal could require the Thunder to surrender a future asset, such as a future 2nd round pick. Fortunately, the Thunder has a few on hand, though a couple are “fake” picks that are top-55 protected.

Take my scenario in the previous question and sub in Waiters instead. If the Thunder had another bench guard lined up, they could certainly try to trade Waiters to a team with room, take back little-to-no salary in return, open up a roster spot and create a trade exception in the process.

These two would be a good place to start anytime you fire up the Trade Machine.

(By the way, all of this dumping on Dion is breaking the hearts of Andrew Schlecht and Taylor Dickerson of the Down to Dunk crew)

Possibly, but I get the feeling that this team REALLY likes Payne. Not just as a player, but as a person and as a teammate. It’d probably take a significant trade to convince the Thunder to part with him, and I’m not convinced they are in the market for a deal that seismic.

Dammit Jim, I’m a capologist not a miracle worker.