When the Oklahoma City Thunder went out of their way to get involved in an NBA trade and send Ryan Gomes packing, rumors started swirling that general manager Sam Presti was preparing to make a fairly big move. The Thunder were never going to trade for an All-Star player, but it seemed that acquiring a serviceable rotation piece was in the cards. But OKC doesn’t have to make any trade right now—it's primed for a deep postseason run.
As of Jan. 29, the Thunder are the second-best team in basketball and are three games ahead of the second-place Western Conference team. This, despite the fact that superstar point guard Russell Westbrook has shed his colorful street clothes in only 25 of their 47 games.
When it comes to talking about NBA trades, we have to be realistic. OKC is a contender, and you don’t make major changes to a contender. So where were the moves going to be made?
There was never any doubt about the Thunder’s “Big Three.” Likewise, Kendrick Perkins isn’t going to be moved off the roster until the summer of 2014 at the earliest—because his contract is basically untradeable until it’s an expiring deal in the 2014-15 season.
Thabo Sefolosha is on an expiring deal, but his $3.9 million salary isn’t high enough to truly intrigue any teams looking to prune the hedges on their payroll. Furthermore, his elite perimeter defense is so valuable that it’s highly unlikely the Thunder could find a deal that would make it worth their while to say goodbye to the lanky Swiss swingman.
Any trades the Thunder were going to make this season would revolve around improving the bench.
Entering the season, there were serious questions about the Thunder’s blatant overreliance on youth. Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and Steven Adams would all be counted on to be significant rotation pieces, despite their startling lack of experience—both in NBA games and on this planet in general.
|Inexperienced Youth (Before This Season)|
|Player||Age||NBA Games Played||Minutes Per Game|
With such an inexperienced second unit, the bench production was sure to fall off precipitously from the previous Thunder reserve squads featuring proven NBA scorers like James Harden and Kevin Martin, right?
That notion led many analysts, like Danny Chau of Hardwood Paroxysm, to predict that the Thunder would trade their bevy of young talent for an established contributor who could help them win now.
And if the young guns had disappointed, I’m sure GM Sam Presti would be thinking long and hard about where to find the best deals on the trade market.
But they haven’t disappointed. Far from it.
In fact, this year’s second unit is averaging more points per game than any of its predecessors (since the club relocated to Oklahoma City):
|Season||Bench Points Per Game|
Reggie Jackson has demonstrated his proficiency for running the team and playing under control. Jeremy Lamb has completely reversed his horrendous preseason shooting and emerged as one of the team’s best long-range bombers. Perry Jones is carving out a nice role as a utility defender. Steven Adams is way ahead of his projected development and already looks like an upgrade over Kendrick Perkins.
Not only do all four players have tantalizing potential, but they are also all contributing right now. Considering their age and all of the development in their near futures, it wouldn’t make sense for the Thunder to trade any of those players.
And even if Presti wanted to make a move, what would he go after? Shooting guard and power forward are set. If Westbrook is healthy, point guard is also a strength of the depth chart.
Sure, it would be nice to get a better small forward to spell Kevin Durant, but you don’t give up assets to acquire a player who plays less than 10 minutes per game in the postseason.
Center is really the only position where an upgrade is feasible, but there are very few opponents against whom such an upgrade would be truly beneficial:
|Houston Rockets||Dwight Howard|
|Indiana Pacers||Roy Hibbert|
|Memphis Grizzlies||Marc Gasol|
Maybe trading for a savvy veteran center like Emeka Okafor would be an option, but OKC shouldn’t do that if it means giving up one of its promising young players.
Don’t rock the boat when you’re a top-two team without your top-10 player in action.
Don’t rock the boat when Kevin Durant is doing “Slim Reaper” things and making history.
Don’t rock the boat, Mr. Presti. The Thunder are just fine as they are.