When the Thunder acquired the Dallas Mavericks’ top-20 protected first round pick as part of the James Harden trade, this wasn’t the ideal spot to use it.
But it was the next best thing.
In a dream scenario, the Mavericks would have failed to finish with a top-10 NBA record until 2018, when the pick would have become unprotected, and OKC could have lucked out with a lottery selection. But with a franchise like Dallas and a free-spending, win-now owner like Mark Cuban, that wasn’t likely to happen.
So in essence, this was as good as it was going to get – the 21st pick in Thursday’s draft, one of the deepest in recent history, loaded with potentially franchise-altering prospects at the top and lined with talent throughout.
“This year, the top dozen are all capable of being stars,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas told USA Today recently. “And there's guys in the second round who could be really valuable pieces.”
That depth gives the Thunder a pair of intriguing assets – the 21st and 29th overall pick – and plenty of options come draft night. Here’s a look at some of them:
*Trade up: With so much talent, particularly up top, there’s sure to be a few guys who slip. Maybe someone like Arizona’s Aaron Gordon falls to the 11, 12, 13 range and the Thunder can slide its way up to snare him. Trade 21, 29 and a future first rounder (likely to be in the 25-30 range) and fly up 10 picks for an elite talent. It would take a willing partner – a franchise looking to stockpile young players, rather than settle for an elite one – and an available prospect the Thunder loves. But it’s an intriguing possibility.
*Trade out: Because of its current roster construction, OKC is unlikely to utilize both selections. First round picks are given guaranteed contracts and, already layered with developing talent and expected to be active in free agency, there doesn’t seem to be room on the roster for two more young projects. So if no appealing transaction unfolds, maybe general manager Sam Presti ships one of his picks for a future asset. It’s possible a fringe playoff team might love a guy at 21 or 29 and be willing to give up next year’s first rounder. Then you hope that team finds its way into the lottery. Side note: Some GMs might think the 21st pick in this draft is comparable to a late lottery pick in most other drafts.
*Package for a veteran: Many have theorized that the Thunder’s primary task this offseason should be to find an established two-way shooting guard to slot in its starting lineup. Draft night might be the best time to find one. The ransom depends on the target. The Knicks might be willing to give up Iman Shumpert for a single pick. Orlando’s Arron Afflalo would likely cost both, plus one of OKC’s promising youngsters and some cap maneuvering. So it could get tricky. But there seems to be some appealing options available. And the Thunder has plenty to offer.
*Draft-and-stash: An avenue that might not excite Oklahoma City fans, but a path we know the Thunder is comfortable going down. Presti and his staff spend a ton of time scouting overseas, and there are some talented guys who seem destined for that 21-30 range in this draft. Clint Capela might be the most intriguing of the group, a 6-foot-11 power forward whom some have compared to a young Serge Ibaka. Only 20, he has perfect draft-and-stash potential, giving the Thunder the rights to a highly touted prospect without constraining the team financially heading into an important free agency period.