Thunder get busy in rebuild
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
In cap-dork circles, the Seattle SuperSonics’ Kurt Thomas trades of more than a decade ago still hold legendary status. Seattle got a first-round pick from the Suns for taking Thomas’ contract in 2007 then another first-round pick from the Spurs in 2008 for sending the center to San Antonio.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who was running the SuperSonics at the time, just did it again with Chris Paul.
And somewhat again with Kelly Oubre.
And somewhat again with Danny Green.
A year after getting two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps for “downgrading” from Russell Westbrook to Paul, Oklahoma City flipped Paul to the Suns for a protected first-rounder. (Unlike the first-rounder the Rockets got from the Wizards in the Westbrook-John Wall trade, the Phoenix pick is guaranteed to become a first-rounder.)
The Thunder got Oubre and Ricky Rubio in the deal – not because Oklahoma City particularly valued those two, but because they were the matching salary the Suns had available.
Yet, the Thunder flipped Oubre to the Warriors for a top-20-protected first-rounder that becomes a second-rounder if not conveyed in 2021. Oklahoma City unloaded Rubio, who has a somewhat expensive multi-year guarantee, as fairly neutral value in another trade.
The Thunder also traded Dennis Schroder for the No. 28 pick and Danny Green. The Lakers obviously wanted Schroder, but given that they triggered the hard cap by using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, they seemingly also wanted to unload Green.
No problem for Oklahoma City, which re-routed Green to Philadelphia for yet another first-round pick and Al Horford. Though dumping Horford (three years, $81 million with $69 million guaranteed remaining) was a priority for the 76ers, they also clearly wanted Green, who could start for them.
For a while, players just whirred onto and off of the Thunder’s roster at such a frenetic pace. But it felt like, at each step – whether someone was incoming or outgoing – another first-rounder stuck in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder added yet another first-rounder by trading Steven Adams – the last link to their glory days – to the Pelicans. That deal also netted George Hill.
If Hill and Horford play well in Oklahoma City, they could get flipped for even more picks. The veterans can help teams aiming to win now. However, with Horford due so much, it could be another year or two before he’s moveable.
The Thunder also acquired second-round picks in some of these trades – including one that brought in Trevor Ariza, another player who could be flipped for positive value. But the first-rounders were so plentiful, the second-rounders don’t rate.
In this year’s draft, Oklahoma City traded up for No. 17 pick Aleksej Pokusevski. The raw prospect with high upside is perfect for a team just entering its tanking phase.
The Thunder also got No. 34 pick Theo Maledon (whom I gave a first-round grade) and No. 37 pick Vit Krejci.
All these trades left plenty of flotsam on Oklahoma City’s roster: Ty Jerome, Kenrich Williams, Justin Jackson, Darius Miller, Admiral Schofield, T.J. Leaf. If any of those players help the Thunder, that’d be a bonus.
This rebuild isn’t relying on marginal players, though. The Thunder got major draft capital plus Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last offseason for Westbrook, Paul George and Jerami Grant. With less-appealing players this offseason, Oklahoma City still found ways to significantly add to its stockpile of picks.
At some point, Presti must nail the picks and build back up. But for now, he’s accumulating an embarrassment of riches to give the Thunder their best chance of eventual success.