Friday, October 31, 2008

How to turn OKC into a contender today

Wednesday night was so bitter sweet.
The excitement in the Thunderdome was spilling over because you know, it was the first game ever, but the team didn't really produce on the court. At a few points, if you looked around you could see people resting their chins on their palms likely thinking, "I wonder what Chris Paul is doing right now... (loud sigh)."

This team is young, raw, talented and young. They will get there but it's going to take some time because, well, you know, they're young. Did I say they're young? But as I watched the Thunder fall behind by 24 for a third time in the third quarter, I started wondering, how could we turn this team into a contender now? What (reasonable) pieces could OKC acquire that could guarantee 45 wins? Even before a thunderous (see what I did there) fast-break dunk by Dez that ignited the crowd, I was already putting together trades in my head that I couldn't wait to rush home and plug into the ESPN Trade Machine. (Now, I'm no Bill Simmons, the self-proclaimed Picasso of the Trade Machine, but I was determined to try.)

Just know: We miss you.

"Ok, how about Earl Watson, John Lucas III and cash for Kobe and Andrew Bynum? No? Ok, Robert Swift straight up for Al Jefferson. Denied? But Robert's upside! His upside!"
So I was a little overzealous with my trades. And the thing about the Trade Machine - as awesome as it is, it will basically accept any trade you propose as long as the money lines up. It doesn't really have a "common sense" factor. Chris Wilcox's expiring contract, Earl Watson and cash for Carlos Boozer? Yes please.

So moderating the fairness was difficult. You give me an hour on the Trade Machine and my starting five would be Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Kobe, Carlos Boozer and Andrew Bynum. My bench would then have to consist of Keith Van Horn, a janitor and Matt Pinto, but you get the point about the Machine.

Anyway, I started plugging in stuff. I made a list of the team needs in "most needed" order. One was "big man to control the paint." Two was "deadly outside shooter." And three was "consistent complement to Kevin Durant." I truly believe the Thunder could win with a lineup like this:

PG Russell Westbrook
SG Kevin Durant
SF Consistent scoring complement to Kevin Durant (one day supposed to be Jeff Green)
PF Nick Collison
C Big man to control the paint

And then a lights-out shooter off the bench. So who should we go after? The thing is the Thunder doesn't have a lot of enticing pieces outside of the "off-limits" guys. The very tradeable guys are Joe Smith, Chris Wilcox, Earl Watson, Desmond Mason, Damien Wilkins, Mo Sene, Kyle Weaver and D.J. White. Not exactly a group that an opposing GM would skip lunch to swing a deal for. But regardless, that's who we were working with.

I set my sights on a good scorer to play the three. I needed to find a team that could use a decent point guard (Earl Watson) or a solid four (Chris Wilcox). I locked on to Indiana's Danny Granger. He's a good three-point threat (39 percent career and 40 percent last year) and averaged a solid 19.6 last season. He's got excellent size (6'8") and a good defender and best of all, he's got an expiring contract. The Pacers probably aren't going to contend this year, so they would likely be enticed by draft picks and expiring contracts themselves. So you send Chris Wilcox's expiring contract and next year's first round pick and get Danny Granger and Jarrett Jack in return (Jack is a throw-in to line the money up). Both Granger and Jack's contracts are up after this season and Indiana would probably go for unloading both to free up cap space. Plus, they could really use a body like Chris Wilcox on the blocks and it might give them a chance to groom Brandon Rush into a primo scorer. And honestly, I feel like Granger could kill two birds with one stone by giving OKC a consistent scorer and an outside threat.

Now I don't know enough about this and Granger may be an untouchable for the Pacers, but we can dream, right? Especially since Granger dropped 33 in the season opener, they might not take Kevin Durant and gold bullion for him. Oh well.

On to finding a good big man. With Wilcox gone, the best leverage to use is either draft picks or Joe Smith and Earl Watson. Here the Thunder needs to set their eyes on a well-tested big that they don't have to keep if they don't want to. The victim? Brad Miller. He's got a huge contract ($11 million plus) and the Kings would likely love to dump that. (Right now Miller is suspended five games for violating the league substance abuse policy). Miller has two years on his contract, so if the Kings could get rid of it for some expiring ones, they'd likely bite.

The Kings have a lot of needs so depending on what they'd bite on, you offer up any two-piece combination of Earl Watson, Joe Smith or Desmond Mason. More than likely, the Kings don't want Watson because he's signed through 2010. So a trade of Mason and Smith for Miller might work. Both Mason and Smith's deals are up this year and the money lines up. Smith could fill the void of Miller for the season and Mason could either start in place of John Salmons or provide a nice back up. It's win-win for both teams.

So now, the Thunder starting lineup looks like this:
PG Westbrook/Watson
SG Durant
SF Granger
PF Collison
C Miller

I think the Thunder could win 45 games with that lineup, don't you? Plus you've still got expiring deals with Granger and Miller in 2010, to which you could use Miller as trade leverage next season. Jarrett Jack or Watson could (and should) be traded to try and replenish Sam Presti's cupboard of draft picks. The bench just got lighter without Joe Smith or Dez, but you've got Jeff Green to play behind Granger and Johan Petro/Robert Swift/Mo Sene to fill the blocks.

Now, this will never, ever, happen because 1) The Pacers probably don't want to part with Danny Granger and 2) Presti doesn't really want to contend right now. It's not the plan. The plan is to draft wisely and sign a few good free agents. Which makes sense because the Thunder only has $20 million in committed salary for next season. So there's a lot of green to play with. Throw money at Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh, draft Blake Griffin or Ricky Rubio... things are going to be alright in OKC.
But if we didn't want to slump in our chairs and dream of CP3 all season, this is what we do. Or maybe we just pray KD turns into a megastar, Jeff Green plays to potential, Chris Wilcox has a career year, Russell Westbrook develops faster than thought and Damien Wilkins shoots threes like he's lost his mind. It could happen. I guess. Until then... you think Chris Paul is maybe eating dinner now or breaking down game film?


Samuel said...

Yes, Carlos Boozer is going to choose Oklahoma City over Miami. Who needs South Beach and an endless parade of beautiful women when you could have country music and Arbys?!?!

Joe said...

I'd be so surprised if we shopped Green. I would love it, but who wants a 3/4 tweener that can't shoot and doesn't really rebound and doesn't really play great defense? I think Green will be miffed when Durant gets his rookie contract extended big time like Dwade and Lebron and such in two more years, and Green gets only a 6 mil offer. However, perhaps Green could be comingled with other players, but I just think that Green's stock has never been higher than it was on draft day last year and it's gone steadily down ever since.

I've been preaching that Green is completely unimpressive for some time and I think people are seeing the light.

I'm all for any trade that makes the team better.


Samuel said...

Hundreds of tickets still available for the T-Wolves game on Sunday. If you guys can't even sellout the second home game in franchise history, how pitiful will attendance be when the team is 14-58 and fighting for the #1 overall pick in late March???

Samuel said...

PS - In a deliberate attempt to prove what a moron you are, the Pacers signed Granger to a 5-yr extension today.

Anonymous said...

and samuel, to prove what a moron YOU are, a quote from royce

"Now, this will never, ever, happen because 1) The Pacers probably don't want to part with Danny Granger"

Anonymous said...

You know Samuel, if you complain long enough, they say Gary Payton will show up at your door and give you a **** job!

Anonymous said...


Steve H said...

There is no point trying major moves during this season- we would just bleed resources improving from a 20 win team to 30 wins. I do expect Presti to shop Smith and Wilocox for lottery picks come February because we are four deep at PF, and Collison & White aren't going anywhere soon. Sam, there is no way in hell that Boozer goes to Miami. They just drafted a pretty strong PF in Beasley, and flat don't have salary cap space to sign both Wade and Boozer. Do they really go deep into the luxury tax to have Beasley coming off the bench? If you look at the "salary" section at Hoopshype, you'll see that the Thunder and Grizzlies are the only teams next year poised to throw Elton Brand money at Boozer. He will be playing here because 85 million is a lot of money, and the night life is every bit as good as Salt Lakes's- only without all the Mormons.

Royce said...

I agree completely Steve. That's the reason I threw in the part about Presti really not wanting to compete now. He's got a plan and a good one at that.

And kind of the point I was trying to make, and I should've probably made it a little more transparent, is how close the Thunder is to being a semi-contender. A couple pieces could turn this into a pretty solid team. And I'm not ready to throw in the towel after one game either. I think we can still win 30 games.

Steve H said...

I'm not looking to throw in the towel exactly- just trying to resign myself to the ugly season ahead. I'll be delighted if our guys can just improve their team defense, regardless of how many wins we get. That is what has disappointed me most about PJC- I've heard a lot of TALK about emphasizing defensive play that hasn't translated into our performance. I agree that Presti has laid the foundation to make us contenders in the near future- IF the ownership is willing to pony up for an all-star free agent this summer. Gonna beat Blazers hockey regardless how it turns out.

Zander said...

I'm OKC in a GM game right now. After about a dozen trades this is the team:

W Green/D Cook/K Rush
Durant/Mbah a Moute/Hassell
Aldridge/R Evans
M Gasol/Sene/Gadzuric

Plus I have 3 1st round picks and 3 2nd round picks for the 09 draft.

Anonymous said...

jesus christ. why post about something as ridiculous as expiring contracts for the pacers' young franchise player, then disavow it in the following paragraph? what is the point? joe smith filling in for brad miller? that is not close to contending if you're pondering the impossible. stop forcing posts. embarrassing.