LOS ANGELES — The Oklahoma City Thunder’s chances at adding to their team don’t end when the NBA’s trade deadline comes Thursday at 2 p.m. CT.
Many around the league expect the Thunder to be heavy players in the buyout market. It’s one that could be busier than usual considering the NBA’s current salary cap environment. Most teams lack significant room for the upcoming offseason. With ugly, holdover contracts from the NBA’s summer-of-2016 splurge — when the cap spiked to unprecedented levels and teams handed out contracts like never before — still on the books, franchises aren’t as eager to take back 2019 money for guys on the final years of deals.
It could lead to helpful names saving their teams some dough in an attempt to get to a winning location. The trade deadline moving up two weeks from in year’s past gives teams more time to negotiate buyouts, as well.
The Thunder have carried 14 players, one less than the maximum, all season to save some money at the end of the bench, a common strategy for a team deep into the luxury tax. It also gives them room to bring in someone extra.
It could be mean a player like shooting guard Marco Belinelli, whom the Atlanta Hawks have rested leading up to the deadline, coming in on a minimum deal. Of course, that happens only if Atlanta is unable to swing a trade involving the 31-year-old sharpshooter. It could mean the same for Utah Jazz swingman Joe Johnson, who has gone the buyout route before, negotiating one with the Brooklyn Nets in 2016 so that he could head to the Miami Heat, an eventual 48-win team. He go a similar route with Utah this year, league sources told The Transcript.
Oklahoma City has only a minimum deal to offer. It was not able to apply for a disabled player exception after starting shooting guard Andre Roberson’s season-ending left patellar tendon rupture, since the injury occurred a week-and-a-half after the deadline to apply.
Yet, the Thunder can place two blowout wins over the Golden State Warriors, one as recent as Tuesday night, fresh on the minds of free agents. Many around the league believe the Thunder to be an intuitive destination for buyout candidates because of the stars at the top of the roster.
As one league source suggested, as well, the competition on the buyout market could be a tad less aggressive because of the recent chaos around the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team which will be trying to improve on the margins similarly to the Thunder but which could also become a less attractive situation today than many believed it to be at the start of the season.
• Roberson replacements: It’s still widely believed the Thunder will be aggressive heading into Thursday’s deadline — even if they don’t pull off a deal.
Oklahoma City has historically searched for value adds, not necessarily filler ones. The Thunder didn’t go into last year’s deadline, for instance, targeting power forward Taj Gibson. They saw a player they liked was available and capitalized on a situation they believed could be helpful. Given the team's history, OKC could certainly approach the market similarly this year.
The team has a hole to plug after Roberson’s injury, without question. But it would be out of character for general manager Sam Presti to make a deal for the sake of making one. The Thunder have shown interest in Utah Jazz wing Rodney Hood, Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer. They’ve put out feelers for L.A. Clippers guard Avery Bradley, as well, the Transcript has confirmed.
Bradley, specifically, presents a fascinating situation. The Clippers had wanted a first-round pick for him, but that could be difficult to garner given his expiring deal, the down season he’s experiencing, and the groin issues with which he’s struggled. Teams in 2018 are holding first-rounders far more tightly than in years past, as well, given the value of rookie contracts inside the league’s new fiscal environment. The Thunder have liked Bradley since the 2010 draft, when they would have liked him at the 18th pick had they not traded it that season.
The Boston Celtics are willing to part with defensive-minded guard Marcus Smart, and the Thunder have reached out, according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. But the Celtics reportedly want a first-rounder for Smart, something the Thunder may not be able to give.
Acquiring players on rentals and offloading some 2018-19 money could save Oklahoma City valuable luxury tax dollars next season if it were to bring back Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
• Who to look for: The Hawks and Thunder seem to be intuitive partners — and not just because of Belinelli. Center Dewayne Dedmon, who the Thunder have reached out about, sources told The Transcript, makes $6 million this year and has a $6.3 million player option for next season. The Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans have also talked to Atlanta about Dedmon, per a source. He had a strong defensive season last year and is somewhat superfluous on a rebuilding Atlanta roster, though the Hawks moving him does not appear imminent.
New York Knicks wing Courtney Lee could fill into the Roberson replacement category, but the New York Post has reported the Knicks would like a first-round pick in return for their shooting guard. Plus, Lee is under contract for $25 million over the next two years after this one.
Orlando Magic wing Jonathon Simmons, who makes $6.3 million this year, $6 million next year and is non-guaranteed at $5.7 million for 2019-20, has gotten hot after a midseason cooling, and the Thunder have reached out about him, per Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Mannix.
The Thunder could go for a cheaper option, too, like a Jodie Meeks-type. The guard is sitting on the end of the Washington Wizards bench while sinking only 31 percent of his 3s this season. But the 30-year-old is a career 37 percent shooter from range who has crested 40 percent before — and it wouldn’t take much to pry him away from Washington.
• Asset management: The soonest draft pick the Thunder can realistically trade is their 2022 one. They unloaded a lottery-protected 2018 pick in the deal that brought in big man Enes Kanter. They parted with a top-20 protected first rounder, to be conveyed two years after the pick for Kanter, for forward Jerami Grant. Grant will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
OKC remains high on rookie wing Terrance Ferguson and is steering him away from trade conversations, league sources tell The Transcript.
Oklahoma City also has two small trade exceptions, one for $2.6 million and one for $1.5 million, both received in the summer trade for Paul George.
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.