After off-season overhauls, Atlanta and Orlando figure to fall out of the playoff picture, potentially creating two openings. But Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington are all likely to join the Raptors in that fight for what could be just two playoff spots.
If all goes well for the Thunder — which would mean this year won't be so kind to the Raptors — Oklahoma City could be in for a coup that sweetens the Harden trade even more.
It's rare that rebuilding team like the Raptors gives up such a high draft pick. It's even rarer for a championship-caliber team like the Thunder to have an opportunity at owning such a selection.
The pick also has enormous value beyond its basic lottery location. It's a chance to add what could be a top-10 pick to a core that includes Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. That eventual player also will join an already impressive stable of even younger talent that includes Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III, all of whom are being groomed to someday supplement the core — a terrifying reality for the rest of the league considering all three will be coming into their own as Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka are entering their primes.
Additionally, the Raptors pick has significant salary cap ramifications. With the new rules in the collective bargaining agreement handcuffing teams with stiffer penalties — increased taxes and the abolishment of sign-and-trades, the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions for taxpayers — it will be important for the Thunder to add players through the draft. A high draft pick presents a chance for the Thunder to add a high-caliber player on a relatively cheap rookie deal.
So if you're still steaming, Thunder fans, blow some off starting Tuesday night.
Root, root, root against the Raptors.
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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DALLAS
The Thunder picked up two first-round picks in the James Harden trade.
In addition to Toronto protected first-rounder, the Thunder also landed a protected Dallas first-round selection.
That pick is top-20 protected, meaning if the Mavs land a selection anywhere from 21-30 they must convey their pick to Oklahoma City.
In this case, Thunder fans hoping to receive the Mavs' pick this year should root for Dallas to make the playoffs and have, at best, the 10th best record among playoff teams.
But the wiser approach might be to wait.
Because the Mavs pick is unprotected in 2014, it would be better for the Thunder if the Mavs landed in the top 20 this year and kept their pick. That would give OKC a chance at an even higher selection in the 2014 draft depending on how the Mavericks finish. With an aging Dirk Nowitzki, 34, the Mavs might soon be lottery-bound beyond this season.
If they are, the James Harden trade could potentially give the Thunder a lottery pick in each of the next two drafts.
HOW FUTURE PICKS HAVE PAID OFF
A look at how some of the future draft picks Thunder GM Sam Presti once acquired panned out.
July 11, 2007: Received a 2009 second-round pick from Orlando in exchange for Rashard Lewis.
July 20, 2007: Received a 2008 and 2010 first-round pick, as well as Kurt Thomas from Phoenix in exchange for Orlando's 2009 second-round pick. The 2008 pick, No. 24 overall, turned into Serge Ibaka. The 2010 pick, No. 26 overall, turned into a package that allowed the Thunder to move up and select Cole Aldrich.
Feb. 20, 2008: Received a 2009 first-round pick, Francisco Elson and Brent Barry from San Antonio in exchange for Kurt Thomas. The pick, No. 25 overall, was ultimately packaged to move up one spot for Byron Mullens.
Jan. 7, 2009: Received a 2009 first-round pick, Chucky Atkins and cash from Denver in exchange for a 2009 second-round pick and Johan Petro.
Feb. 19, 2009: Received Thabo Sefolosha from Chicago for Denver's 2009 first-round pick. Chicago used the pick to select Taj Gibson.
July 27, 2009: Received Etan Thomas and two second-round picks from Minnesota in exchange for Damien Wilkins and Chucky Atkins.
June 23, 2010: Received Daequan Cook and the 18th pick in the 2010 draft from Miami in exchange for Minnesota's second-round pick, the 32nd overall selection. The Heat used the pick on Dexter Pittman.
June 24, 2010: Received a conditional first-round pick from the L.A. Clippers in exchange for the 18th pick in the 2010 draft. The Clippers used the pick on Eric Bledsoe.
Feb. 24, 2011: Received Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson from Boston in exchange for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and the Clippers' top-10 protected 2012 pick. The Celtics used the pick on Fab Melo.
Thunder vs. Raptors
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV: FOX Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722).
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
Three things to know
* The Thunder defeated the Raptors 91-75 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena in the lone meeting between the two teams last season.
* Toronto acquired point guard Kyle Lowry from Houston over the off-season in exchange for a future first-round pick. That pick now belongs to the Thunder after OKC acquired it from the Rockets in the James Harden trade.
* Through three games, Thunder guard Kevin Martin has made 12 of 17 3-pointers (70.6 percent) while shooting 53.1 percent from the field. Martin also is 16-for-16 from the foul line.