The old saying is you can't get blood out of a turnip.
Whoever penned that idiom hadn't met Sam Presti.
The Oklahoma City Thunder front office wiz engineered a reported deal that will send Carmelo Anthony and a 2022 protected first-round pick to Atlanta as part of a three-team trade, per ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski. Melo is expected to be released. The Hawks will also receive swingman Justin Anderson from Philadelphia, while the 76ers get big man Mike Muscala from Atlanta.
In return, Oklahoma City will get three pieces: point guard Dennis Schroder, swingman Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and a trade exception worth $10.9 million, per the Washington Post's Tim Bontemps.
The popular opinion among folks at NBA Summer League was that Melo's OKC tenure would end with a buyout. With the ability to stretch that amount over three seasons, the Thunder could have saved nearly $100 million in luxury taxes next season. Anthony also held a no-trade clause he could have used as a roadblock, but he relaxed that to expedite his departure.
If merely saving money would have improved the Thunder, perhaps they would have gone in that direction. But Anthony was an asset. He was still a part that could be used to move the team forward. Once a player is waived, he represents dead money that can't be traded. Instead, Presti left the salvage yard with a brand-new engine.
OKC saved money in the trade, though it was no salary dump. Schroder still has three years and $46.5 million left on his deal. The potential tax bill is slashed from nearly $150 million to $88.8 million. The total team cost falls from an estimated $308 million to $238 million. Things are still fluid. For example, the Thunder can trim costs even more by releasing and stretching forward Kyle Singler. Although like Anthony, he's still a part if needed to balance out a future trade.
Finances aside, the swap is another move toward the identity OKC wants to forge on the court. Step 1 was re-signing Westbrook last summer. Step 2 was getting Paul George (who never even took a meeting with his hometown Lakers) on board. It continues with trading Anthony and bringing in the right pieces.
The Thunder have been preaching pace this offseason. OKC had been a top-10 team in possessions per game since 2011-12. It fell to 15th last year, and while Anthony's style contributed, he's not alone. Backup point guard Raymond Felton played with a pace of 95.7 possessions per game in 2017-18, well below the 101.2 Russell Westbrook put up.
Though OKC re-signed Felton, he may have to scoot down another seat on the bench. Schroder will inherit the bench-scorer role the likes of James Harden, Reggie Jackson and Dion Waiters previously filled. The offense shouldn't come to a jarring halt when the former MVP takes a breather. Schroder was just behind Westbrook last season in generating points out of pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy:
There are good reasons the Hawks were ready to part with their starting point guard. On the court, he's a career 32 percent three-point shooter and a bit undersized at 6'1", 172 pounds. He also clashed occasionally with former coach Mike Budenholzer and was in the way of former Oklahoma Sooners star Trae Young, Atlanta's first-round draft pick.
Schroder was also charged with a misdemeanor, which stemmed from a September fight at an Atlanta hookah bar. In March, the DeKalb County District Attorney recommended felony charges. The case remains open. It's a situation the Thunder undoubtedly took into account when making the trade.
By adding Schroder and Nerlens Noel this summer, Oklahoma City is giving its culture a significant stress test.
Yet Schroder is a fierce competitor, a quality he will find in abundance in Oklahoma City. Hawks writer Kevin Chouinard noted as much on Twitter:
Moving from starter to sixth man could be an issue for Schroder, but the Thunder got ahead of that potential issue. Wojnarowski reported Presti and head coach Billy Donovan were granted permission to speak with Schroder before the trade. And according to Bleacher Report senior writer Ric Bucher, Westbrook is Schroder's favorite player:
The 6'6" Luwawu-Cabarrot is a 23-year-old project who is still on his rookie-scale contract. In typical Thunder style, he's a lanky wing player with a lot of defensive potential and a shaky jumper. He was buried on the Sixers bench as the team rose from lottery entrant to playoff threat. Philadelphia acquired wings Landry Shamet, Zhaire Smith and Shake Milton at the June draft, indicating a desire to move on from the French prospect. He becomes another developmental task for the Thunder staff—one that historically hits more than it misses.
The $10.9 million trade exception is the league's largest, per data culled from Basketball Insiders. It's a handy tool for over-the-cap teams to have. It's valid for one year and could be used to facilitate trades.
OKC also still has its $5.3 million taxpayer mid-level exception. With the free-agent market nearly dry, it's unlikely the Thunder will find a player worth that cost and the added tax. It does, however, serve as a tool to chase a someone bought out during the season.
To make this all happen, OKC dealt a protected 2022 first-rounder to the Hawks. The pick is lottery-protected, which gives the team cushion. Should the Thunder bottom out by then—a realistic possibility in the fourth year of Westbrook's designated player extension—OKC would owe the Hawks a pair of future second-round picks instead.
The trade brings an end to the Melo experiment in Oklahoma City. It began with high hopes and finished with both sides wanting out of the relationship. But the Thunder will move forward because they don't trash—they recycle.
Statistics courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise noted.