OKC Thunder Should Keep Good Thing Going and Avoid Last-Minute Trade

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OKC Thunder Should Keep Good Thing Going and Avoid Last-Minute Trade
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When considering the trade deadline decisions for the Oklahoma City Thunder, you have to boil it down to "wants" and "needs" first and foremost.

Do the Thunder need any additional pieces to contend for a title? No.

Even without star point guard Russell Westbrook, OKC is cruising into the All-Star break with the league's best winning percentage, a top-five offense and defense in efficiency and the likely MVP in Kevin Durant. The Thunder don't need to do anything but get healthy and then stay healthy.

But what the Thunder need and what the Thunder might want are two different things. 

It's understandable why the Thunder might want to add a proven shooter and a legitimate three-and-D guy.

Almost every past champion has had one of those types of players serve in a prominent role. Guys like Shane Battier and Bruce Bowen have helped teams win titles with that very particular and very valuable set of skills.

Besides, so long as you have the stars in place, you can pretty much never have too much shooting and defense on your roster.

That being said, there are expenses to be paid and resources to be drained that the Thunder might not have readily available. Here's Dan Feldman with the explanation at ProBasketballTalk.com:

The Thunder could accept up to $6.6 million for one player using a trade exception, but that’s probably not their real limit. They’re only $2,236,572 below the luxury-tax threshold, and I can’t see them surpassing it.

The trade exception itself would help Oklahoma City acquire a player on a long contract his current team wants to dump. But anyone more valuable, the Thunder would have to add a draft pick. 

If the Thunder can find a way to add a shooter to the roster without going into the luxury tax, and without giving up a future draft pick or current asset? Great. Sure. Absolutely.

That just doesn't seem all that realistic, though. While handing out future picks isn't a big deal to some franchises (hello, basketball teams of New York), drafting cheap talent to supplement the max star players is what Oklahoma City's entire model is built on. This is a franchise that prides itself on player development, and so first-round picks are treated like gold.

While you can certainly understand the desire to push in and really try to leave no doubt on the table, OKC has always made financial sustainability the first priority. That's why James Harden plays for another team, and that's why there hasn't been very many pure player acquisitions in the past. 

Again, it all depends on the cost of acquiring another piece. We can safely assume the Thunder won't go into the luxury tax, so there's likely a very small window to work with. 

That is, of course, unless a member of the core and a substantial salary is going to be dealt for a big name. Would the Thunder really deal resident (but struggling) three-and-D man Thabo Sefolosha and his expiring deal worth $3.9 million? Could the Thunder finally cut the cord with Kendrick Perkins and his deal worth $8.7 million this year and $9.6 million next year?

Chicago Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy and Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo are great players who are no doubt worth considering, but each present their own problems.

Dunleavy isn't a bad defender by any means, but he's certainly limited on that end athletically. Dunleavy is aging fast at 33 and is nowhere near capable of defending at the level Thabo Sefolosha does, even if Sefolosha has lost a step as well.

Afflalo is an ideal fit in terms of talent, as his elite corner three-point shooting would make the Thunder even more difficult to stop offensively. Problem is, Afflalo is on a three-year deal worth $7.5 million. That would almost certainly put OKC into the tax at some point in the future, unless it was Kendrick Perkins leaving. If that was the case, multiple draft picks would be headed to the Orlando Magic.

Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

But aside from all the logistical hurdles, there's another resource that any acquired trade piece would absorb: playing time.

While that might not be a big deal considering that Sefolosha is shooting only 33.6 percent from behind the arc and getting 26.9 minutes a game, it's unlikely he'd fall out of the rotation completely if another shooter was added and he wasn't the one being traded.

Instead, it would be Jeremy Lamb who would likely feel the brunt of the Thunder acquiring another wing shooter. At just 21 years old and in his second year, that could seriously stunt his growth. Durant explained exactly what Lamb needs earlier this season to Anthony Slater of NewsOK.com: "He's getting better. Experience is the best teacher. He's going to take his bumps and bruises, but he's a smart, smart player.”

Not letting Lamb fully develop through playing is a potential problem for a franchise that is always thinking about the future. Truth be told, Lamb probably deserves more minutes based on how he's played this year, not less.

Lamb is shooting a respectable 36.6 percent from behind the arc and knocking in 2.1 threes per 36 minutes, which is actually more than both Afflalo and Dunleavy (1.8 each) are making using the same metric. Obviously, you'd like to see that percentage improve quite a bit, but Lamb isn't a player defenses can leave all alone on the perimeter by any means.

Don't mistake Lamb for just a shooter, though. He's a leaper with great length who can also score off the bounce and pinch in on the glass, and he has nice foot speed on the defensive end to utilize. As Durant said, he's also a pretty smart player who can do a lot of the little things.

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If the Thunder really want to upgrade from Sefolosha and add a shooter to the starting lineup, they can do so internally by playing Lamb more minutes. As it stands, he'll likely be squeezed out of some playing time once Westbrook comes back and Reggie Jackson goes back to his sixth man role.

Perhaps most importantly, sticking with Lamb would also keep the Thunder under the luxury tax line and keep all the future picks at home. 

If Oklahoma City really wants to trade for wing help, lower-salary targets would seem to make the most sense. If he's not already, Lamb will be ready to occupy that big role sooner rather than later.

Basically, this is the equivalent of adding on a wing to an already pristine mansion. If the Thunder can afford it, great, but there's no reason to force anything. Nothing is broken here, and nothing requires fixing.  

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