For all their dazzling dribbling and lights-out shooting, the Oklahoma City Thunder have one glaring need: a dominant post player at the offensive end.
Enter Jared Sullinger.
Despite being projected as a top-five pick at the beginning of the season, it has been revealed he has been medically red-flagged by NBA doctors due to back issues.
Regardless of his medical problems, Sullinger clearly has the most refined post game of any prospect. He has tremendous footwork is very effective with his back to the basket. He can also create his own shot down low—something Oklahoma City desperately needs.
The Thunder offense relies on jump-shooting to score. They get very few easy baskets in and around the rim, largely due to the ineptitude of their current big men.
Sullinger would be a fantastic addition to the Thunder; he can finish around the rim and would give OKC the ability to throw the ball into the post; things both dearly lacking in their recent NBA Finals defeat. Russell Westbrook is also in desperate need of a full-time, pick-and-roll partner—something Sullinger can be.
But more importantly, the addition of Sullinger would solve a serious financial problem for the Thunder. Oklahoma City will not be able to re-sign James Harden and Serge Ibaka. Both will command annual salaries of $8-14 million a season, something a small market team like Oklahoma City cannot afford under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
If Sullinger were to be on the roster, it would appear almost certain Ibaka would be let go as they are both power forwards. While Sullinger is a completely different player to the high-flying, shot-blocking Ibaka, he would certainly soften the blow Ibaka’s potential exit may have.
Most projections have Sullinger going in the middle of the first-round. HoopsHype.com even has him falling to the Boston Celtics at 21. Clearly, Oklahoma City would have to trade up from their current position of 28 to get their man. However, I do not perceive this to be a huge problem for the Thunder and GM Sam Presti.
Houston seems the obvious trade partner. They have three picks in the middle of the first round at 14, 16 and 18 and will not want to add three rookies to a roster already bursting with young talent. Reggie Jackson, Cole Aldrich and the Thunder’s 2013 first-round pick should be enough to get a deal done.
If Houston desired it, the Thunder’s pick at 28 could also be thrown in as part of the deal.
Despite questions about his health, Oklahoma City is in a position where they can gamble on a prospect; they must pull the trigger on any reasonable deal that nets them Sullinger.
With Sullinger down low, and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden on the perimeter, the Thunder offense would be simply unstoppable.