Yes, the Oklahoma City Thunder is a better team today than it was yesterday. Fleecing the Chicago Bulls in a last-minute, five-player trade will do that.
Doug McDermott is currently a better 3-point shooter than Anthony Morrow. And Taj Gibson certainly is a better all-around player, particularly at rebounding and defending the pick-and-roll, than Joffrey Lauvergne is.
Cameron Payne may become, as Thunder GM Sam Presti said, a really talented player with more playing time, but in his short stint with OKC, he was frequently out of his league. Samaj Christon will be fine holding down Payne’s point guard minutes. (Payne’s 6.16 PER this season ranks 430th among all NBA players; Christon’s 5.97 ranks 435th.)
Presti said the team is better after the trade than it was before, and he’s right.
“This particular team,” Presti said, “ … deserved the opportunity to try to maximize itself (and) learn how good they can be.”
Maybe that will make a difference in the final 25 games of the regular season (24 if the newcomers are unable to contribute against the Lakers tonight), pushing the Thunder up from the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings.
Who wants to face San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs, right?
And maybe McDermott and Gibson will even make a difference in the postseason, giving OKC the push it needs to survive and advance. There certainly was no expectation they’d win a series before the trade.
So this swap has little downside.
“I think both of these guys help our team,” Presti said.
They definitely help today. But what does it mean long-term?
Gibson’s contract is coming due; will he like OKC so much that he re-signs in the offseason? He seemed a bit smitten with the Thunder Nation crowd that greeted him at Will Rogers World Airport on Thursday night, so maybe so.
McDermott’s shooting is down this season (from .425 last year to .376 so far this year), prompting an alert among the fan base that he could be the next Kyle Singler.
Singler was a career .398 3-point shooter when he arrived from Detroit. McDermott’s career number sits at .399. Singler’s numbers have crashed since taking up residence in OKC: .370 in 2015, .309 in 2016, and .231 this season.
Not much use for a 3-point shooter who can’t shoot 3-pointers.
Also, McDermott was a three-time All-American and the national college player of the year at Creighton for a reason. Singler was a role player on a loaded Duke team. Doug McDermott is no Kyle Singler.
Even if Dougie McBuckets can connect from outside, and even if Gibson likes his new home and decides to stay, are they the long-term foundational pieces that Oklahoma City needs in the post-Kevin Durant era?
More importantly, will a hot-shooting McDermott and a contented Gibson do anything to attract a big-name free agent to Oklahoma City when the time comes?
Perhaps a more succinct way to put it: Will they make Westbrook happy? Westbrook may have a decision to make after next season, so do these new pieces give him peace of mind that Presti is building toward a championship?
Remember, the moves Presti made in recent years didn’t engender confidence in Durant’s mind that OKC actually was moving in the right direction.
Then again, we’re talking about Durant’s mind, so who can say?
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.