The Thunder doesn't have as much talent as it did before the trade deadline.
That's because it didn't bring in anyone as good as Jeff Green.
In one of the biggest surprises of the trading deadline, the Thunder sent the versatile swingman to the Celtics and dealt away a significant piece of its young, talented core. Green is a starter, a contributor, not to mention a big-time ballplayer.
No player that the Thunder acquired Thursday is as good as he is. Not Nazr Mohammed. Not Nate Robinson. Not even Kendrick Perkins.
So, why trade Green?
He'd become the odd man out.
Even though he has been a cornerstone player since the franchise moved to town three years ago, you could see a shift during the past year or so. It wasn't an overnight move but rather a slow, steady change.
First, Russell Westbrook emerged as a point-guard powerhouse. Thunder brass always contended they saw the potential for greatness in him, but I'm not sure anyone ever projected this from Westbrook. He strikes fear into opponents with his ability to shoot, drive, score, pass and defend.
He is a game-changer.
More than that, Westbrook is the perfect complement to Durant. He is the fire to Durant's ice, the grit to his smooth, the Robin to his Batman.
Not so long ago, Green was Durant's sidekick. They were the yin and the yang. They were the one-two punch.
Westbrook's emergence changed Green's place on the team.
Serge Ibaka's cemented it.
Green has been playing out of position for as long as the Thunder has been in Oklahoma City. Occasionally, he'd have a chance to play small forward, but if the Thunder wanted its best players on the floor at once, Green had to play power forward. That wasn't a spot Durant could play. Ditto for Thabo Sefolosha.
Green was forced to play out of position because he could. He was undersized but versatile enough to manage.
Then along came Ibaka.
Last year, we saw glimpses of what he could do. This season, his scoring and rebounding, his defending and shotblocking are becoming more predictable and more dynamic.
Now, the Thunder is ready to take off the training wheels and see what Ibaka can do full-time.
That much is clear with the team's decision to trade Green. If Ibaka wasn't ready to take over that No. 4 spot and give the Thunder a true power forward, the Thunder wouldn't have made the trade sending Green to the Celtics.
This franchise didn't make the deal because it dislikes Green. It did it because he became an expendable piece of the core.
Perhaps the players even recognized the change on a subconscious level. When the team first arrived here, Green was one of the guys who hung with Durant and Westbrook off the court. They would go to dinner. They would play video games. They would chill.
In the past year or so, Green didn't run with those guys as much. James Harden, Eric Maynor and Ibaka did. That bunch even went together to All-Star Weekend.
They went sans Green.
Now, they'll be going without him permanently.
There's a chance, of course, that the Thunder could tender Green an offer during the offseason and bring him back to Oklahoma City. He'll be a restricted free agent, after all, and if the Thunder really wants him, it could make an offer just like any other team.
But where would Green fit in?
That's the problem now, and it will remain the problem four months from now.
The Thunder made moves Thursday that will make it bigger in the post. That will make it more defensive minded. That will make it better equipped for a long playoff run.
That's the theory anyway.
If things don't go as planned, this move will go down as a clunker, trading away a player as talented as Green and not bringing in anyone as good as he is. But if Sam Presti and Scott Brooks and all the other Thunder decision makers are right, this trade deadline will be the day that the Thunder did something amazing.
It got better without getting more talented.