Will he, or won't he?
That is the question Thunder fans are asking about Sam Presti as the NBA's trading deadline approaches.
Will the Thunder general manager swing a trade, or will he stand pat and see an already championship-caliber roster through the finish line?
One report over the weekend indicated that Oklahoma City is actively searching for help on the perimeter to bolster its roster for a title run.
But as has been the case with the Thunder, there are several complications to completing a deal.
The most significant is the team's proximity to the tax threshold. Oklahoma City is determined to avoid exceeding the tax this season in an effort to delay the start of the clock on the repeater tax. That obstacle could limit the Thunder to targeting only players making approximately $3 million or less.
Another important factor is the quality of the current roster. The Thunder is the best team in basketball, bulldozing teams while building a 43-12 record. Short of a blockbuster — which is unlikely — few available players figure to come in and crack the Thunder's rock-solid rotation. There simply aren't enough minutes to go around. Talented young players like Perry Jones III and Steven Adams already must claw to get on the court.
Last but not least, the Thunder is set to make the best addition any team can possibly make at the deadline — Russell Westbrook. The star point guard is on the verge of rejoining the lineup, possibly as early as Thursday against Miami, following a 30-game absence. His return will immediately strengthen the Thunder's starting five, as well as its bench because Reggie Jackson will return to his reserve role.
All told, it's unlikely the Thunder will do anything of substance for the third straight year. Still, there are reasons to believe OKC could agree to something smaller.
Here are five things the Thunder has that suggest a deal could be made before Thursday's deadline.
Need. It's not a pressing need, but the Thunder could stand to shore up its perimeter shooting. Unless, of course, you're banking on Derek Fisher continuing to shoot 50 percent from 3-point range, which he's done over the past 14 games. Fisher's efforts, along with Kevin Durant's hot hand, have helped the Thunder boost its 3-point rate to 35.8 percent, tied for 15th in the league. But with Fisher playing over his head, Thabo Sefolosha still streaky and question marks hanging over inexperienced guards Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson as reliable playoff shooters, the Thunder would be wise to add some insurance.
A trade exception. The Thunder actually has three of these, which are simply roster-building tools that allow teams to make trades for up to the amount of the exception without sending out matching salaries. OKC has a $6.6 million exception acquired in the Kevin Martin sign-and-trade, a $2.4 million exception acquired in last season's Eric Maynor trade and an $884,293 exception received in the Ryan Gomes trade. The Maynor exception figures to be the most likely to be used. It's large enough to land a player with sufficient skills but small enough to keep the Thunder under the tax this season. The value of these for the Thunder is they give OKC the opportunity to improve its roster without parting with pivotal pieces.
Two open roster spots. OKC currently is carrying the minimum allowable number of players. The team entered the season with 14, one below the maximum, and moved to 13 after sending Gomes to Boston. That deal was a maneuver that supplied the Thunder slightly more wiggle room under the tax, while also setting up the team with flexibility to make another trade should the right opportunity present itself. The roster spots don't have to be filled. But they do make the Thunder an attractive and easy trade partner for teams looking to unload unwanted or unnecessary players.
Two potential first-round picks. The Thunder has its own first-rounder this year and potentially Dallas' if the Mavs finish with a top-10 record. With a stacked roster, and players already stashed overseas, the Thunder doesn't need two more first-round picks this year. But parting with them at this point seems unlikely … unless the right deal comes along. First-round picks are too precious, especially to cost-conscious teams like the Thunder. They present an annual opportunity to add cheap labor at a fraction of what it would cost in free agency. No team traded its first-round pick prior to the deadline last season. That should tell you how much the league values first-round selections.
An unnecessary but usable contract in Hasheem Thabeet. The third-string center has played in eight games this season. He's totaled 44 minutes. Yet he's on the books for what, at this point, is a costly $1.2 million. OKC could package that prohibitive money along with some other type of compensation to lure someone with more value. And even if Thabeet doesn't command anything of substance, the Thunder could try to move him to create more room under the tax to land someone the team really wants in a separate deal.