We’re one week removed from what was largely a forgettable trade deadline, and though the Thunder is widely looked at as a winner we won’t truly be able to evaluate this year’s moves until next year.
The trade exception Oklahoma City received in the deal that sent Eric Maynor to Portland doesn’t expire until February 2014, giving the Thunder a calendar year to officially close the book on this deadline. But the moves we witnessed the Thunder make last week nevertheless were a glimpse into how the organization must operate in the new NBA.
Most shrugged their shoulders or shook their heads when a much-anticipated day turned into a something of a dud. Maynor, as expected, was dealt, and the Thunder picked up defensive-minded Ronnie Brewer from New York alongside that ambiguous-to-some trade exception. For Brewer, OKC gave up only a 2014 second-round pick, one that could be the last selection of the draft.
That’s it. Those were the Thunder’s trade-deadline moves.
Lost in the lackluster deals, however, is how Oklahoma City turned one player — who had fallen out of the rotation — into two players and a trade exception, all while saving money and adding experience on the bench.
Call it salary cap gymnastics.
It’s jockeying that has become vital to the Thunder’s future. The more punitive rules contained within the new collective bargaining agreement make it a must, especially, of course, for franchises in markets like Oklahoma City that are anything but cash cows.Consider this phase three of a plan that’s been in motion since the Thunder came to town in 2008. Long before management and ownership knew what the new rules would bring, they were preparing for it. The first step was drafting and growing organically. Remember when seemingly everyone around here wanted to splurge that salary cap coin on the likes of David Lee and Paul Millsap and Marcin Gortat? The Thunder knew better. Phase two was searching for and scooping up cheaper alternatives via trades and the free agency bargain bin. Instead of forking over $5 million to Kyle Korver, the Thunder gave $2 million to Daequan Cook, for instance. That necessary cost-savings strategy has led to the additions of the likes of Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins and even Thabo Sefolosha.
Now the Thunder is maximizing its assets and flexibility in order to maintain its stated goal of sustaining success. That’s the untold story of what went down last week. The Thunder improved its roster without giving up any of its proven commodities, promising prospects or future picks.
By sending Maynor to the Blazers for a trade exception, the Thunder only parted with a player that in all likelihood would have been on the first thing smoking out of here this summer. The exception, meanwhile, allows OKC to add about $2.5 million in salary via trade without having to send back equal money. It’s a move that essentially extends the life of the asset that is Eric Maynor. And the Thunder actually saved money by doing it.
Even after the trade for Brewer and subsequent signing of Derek Fisher, the Thunder still shed roughly $1 million from its payroll. In the process, the team bolstered its bench and added some all-so important experience, going from the sixth youngest roster to the league’s 14th youngest.
The presence of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka means the Thunder must continue to operate in this manner. With those big salaries on the books, this is how Oklahoma City will have to improve beyond basic player development in the league’s changing landscape.
It’s not sexy by any means. But minor moves now hold great significance. Get used to it.
Salary cap gymnastics.