It’s that time of the year again, when fans of all 30 NBA teams feast on trade talk and speculative scenarios. The rumor mill already has churned out quite a few juicy possibilities, and the buzz will only blossom as we move closer to the Feb. 18 trading deadline.
For Thunder fans, this year’s trading season holds much more intrigue than last February. Oklahoma City, at 20-16, enters tonight’s game against New York in eighth place in the Western Conference, a year ahead of when most thought the team would contend for a playoff spot. If OKC maintains its current pace, the Thunder would win 46 games, seemingly staring at one of the final seeds. But Thunder heads shouldn’t expect their team to make a blockbuster deal with an eye on punching its playoff ticket. Sorry to spoil the fun folks, but there are many more reasons to believe the Thunder will stand pat than make a splash. From the start, the front office has been fixated on finding long-term playoff success, not fiddling with moves that bring five more wins. Add to that, the Thunder’s meticulous management still hasn’t deciphered what pieces it does and does not have. Making a move now could add an unnecessary piece, or worse, destroy the puzzle before the picture becomes clear. Most significantly, though, are the salary-cap ramifications that come along with pulling the trigger on a major deal. Oklahoma City could be more than $15 million below the cap this summer. Any trade the Thunder makes could mean sacrificing the hard-earned space on a player who most likely carries a long-term contract. For a franchise seeking to re-sign Kevin Durant and Jeff Green this summer, surplus salary has become extremely important. But landing a player capable of lifting the Thunder into the playoffs also could mean Oklahoma City must part with a primetime player of its own.