Thunder twitter and Westbrook stans couldn’t be further apart at this point, and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching from afar as long time allies turn on each other. Sam Presti might not be able to win GM of the Year since all these trades are occurring in the offseason, but he is setting the Thunder up to make a score of moves come the season’s start date. The amount of players he’s been able to get off of while acquiring assets and keeping the future of the team bright is something only done once before with this magnitude, and said team (the Los Angeles Clippers) was someone Presti traded with to make all of this happen.
I said in my reaction piece that Presti was able to flip two broken All-Stars on bloated contracts for 11 first round picks, and I stick by that statement. Sure, it is just 7 true first rounders and 4 pick swaps, but this is monumental for the Thunder going forward. Kawhi and PG might both leave the Clippers in two years, and the Rockets may soon realize that the aging, athletic, slashing point guard isn’t a better option (long term) the aging point guard they had that made less for a shorter time. Having the best pick (between those teams) for those 4 years may have them in a better situation, especially when coupled with the other 7 picks.
The more you analyze the trades, the more in awe you should be of Sam Presti. He was able to flip two players on long contracts without giving up other assets, acquires multiple picks and a nice young asset, get an expiring contract back, and get an All-Star. Tying in as well that the players he traded had multiple surgeries on multiple places in their body only helps build Presti’s credibility as one of the best GM’s in the league, and he still has more moves to make…
There are only four large contracts remaining on OKC’s books that are over $10 million, making them the desired ones to move. Two belong to players that will expire at the end of this year. SG/SF Andre Roberson (1 yr/$10 million) and SF/PF Danillo Gallinari (1 yr/$22.6 million), if the Thunder wished to trade those players immediately, easily could have a a pick attached to them and be on a new team by tomorrow. The Thunder could target some young players they want to put around Shai, and even use those guys to acquire them. However, if the Thunder just bid their time and wait, many teams (like, say, any player on the Knicks, Hornets, or Suns) would be willing to attach picks to their own bad contracts, and their own players to the Thunder to clean their books heading into next season. On the flip side, the Thunder could easily just keep the players themselves. Wiping off $32.6 million from your caps is absolutely amazing, and the Thunder have more than just those two expiring contracts on their books. The Thunder have five expiring contracts totaling (roughly) $40 million, which is the perfect amount to target an enormous salary dump player for another enormous asset return.
The other two contracts are more pressing, going out for more than two years each. C Steven Adams will be tough to move, seeing as he is making about $25 million a year for the next two years. Only being known as a defensive, rebounding, iron-man center is slightly bad when you factor in the money he is making. While many teams want that in a center across the league, most will not pay a garbage player and second-round pick for Adams. Bad money for long years is tough to get off of, and Presti may see that he has to unload some of his warchest to move Adams. I personally wouldn’t want to, seeing as he is an amazing teammate and locker room presence. It’d really be helpful to have a stabilizing presence around during this rebuild process, and it’d be better than giving up assets to get off of that. You’re in rebuild mode; you need good guys in the locker room to help “reach these kids”.
Now, the biggest and hardest challenge ahead of Sam Presti is flipping Chris Paul. Apparently, there is no market for a solo Paul trade, which only makes sense. Paul is making roughly $40 million a year for the next three years, making a whooping $44.2 million in the last year of his contract (contract is back-loaded). The veteran point guard just turned 34, meaning he will be 37 when this deal is over.
Thankfully for Presti, Chris Paul is still viewed as a fringe All-Star to many teams, particularly in those lacking quality, starting point guards. Many teams, like the Suns and Hornets, have decided to overpay decent options to come to their teams, hoping that they workout. Some, like the Heat and Timberwolves, have positioned themselves in order to pursue a guard via trade. While both will be viewing D’Angelo Russell and Bradley Beal with heart eye emojis in the coming weeks, Chris Paul will be the backup option should one strike out as the other succeeds. I mean, let’s look at the facts around those two aforementioned stars:
(1) The Warriors will be super selective with who they send D-Lo to, so they will 100% want an amazing haul back
(2) The Wizards still do not have a GM, so the direction of their franchise is completely unclear.
The Thunder, on the other hand, have painted themselves as a perfect money dump, and having already gotten incredible assets via other trades. While I can count of Presti to try and get as much as possible, the situation the Thunder are in means that they will not be trying to extract everything from either team. Sure, there is no market for CP3 right now, but you think the Thunder won’t do everything in their power in order to get CP’s value as high as possible before the trade deadline? Sure, the Thunder will be focusing on the development of the young guard duo of Shai and Ferguson, but they want to rebuild, not contend. With that in mind, let’s see what Sam might do tradewise with his three most likely trade partners…
Pat Riley must be the most called person for Sam Presti this past month. First he was trying to send Russ there, now he is trying to send CP3 to South Beach. You may be asking, “Buck, if Pat didn’t want an old point guard with injury issues once before, what makes you think he will take this one?”
Well, a few reasons.
This season has shaped out to be the “Dawn of the Dynamic Duos”, with every team in contention to make the Finals being comprised of no “Big 3”. No matter how you view Hassan Whiteside now, he was still an All-NBA Defensive Team player. Without another star with him in Miami, all the blame and fame will rest on Jimmy Butler’s shoulders. Yes, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro are intriguing young assets to have next to Jimmy. However, Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Meyers Leonard, and Justice Winslow are not the most inspiring group of players to surround those three with. Only one out of the five (Kelly Olynyk) is decent from three, while three of them (James Johnson, Meyers Leonard, and Justice Winslow) cannot shoot effectively, and the final one (Dion Waiters) is an inefficient ball hog. So answer me this: if the Heat were able to make the playoffs, could that eight compete/beat any team in contention for the East playoffs?
With a Kawhi leaving the East, the mantle of “Beast of the East” now needs to pass to a different team. While the Bucks are certainly the frontrunners, the Pacers, Nets, and Celtics all improved in the offseason. Hell, the Raptors aren’t dead just yet; the Magic and Pistons even slightly improved their roster. That is seven out of the eight slots taken, leaving only a few teams in contention to take it. I mean, will the Bulls be able to figure out their young roster and a hardass, defensive-focused coach? Or will the Knicks 7 power forwards help them make the playoffs? Maybe it’ll be the Hornets, led by their new, young, overpaid, franchise point guard.
Get the point I’m making?
The Heat have a great opportunity to make the playoffs in the East, and there are no real people in their way. A CP3-Butler duo would be infinitely better than a Ross-Vucevic Magic or Griffin-Drummond Pistons, and the team would be in perfect position to pivot and acquire other quality players via trade with minimal assets sent out. A few seconds could easily acquire one of the Knicks 7 power forwards, and the Mavs are looking to move on from Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway, Jr.
However, role players don’t win championships, and Pat Riley knows this. Hence why Sam Presti can capitalize on any of this, and could easily move CP3 to the Heat. There are a few iterations of the trade, and I will try and list the pros and cons of each…
TRADE #1 (Easiest To Do)
Thunder Receive: PG Goran Dragic (1 yr/$19.2 million); PF James Johnson (2 yr/$32million); two lottery protected first round picks
Heat Receive: PG Chris Paul (3 yr/$120 million)
This trade is one that I like for both teams, especially the Heat. They can keep a majority of their assets, get off of Johnson and Dragic’s contracts, get Chris Paul, and only have to give up a couple of picks in the process. They get Butler’s friend on the team, and have a better starter at point guard than Dragic.
TRADE #2 (Best Option)
Thunder Receive: PG Goran Dragic (1 yr/$19.2 million); PF James Johnson (2 yr/$32 million); SF/PG Justice Winslow (4 yr/$52 million); two lottery protected first round picks
Heat Receive: PG Chris Paul (3 yr/$120 million); SG/SF Andre Roberson (1 yr/$10 million)
This one hurts the Heat a tad more than they may like, but it is worth it. Dragic and Johnson need to go, but flipping Justice Winslow for Roberson? Sounds like a deal really. Roberson is supposed to play next year, and he will wipe off the books after the season is over. He is a cheaper defensive wing that can’t shoot, and you aren’t dedicated to him for the next four years. You still only give up two picks since Winslow is a young asset. Money all matches, so the trade works. Also gives the Heat a roster spot (and less money on their books) to pursue the buyout market or someone else via trade.
TRADE #3 (Most Complicated and Most Unlikely)
Thunder Receive: PG Goran Dragic (1 yr/$19.2 million); PF James Johnson (2 yr/$32 million); SF/PG Justice Winslow (4 yr/$52 million); SG Dion Waiters (2 yr/$25 million); 4 lottery protected first round picks
Heat Receive: PG Chris Paul (3 yr/$120 million); SF/PF Danilo Gallinari (1 yr/$22.6 million)
This one is solely something I thought of while finishing this up, and I liked it a lot. People forget that after Gordon Hayward turned down the Jazz to go to the Celtics, the Heat (having struck out on Gordon themselves) began pursuing Gallinari hard before he turned them down to join the Clippers. There is still mutual interest between the two, seeing as the young forward could easily slide in and give a much needed offensive boost to a Heat offense that may stagnate at times, since much of what the team will do will run through two guards over the age of 30. High price to pay though, but I could see it happen due to the fact that Dion Waiters and James Johnson will require a pick each to move off of.
Besides having a few criminal contracts on their books, the Timberwolves are in a dicey situation. Why? Well, they are stuck between a timeframe of trying to appease KAT by creating a contender OR creating a young core to build around. They messed up in the draft (again), and are now severely lacking a point guard. Jeff Teague is not capable of running a playoff offense, and Towns NEEDS someone else to help him on offense besides Robert Covington. The Twolves struck out on D-Lo, refusing to trade for him like the Pacers did for Malcolm Brogdon. They smartly didn’t pursue the Westbrook contract, but Chris Paul is different. The contract is a year less, CP3 passes more, and he is a significant upgrade defensively than Jeff Teague. The Wiggins, Dieng, and Teague contracts need to get moved for the team to have a better chance to compete. Having an All-Star (even an aging one) that can help coach your players is great, and CP is an upgrade over Teague. Let’s see what a trade could look like…
TRADE #1 (Easiest)
Thunder Receive: SG/SF Andrew Wiggins (4 yr/$117 million); C Gorgui Dieng (2 yr/$31.4 million); 2 lottery protected first round picks; 1 unprotected first round picks
Timberwolves Receive: PG Chris Paul (3 yr/$120 million); PF Patrick Patterson (1 yr/$5.7 million)
I really think that the Thunder would have a tough time turning down this offer if the Twolves, Heat, and third team (further down) all made their easiest offers. Wiggins is a bust, and everyone BUT the Timberwolves owner (Glen Taylor) knows it. Hell, Kevin Garnett called him out on national TV for “not knowing shit” about basketball. This offer is solely there for a dump of Wiggins/Dieng, and the picks reflect that. The signing of Naz Reid means that the Twolves are already looking to move on from the veteran center from UofL, just like the drafting of Culver meant that the team was looking for a wing to start taking minutes away from Wiggins. Patterson gets you a stretch 4 to put next to Towns, and CP3 is a significant upgrade over Teague in the short term.
TRADE #2 (Best)
Thunder Receive: SG/SF Andrew Wiggins (4 yr/$117 million); C Gorgui Dieng (2 yr/$31.4 million); PG Jeff Teague (1 yr/$19 million); 2 lottery protected first round picks; 3 unprotected first round picks
Timberwolves Receive: PG Chris Paul (3 yr/$120 million); SG/SF Andre Roberson (1 yr/$10 million); PF Patrick Patterson (1 yr/$5.7 million)
This one has a lot of moving parts, but I really like this trade. The Thunder get off all of their bad players (money and actual play wise), get $16 million wiped off their books next year, and get a star to run the point. Sure, there might be some leeway in who is better between Roberson and Wiggins, but Roberson can at least play defense and make layups. That sounds like a perfect bench defender to lock down LeBron, PG13, or Kawhi when Robert Covington needs a breather. Roberson is also young, so he fits the rebuild timeline that the Timberwolves are on. Sure, CP3 going down could hurt since you don’t have that many guards, but it’s worth getting off Wiggins and Dieng to do so.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Thunder Receive: PG Patty Mills (2 yr/$25 million); SG Demar DeRozan (2 yr/$60 million); two lottery protected first round picks
Spurs Receive: PG Chris Paul (3 yr/$120 million); PF Patrick Paterson (1 yr/$5.7 million)
I came up with the Spurs kind of by accident. I remembered that CP3 had some interest in playing for Pop back when he hit the market (aka when he went to the Rockets). I also remembered that Pop loves having smart point guards to help mold young ones. With how the Spurs seem to be making moves to be in title contention, it would be intriguing to see them try and make some moves in order to maximize their roster. Currently, the Spurs have 7 guards on their roster in Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Demar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker. Four out of the seven are under the age of 25, and making $10 million collectively. The other three are 30 or older, and roughly making $46 million. Marco Belinelli comes off the books next year, but DeRozan and Mills are on the hook for another two apiece. With the length, age, and money factored into the short contention timeframe due to Pop’s age, a dynamic duo of Aldridge and DeRozan will not go far. DeRozan is the worst player efficiency wise. He is worse than Westbrook. The Spurs looked better against the Nuggets last playoffs when he was on the bench, and that was with Mills (one of the other bad efficiency players for the Spurs) being on the bench with him. If the Spurs could flip their two horrible efficiency guys for CP3 and a forward who comes off the books next year, their lineups almost get fixed overnight. There is no more logjam at the guard positions, where the Spurs sometimes had DeRozan and Belinelli playing small forward. I know I might be the weird one for saying this, but flipping Mills and DeRozan for CP3 might be the best move for the Spurs, and that’s why I think I am rooting for this trade to happen the most.
…of course, this all requires teams to actually want to acquire Chris Paul and his contract. It is looking kind of bleak right now, but we will see what happens come trade deadline time.