Think of what Sam Presti has built the Oklahoma City Thunder up on today. Likely, you’re drawing up long-term pieces in Shai, Bazley, Dort, Poku, and Maledon — while looking at a sea of veterans in Horford, Hill, Muscala, and Ariza, but how about the 18 first-round selection over the next 7 years? How does this gigantic haul even happen? Four words — the art of flipping. This style of wheeling-and-dealing has built the modern-day Oklahoma City Thunder into a powerhouse moving forward, and come the trade deadline, the franchise could opt to continue flipping around assets for even more future capital.
One method that has been used by Oklahoma City more often than other teams has been collecting a negative contract spruced with promising pieces — essentially for free. The Thunder’s home run deal in acquiring Chris Paul netted the team six first-round picks, a second, Ty Jerome, and in a way Aleksej Pokusevski, wringing every flappable player for young pieces across four separate transactions. The team’s rally cry around the guard turned his once seen as “worst contract in the league” to a must-have point-guard for a title push, despite the 41 million dollar price tag.
Now just a few months later, Oklahoma City has seemingly done it again. The organization possesses former castaways now coined major pieces to assist a playoff run, a free agency push, and everything in between.
Big man Al Horford had to be baited away over the offseason by the Philadelphia 76ers, moving him, Theo Maledon, a 2025 first, and draft rights to Vasiilije Micic for scraps in Danny Green, Terrance Ferguson, and Vincent Poirier. Horford, who is owned 81 million over the next three season, appeared to be untradeable entering the year — times have changed. The 34 year-old has a bounce-back season, pouring in 14.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in just 28.2 minutes, shooting 38% from deep on an unprecedented 5.6 attempts per game. Finding a potential suitor for Horford arises some challenges, but there is still a chance. Presti’s unwritten rulebook points to contending teams as getting first dibs on Al, and with Boston cherishing a 28.5 million dollar trade exception (via Gordon Hayward,) they may be an early favorite.
Veteran guard George Hill has already attracted interest from the Philadelphia 76ers, but there may be more of a market come deadline-day. The 34-year-old has averaged 11.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 14 game with the team. Hill’s 11-year’s of playoff experience paired with his ability to produce on or off the ball has made him a salivating piece for any playoff team. To top everything off, his deal for 9.5 million this season trickles to just 1.2 million guaranteed next season (10M if fully guaranteed), making him a perfect one-year rental.
Stretch big Mike Muscala entered the Thunder franchise at his lowest point two years ago — now every contender could use his services. Money Maker Mike has averaged career numbers this season, boasting a personal-high with 9.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 0.9 assists in just 18.9 minutes. The 28-year-old expanded his game tenfold this season, continuing to be a perimeter threat on 36.5% shooting, while working inside to get off mid-range jumpers. Muscala is making just aboce the league minimum this season on a 2.2M expiring, so matching salaries shouldn’t be an issue.
One forgotten member of the Thunder team is small-forward Trevor Ariza. The 35-year-old has not suited up for Oklahoma City nor been with the team what-so-ever instead tending to personal matters. Ariza has been working on his game during the season remotely, last being seen playing with Greg Monroe and Amare Stoudemire on Monday. Ariza’s 12.8 million dollar contract has made him an automatic buy-out by large members of the media, but his waiving is not a surefire thing. His deal becomes fairly lucrative when you realize his deal expires at the end of the season, providing any organization needing more cap space a viable option. The former NBA Champion provides leadership and quality minutes for anyone willing to take a gamble. Ariza averaged 8.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists for the Kings and Blazers last season.
Presti may not feel as confident trading away forwards in Darius Miller and Justin Jackson, but you’d have to believe they can be obtained if the price is right. Miller, age 30, has only 12 games this season in limited minutes, yet his 7 million dollar expiring may garner some attention. For Justin Jackson, he has been a catalyst in a handful of Thunder games this season, however entering restricted free agency should give some value to the 25-year-old as a cheap option off the bench. Jackson has posted a career-high 7.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists across 20 games this year. Kenrich Williams has solidified himself as one of the biggest budget players in the league, making 6 million over the next 3 seasons, and though he also could be dealt — it would take much more to pry him away than others.
There is a long way to go until the March 25 trade deadline, but it should be safe to say the Thunder have everything they need to be a seller this season. With a treasure trove of picks and young talent, don’t be surprised if Sam Presti taps any more magic out his hat.