Thunder @ the Trade Deadline

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Updated: December 23, 2021
Giddy SGA

The Oklahoma City Thunder have acquired more 1st round draft picks than any other team in the history of basketball. Their success has been quite controversial across the league as they have collected (or hoarded) an exceptional surplus of draft capital from now until the 2028 season. For many, Sam Presti and the OKC front office have done a miraculous job in manufacturing 1st by taking on bad contracts and then slowly piecing them off for additional value. The other half of analysts across the league have nodded in acknowledgment of the asset treasure chest and have asked, “And so what? Where exactly is this path of so much promise actually leading to?” We have seen in the last two drafts that moving up into the top 10 in the lottery is much easier said than done and with the totality of picks OKC carries with them, they often will be asked for more than market value because of what they have to offer in their large piggy bank.

There were questions of what they would do with regards to their one true on-court asset in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and that seems to have been answered with his rookie max-extension which kicks in next year. Although still only 23 years old, his current contract trajectory essentially starts an invisible clock where this game of tanking and laundering piss pour contract for draft compensation can only last for so long. Although Shai is happy now at 23 about to get paid substantially for the first time in his young career, these next handful of years will dictate if Oklahoma is actually his long-term home.

Kevin O’Connor brought up an interesting idea that hasn’t been talked about much as of yet, and that is the option of OKC becoming a buyer at the trade deadline. Usually, buyers at the deadline are contenders looking for the final piece of the puzzle for their imminent playoff push come springtime. The Thunder who sits at the near bottom of the Western Conference is obviously not in this situation. However, with SGA’s contract trajectory and OKC’s huge amount of open salary available, they may consider acquiring young yet already more established assets, rather than banking on draft picks later down the road.

Kevin O’Connor (KOC) suggested that the Thunder trade for Sabonis, a 25-year-old versatile power forward who is thirsty to score inside and is an above-average facilitator for his position. Another player that has been rumored to be on the trade block with the asking price of a 1st round pick is Atlanta’s young Cam Reddish. Why the Hawks feel it necessary to give up on their young lottery pick is for a different piece, but with regards to the OKC acquisitions, the Thunder have the ability to get both of these young players with a semi-overpay in draft picks and yet still retail of all of their own 1sts and several more. Below are the two exchanges they could and I argue should do simultaneously.

For the Sabonis trade, it implies that the Pacers are willing to go through at least a soft-rebuild and if they are willing to move off their only All-Star, one would assume this is at least a notion they have seriously considered internally. The exchange is a pick-heavy package with no real player value attached however, 3 firsts and 2 seconds are by far the most draft picks the Pacer would ever be offered for their B+ big. The same equation is applied in the Atlanta/Reddish trade, in that instead of getting a 1st and decent rotation player back, OKC sends 2 firsts and a Ty Jerome who makes an unsubstantial amount creating more salary-cap space in the future for all the upcoming contracts Atlanta is planning to sign in Hunter and Huerter.

For the Thunder, they would have a core of Giddy at the 1, SGA at the 2, Reddish at the 3, and Sabonis at the 4/5. They could even insert Lu Dort into that equation and go small and have quite a dynamic starting lineup if Giddy can become an adequate defender moving forward. They have so many picks even after selling these 5 firsts that, they could look to pick off players on their rookie deals in the upcoming offseason or a year from now at the next trade deadline to expedite their rebuild around SGA’s timeline where his prime presumably would pop in the next couple years. The assumptions going into this year that they would be the tanking king of the West haven’t played out exactly as planned. They currently stand 3rd from the bottom in the Western Conference above the Houston Rockets and the Zionless New Orleans Pelicans, two teams that are well above the tank-jobs in the East in the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic who both have yet to break double digits in the win column.

It is unlikely they will be in the coveted bottom 3 teams which nearly statistically guarantees a top 5 pick in the upcoming draft. We have seen many franchises in the last two years get lucky in the lottery, jumping up several spots from 9 or 11 up to 4 or 6. Even with the acquisitions of Sabonis and Reddish, the most likely outcome is the Thunder would still end up with top 10 lottery odds heading into the 2022 draft. If they intend to build around Giddy and want to tank themselves into another top 5 pick, maybe trading SGA for optimal draft capital is the move and one that may work out okay for them long-term. However, if they intend to keep Shai and Giddy as their oversized future backcourt tandem, putting pieces around them to help them succeed and grow seems like the most logical path of action to set the road for future success.

 

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