One of six eventual assets the Thunder netted in the James Harden trade, a $6.6 million trade exception allows the Thunder to trade for a player, or players, for up to that amount without having to match salaries. The roster-building tool was acquired when OKC shrewdly assembled a sign-and-trade that sent Kevin Martin to Minnesota last summer. It is set to expire on July 11. Presti can use that chip to bolster the Thunder’s roster (Arron Afflalo, anyone?) and continue to change perceptions about the Harden trade. But forget public perception. The Thunder needs to take advantage of this chip and add to the core. In the past, OKC allowed much smaller exceptions, which were acquired when the team traded Byron Mullens and Eric Maynor, to expire. That can’t happen this time around.
Capitalize on the 21st overall draft pick
The Thunder has two first-round picks, but this one deserves its own mention. That’s because it, too, came as part of the Harden package, arriving via Dallas. Fair or not, what Presti does with this selection will also shape the perception of the Harden trade and, more importantly, be a factor in determining whether the Thunder received optimum value for a player who has blossomed into arguably the league’s third best shooting guard just two years after the trade. Whether he picks a player here or trades the selection for a veteran or future asset, Presti has to come away with a winner.
Figure out what to do with the 29th overall draft pick
It’s unlikely that the Thunder uses both selections. This one has a high chance to be packaged in a trade. At the trade deadline, the Thunder was rumored to be in serious negotiations to send this pick to New York for guard Iman Shumpert. It is believed the Knicks said no thanks. But something similar could be in play on draft night.
Make a decision on whether the stashed players stay or come aboard
Two promising prospects, Tibor Pleiss and Alex Abrines, are being groomed overseas. Pleiss is a 7-foot-1 center with nimbleness and shooting range. Abrines is a 6-5 shooting guard with a serious jump shot. Pleiss, the 31st overall pick in 2010, seems ready to join the NBA. Abrines, the 32nd overall pick last year, might need more seasoning. The decisions aren’t totally up to Presti. Both players have to be ready to come over — Pleiss has repeatedly expressed interest — and the financial component has to work. But if the time is right, we could see some more foreign-born flavor help the Thunder punch its championship ticket.
Monitor and perhaps make a play in free agency
This year’s free agent crop is weak sauce. But that’s OK. The Thunder, remember, has never been a real player in free agency. Don’t expect OKC to start now. That means names like Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza, Greg Monroe and Pau Gasol probably are unrealistic targets. But the Thunder is beyond the point of simply infusing the roster with more and more young talent. OKC now needs veterans, especially with the expected departures of Sefolosha, Fisher and Butler. Mike Miller, who was targeted by Presti last summer, could be an option. Sharp-shooting threat Anthony Morrow could be a good fit as well as a relatively inexpensive addition. But the Thunder needs depth more than it ever has since evolving into a championship contender. And the draft is no longer the ideal route to balancing out the roster.
For all the disappointment in how the 2013-14 season finished, it’s important for Presti and the front office to maintain perspective — something that’s never been a problem for a franchise that prides itself on taking a patient and methodical approach. There were a lot of positives to take away from this season, and just because the outcome didn’t turn out the way anyone had hoped doesn’t mean it’s time to panic and ditch the long-standing principles that got the team here. Though this is a critical summer, the Thunder will continue to be an elite club regardless of what happens over the next four months. Now is not the time to get restless and risk toying with that reality.