The Thunder has a trade exception that expires one month from today, which means that over the next 30 days general manager Sam Presti probably will be glued to the phones, picking the brains of opposing GMs to see exactly what’s out there.
Oklahoma City acquired a $6.6 million trade exception last summer when it orchestrated Kevin Martin’s sign-and-trade to Minnesota. What that chip allows the Thunder to do is trade for a player, or players, for up to $6.6 million without having to send back that same salary in a deal. Given the Thunder’s history of passing on bidding wars that come with free agency, it’s highly likely that OKC will look to improve through trades, and the exception is a valuable roster-building tool that gives the Thunder an enormous asset to do just that.
A couple of important things to note. The trade exception cannot be combined with a player’s salary to acquire a more expensive player. For example, the Thunder can’t combine Kendrick Perkins’ $9.1 million contract with the $6.6 million exception and go get Kevin Love and his $15.7 million contract. Doesn’t work that way. That all but eliminates mine and others’ dream of Arron Afflalo, who’ll earn $7.5 million next season. To make that deal work, Presti would have to greatly alter the current roster, which could compromise the team’s core, jeopardize the franchise’s promising future and basically go against everything Presti has stood for during his tenure.
But what the Thunder can do is split up the exception and acquire multiple players, from multiple teams even. With up to five roster spots potentially available next season, that could be an option to fill out the team. But with two first-round draft picks and the Thunder again unlikely to exceed the tax next year (which is projected to rise to $77 million), the most likely route is for the Thunder to target the best single player it can with the exception
With that as the backdrop, I examined the rosters of every team in an attempt to compose a list of players who could be the most realistic options considering critical factors that include their price tag, potential fit with the current core, why their current teams would part with them and, of course, how their acquisition would affect the Thunder’s always critical financial picture. Here are the 13 players I came up with.
Kyle Korver, Atlanta, shooting guard/small forward
His contract status: Three years, $17 million remaining ($6.25 million next season and descending).
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: Here’s an oldie but goodie, a guy Thunder fans have coveted seemingly forever. And this could be a chance to get him. He’s one of the best shooters on the planet, is a threat as both a spot-up guy and coming off screens and he’s a low-maintenance personality who’d slide seamlessly into the Thunder’s locker room. And with Korver on a descending deal, his contract, while a little pricey for the Thunder’s tastes, would be a perfect get for a team that must manage yearly raises on contracts to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and, likely, Reggie Jackson.
Why it could make sense for the Hawks: OK, the truth of the matter is that it really doesn’t. The Hawks don’t have any kind of payroll problems and don’t have a logjam anywhere. They need more players, not less. The only thing that would entice the Hawks to part with Korver is a significant pot-sweetener from OKC, which wouldn’t be worth it and in all likelihood would make the Thunder look elsewhere.
The drawback for the Thunder: Aside from the possible pot-sweetener the Thunder might have to include, Korver is a one-dimensional player. Although he’s absolutely terrific at that one dimension, he’s strictly a shooter. He’d be the biggest liability defensively in the Thunder’s starting lineup, and that doesn’t appear to be something OKC can live with at this stage.
Do I think it will happen: Nope.
Gary Neal, Charlotte, shooting guard
His contract status: One year, $3.25 million
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: He’s a shooter. A really, really good one. Neal spaces the floor with the best of them and is never, ever, ever…ever short on confidence. He’s not the answer for the Thunder’s need for a starting shooting guard, but Neal could be an ideal specialist as a situational shooter off the bench.
Why it could make sense for Hornets: Man, first of all I’ve got to get used to saying Charlotte Hornets again. Weird. Now, once again, this doesn’t really add up for the Hornets. Neal was a key contributor off the bench for the, um, Bobcats this season and could be again next year as the, um, Hornets look to build on this year’s playoff berth. With that said, Neal is an enticing expiring contract that the Hornets could shop. The problem for the Thunder is it would then need to send back something of value, which defeats the purpose.
The drawback for the Thunder: Oklahoma City had a chance to sign Neal outright last summer. The Thunder declined. Neal ultimately signed a two-year, $6.5 million deal with Milwaukee. After passing on him in free agency, the Thunder might thumb its nose at the idea of now having to give up something to get him via trade. Neal not being a starting caliber shooting guard is a problem, too.
Do I think it will happen: Nope.
Mike Dunleavy, Chicago, small forward
His contract status: One year, $3 million.
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: Another shooter who can space the floor and be counted on to supply big shots in big moments, Dunleavy is a reliable veteran who would be a boost to the Thunder’s halfcourt offense. With Dunleavy entering the final year of his deal, the Thunder also wouldn’t be tied to long-term money.
Why it could make sense for Bulls: Chicago could go all in for Carmelo Anthony this summer. If the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer and ship Dunleavy out, they could free up $20 million. Both would be departures Chicago could live with if it lands Melo.
The drawback for the Thunder: Dunleavy is 34 and probably would be a one-year rental. The Thunder is at the point where it could use one-year veterans, but historically the team has preferred young players who can grow with the core. The question Presti would have to weigh is whether parting with almost half of the trade exception is worth having Dunleavy for only one season.
Do I think it will happen: I’d say it’s possible.
Dion Waiters, Cleveland, shooting guard
His contract status: Two years, $9.2 million.
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: Waiters is a young, explosive scorer who is on a terrific rookie scale contract. He could step in as the starter at shooting guard and provide Westbrook and Durant a shooter who also can create his own shot when things break down. At 22, Waiters also is an ideal addition that can grow with and complement the current core for years to come.
Why it could make sense for Cavs: Depending of what you believe, there’s beef between Waiters and star point guard Kyrie Irving. The two might not be able to coexist, and with a recent report that Cleveland is preparing to offer Kyrie a max deal this summer that could be worth upward of $90 million, the Cavs have clearly made their choice. The question is what else the Thunder can offer Cleveland? One of this year’s two first-rounders? One of its young prospects? A future pick or overseas prospect? OKC would have to come up with something, because there are probably plenty of teams that would put together a nice package for Waiters.
The drawback for the Thunder: In addition to being undersized for his position, Waiters (6-4) needs the ball in his hands too much. He had a 26.9 usage rate this season. By comparison, Reggie Jackson was at 22.6. That’s not going to fly on the Thunder. So Waiters either would have to tailor his game or he simply wouldn’t fit.
Do I think it will happen: Probably not.
Jarrett Jack, Cleveland, point guard
His contract status: Three years, $18.9 million (the final year is a team option).
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: Here’s where things could get interesting. But in order for it to happen, it would take some outside-the-box (or, if we want to use Presti’s word, independent) thinking. Jack has been a very solid guard throughout his career. He could be next year’s backup point guard and even pose problems in three-guard lineups with Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Of course, if this happens Jackson is your starting shooting guard next season, which probably isn’t the preferred route for the Thunder. But in the days of the small ball craze, this might not be a bad idea at all.
Why it could make sense for Cavs: I’ll tell you as soon as I figure out what the Cavs are doing up there. The one possible reason that comes to mind, though, is that with Irving in the fold Cleveland doesn’t need a backup point guard who plays 20-25 minutes a night — especially not if the Cavs are determined to keep Waiters and decide to go with a wing player, either Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, in the draft. Parting with Jack frees up plenty of minutes and allows Cleveland to get a much cheaper player at that spot.
The drawback for the Thunder: It’s risky. Will Jack be happy with his role? Will he disrupt team chemistry if he’s not? Will his $6.3 million contract be prohibitive to the Thunder’s plans? A lot of questions on Jack. Maybe too many to take a chance on him.
Do I think it will happen: Doubt it, but I’m intrigued.
Randy Foye, Denver, shooting guard
His contract status: Two years, $6.1 million.
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: Foye is a starting shooting guard with a sensational shot. He’d give Durant and Westbrook a great outlet to kick to on the perimeter. He’ll be 31 next season, so he’s a veteran with plenty of experience to step in and be a contributor now. Foye also is on a tremendous contract that wouldn’t bloat the books.
Why it could make sense for the Nuggets: Denver holds the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft. Trading Foye would allow the Nuggets to commit to a youth movement and clear room for that selection, which could be Michigan State’s Gary Harris or Michigan’s Nik Stauskas.
The drawback for the Thunder: For his career, Foye has appeared in just 11 playoff games. Steven Adams appeared in 18 postseason games as a rookie this year. So while Foye has plenty of regular season experience, who knows what kind of playoff performer he is? He shot 39.2 percent (but 43.8 percent from 3-point range) in his lone postseason with the Clippers in 2012.
Do I think it will happen: Probably not, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Jared Dudley, L.A. Clippers, small forward/shooting guard
His contract status: Two years, $8.5 million (final year is a player option).
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: Dudley is kind of a version of the type of two-way player fans suddenly are coveting. He can be a solid defender on the perimeter and a lights-out 3-point shooter. Dudley’s contract fits and he’s also a class act that fits the Thunder’s culture.
Why it could make sense for the Clippers: In one season, Dudley went from a promising acquisition to out of their rotation. Now, by shedding his $4.25 million deal, the Clippers could avoid the tax next season, or re-sign Darren Collison and/or Glen Davis without blowing past the threshold. Who know whether the Thunder thinks anything of Dudley? If OKC does, the biggest challenge might be convincing the Clippers to help a West rival.
The drawback for the Thunder: Dudley looked finished this season. He was absolutely abysmal. His production plummeted across the board despite playing with perhaps the best playmaking point guard in the world in Chris Paul. That’s not a good sign, especially seeing as how the Thunder would pair Dudley with a shoot-first point guard in Westbrook.
Do I think it will happen: I’d be shocked.
Corey Brewer, Minnesota, small forward/shooting guard
His contract status: Two years, $9.6 million
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: You say you want 3-and-D guy? Brewer’s far from the best at it — he’s a pretty streaky shooter — but he might be the Thunder’s best option without breaking the bank. And his age (28) suggests he still has plenty of room to improve. Brewer could step right in as the starting shooting guard and help the Thunder overcome the expected loss of Sefolosha.
Why it could make sense for Wolves: Minnesota has Kevin Martin at shooting guard and still has Luc Mbah a Moute under contract. And don’t forget, the Wolves acquired last year’s 14th overall pick, Shabazz Muhammad, on draft night as well but played him in only 37 games this season. Add to that, the Wolves also have the 13th overall pick this year. Mix it together and it could mean Minnesota is running out of room for Brewer.
The drawback for the Thunder: Brewer shot 28 percent from 3-point range this season. He shot 29.6 percent from that range last season in Denver. The last, and really only, time he shot better than 30 percent from 3 came in 2009-10, when he connected on 34.6 percent of his attempts. That’s a slightly disturbing reality.
Do I think it will happen: If it doesn’t, it should.
Iman Shumpert, New York, shooting guard
His contract status: One year, $2.7 million
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: Ah, the trade rumor that won’t go away. Maybe that’s because it works on so many levels. The Thunder had reportedly offered New York its 29th overall selection back at the deadline. The Knicks reportedly said thanks but no thanks, allegedly thinking it could complete a better deal with the Clippers for a package that would have included Darren Collison. But the idea hasn’t gone anywhere, largely because the Thunder still has an additional first-rounder and a strong need for a starting shooting guard. Shumpert, who turns 24 in two weeks, is an intriguing young player who offers great size, athleticism and versatility.
Why it could make sense for Knicks: New York doesn’t have a draft pick this year and is believed to be looking to trade into the first round. Without cap room, it’s the only real chance the Knicks have at improving their flawed roster. Shumpert labored through his worst season of his three-year career this year and has become the sacrificial piece New York is dangling as trade bait.
The drawback for the Thunder: Shumpert’s offensive game needs improvement, but that can be developed. The bigger issue is that after three years, no one can really be sure whether Shumpert is a good young player who fell victim to the problems of a pitiful franchise, or simply a youngster who has regressed every season after a promising rookie year.
Do I think it will happen: Yeah, I kind of do.
Dorell Wright; Portland, small forward
His contract status: One year, $3.1 million.
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: OKC tried to get him last summer. Wright took a higher offer and the potential for a bigger role with the Blazers. But aside from the money, it might not have worked out the way Wright had hoped. He bounced in and out of the Blazers’ rotation and averaged only 14.5 minutes, time he easily could have gotten with the Thunder. He’s still a dead-eye shooter who can stretch the floor, and unlike last summer the Thunder now has more room to carry his slightly-higher salary.
Why it could make sense for Blazers: C.J. McCollum, last year’s 10th overall pick, needs more playing time. With McCollum waiting in line, Wright is more of a luxury than a necessity. But nothing’s stopping the Blazers from hanging onto Wright as an emergency shooter. They’re probably much rather go that route than help out a division rival.
The drawback for the Thunder: Wright isn’t a starting shooting guard, and because the Blazers are in great shape financially the Thunder would have to throw in some incentives to pry Wright away.
Do I think it will happen: Highly doubt it.
Steve Novak; Toronto, small forward
His contract status: Two years, $7.2 million.
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: If you don’t know the theme by now… He’s a shooter. A great one. And that remains one of OKC’s biggest needs. Novak is a career 43.2 percent shooter from 3-point range. That’s incredible over the course of an eight-year career. If the Thunder had him as a weapon on the bench, imagine the possibilities.
Why it could make sense for Raptors: Novak has no real place in Toronto. He averaged only 10 minutes this season, appearing in 54 games. He was a throw in piece in the Andrea Bargnani trade to the Knicks, and the Raptors might decide it’s best to get a little something for Novak rather than pay his salary for the next two seasons when he’s barely seeing the floor.
The drawback for the Thunder: What it would have to give up. The bad news is it’s something, which is more than you should have to relinquish for Novak. The good news is it could be as minor as a second-round pick, which for the Thunder might be a throwaway future 59th or 60th selection.
Do I think it will happen: Nah.
Enes Kanter, Utah, center
His contract status: One year, $6 million.
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: He’s big. And he can score in the post. Need I say more?
Why it could make sense for Jazz: After three seasons, Kanter still hasn’t lived up to his No. 3 overall selection. His first two years were understandable, as he played behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. This year, when given the reigns, he struggled with inconsistency that led to him being juggled in and out of the starting lineup. Now, his time might be up. Utah owns this year’s fifth overall selection and could be looking to upgrade (Noah Vonleh?).
The drawback for the Thunder: The Jazz certainly won’t be interested in just dumping Kanter. He just turned 22 last month and could fetch a haul from a handful of suitors. But here’s a question. The Jazz are reportedly interested in Alex Abrines. Would you send Abrines to Utah for Kanter?
Do I think it will happen: It’s a bit of a longshot, but intriguing enough to keep your fingers crossed. Jazz guard Alec Burks also could be in play.
Martell Webster, Washington, small forward/shooting guard
His contract status: Three years, $17 million (third year is a team option.)
Why it could make sense for the Thunder: While some long for Trevor Ariza, it’s his teammate that should catch your eye. Webster fits a need as a potential starting shooting guard and is likely a significantly cheaper option. He’s another sharpshooter who can space the floor, and his defense, although spotty, won’t kill you. Throw in the fact that he’s still young (27) and making what amounts to mid-level money over the next three seasons and the Thunder could have a fit.
Why it could make sense for Wizards: After a solid regular season, Webster was atrocious in the playoffs. His scoring average dipped from 9.7 points to 3.8 points. His 3-point percentage plummeted from 39.2 percent to 23.1 percent. Add to that, the Wizards must make room for last year’s No. 3 overall selection, Otto Porter (they could have had Noel!!), and, depending on what happens with Ariza in free agency, Webster could be the odd man out.
The drawback for the Thunder: Webster’s playoff performance leaves you lukewarm, while his long injury history (two back surgeries and foot problems) gives you legitimate cause for concern. The bottom line is he’s a risk.
Do I think it will happen: If other options fall through, I could see it going down.