The NBA has gone months without there being a trade and it’s mostly likely due to most, if not all, of the teams waiting until December 15th. That’s the day that the free agents that were signed this summer can officially be traded due to the annual league moratorium being lifted.
Since about 40% of the players in the league were free agents, teams haven’t been able to make trades like they normally would.
This day is extremely important for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although they didn’t sign many free agents this summer, they did acquire guys via trade that they were hoping to trade so they can get under the salary cap and avoid being a tax team again this season.
Before the season started, this was the obvious plan. The team traded away its franchise cornerstones, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and acquired Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, and a few extra first round draft picks, which gave them 15 first round picks in the next few years. Simply put, the team started their rebuild.
There’s only one problem. This team is a lot better than ANYONE expected. In my season preview for the Thunder, I said that they were a team that will play hard every night and not get blown out. That their play wouldn’t lead to many wins but they would compete and rarely get blown out. They are even better than that.
If you would have told anyone that at any point during the season the Thunder would be better than the Kings, Blazers, Warriors, Pelicans, Spurs, and Wolves and that would be the 7th in the western conference after 25 games, they would have laughed at you and probably asked if you needed to be drug tested.
Yet here we are. As things stand right now, the Oklahoma City Thunder are currently 7th in the western conference and better than all of the aforementioned teams. Now being better than the Warriors is now expected due to them not having Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell in the lineup every night, losing Steph Curry to a hand injury, and already not having Klay Thompson due to him tearing his ACL. However, that is the only team mentioned that the Thunder would expect to be better than right now.
This years team has played some extremely exciting and entertaining basketball that no one saw coming. Not even GM Sam Presti.
Given the teams early success, Sam Presti has a tough decision ahead of him once December 15th hits. He needs to decide whether to go for the playoffs and most likely lose in the first or second round or forget about the teams success and make the necessary trades to get under the salary cap. There really isn’t a wrong decision.
Knowing how long the Thunder have been a tax team, no one would blame them for trying to get under the luxury tax when they are obviously not a championship team. They have a couple first round picks in next years draft and with a rebuilding team, the worse the team the better the chances of having a top five pick. That alone makes that that being the decision a lot more enticing. There have been plenty of great players that have been drafted outside of the top five so the Thunder will have a chance to get a great player no matter what.
Because the team does have two draft picks, Sam Presti can make little to no changes to the team and they will still be in good shape for the future. It won’t be the same as getting two picks with one being in the top five but still in good shape.
More importantly, they can get the young guys experience. Playing playoff games at a young age in invaluable. Even if they don’t trying to get to the playoffs and being in the mix is still good experience. Being on a tanking team builds bad habits that young guys don’t need.
This should be Presti’s plan.
There are ways for him to get under the luxury tax and still keep the same core to compete every night. Going for a top pick in any draft is fine but there’s no guarantee that you’re getting a star. There also isn’t a guarantee they make the playoffs, but getting close gives them something to build on for the future.
Whichever decision Presti decides to make, the impact on this team will be very noticeable.
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