You’ve all heard the rumors. Every week a new one. Miami wants to trade for Chris Paul, Sacramento wants to trade for Steven Adams, Portland wants to trade for Danilo Gallinari. These reports are all highly questionable, but one thing is for sure: The Oklahoma City Thunder are in a prime position to start making deals.
The players mentioned are the obvious ones, but under Sam Presti’s reign, anyone can get moved at any time. Remember the last two #13s to play in OKC before Justin Patton took over the digits this year?
“If it’s happening to someone else, then obviously there’s a chance that it might happen to you. It’s common sense, mate.” – Steven Adams
The current iteration of OKC’s roster looks like it could be especially short lived. Now that short-term championship contention is no longer realistic, stability and chemistry will take a backseat to new priorities: prospects and picks.
So let’s take a look at the Thunder’s full roster (excluding 2-way and non-guaranteed contract players) and decide… who’s getting traded first? We’ll start with the last person we expect to be shipped out and finish with the first one we expect to see in a Woj bomb.
Not Getting Traded
#14. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The only player who looks completely safe is the lanky 21-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Even if he struggles to improve from his strong rookie season in LA in this first year with OKC, the dream of his future potential is far too great to give up anytime soon. Plus he’s still on his rookie contract, making a measly $4 million a year through 2022. Unless a truly irrefutable deal for a superstar becomes available, which is unlikely at least for this season, SGA is basically untouchable.
Unlikely to be Traded
#13. Darius Bazley
#12. Terrence Ferguson
#11 Hami Diallo
Three young athletic wings with high upside and low rookie salaries, the Thunder are betting on at least one of them developing into an elite difference maker. Darius Bazley, Terrence Ferguson, and Hami Diallo may not be quite in the same realm of untouchability as SGA, but they’re all highly coveted assets.
Since the Thunder are looking to move in young players with upside, it makes little sense to move out the ones they already have. Still, if a young player closer to SGA’s caliber becomes available, we could see one of these three (paired with another, more highly paid player) being sent out to make the deal happen.
Might Get Traded
#10. Nerlens Noel
#9. Mike Muscala
#8. Justin Patton
#7. Deonte Burton
#6. Abdel Nader
These are the guys OKC won’t actively try to shop, but could easily be a throw-in in a bigger deal. They bring value to an NBA roster, but won’t swing the needle for playoff contenders. They aren’t considered part of the long term core and could be parted with without much remorse.
All players in this category are older (besides Patton) and on short-term deals making between $1.4m – $2.1m per year. This makes them easy to move in creative ways. They can be used to make salaries match (as any trade between two teams over the maximum salary cap must do) or could be relocated to help OKC get under the luxury tax line.
Nerlens Noel is the least likely to be traded from this group due to his no trade clause, via which he can decline any trade he is a part of. After that, I ranked these players by their estimated value to the Thunder. Mike Muscala seems the most likely to crack the Thunder’s rotation. Justin Patton’s youth and stature give him value. Abdel Nader and Deonte Burton are undoubtedly good players, but still look the most dispensable.
On the Trade Block
#5. Steven Adams
#4. Andre Roberson
The two longest tenured Thunder players may not be here for much longer. Rumors have swirled around the league about trade destinations and possible deals for Steven Adams. But the Thunder have remained firm in their stance. It will take multiple picks and young assets to get the “Kiwi Khal” out of Oklahoma. Many teams will find that price tag too high, but for a player of Adam’s caliber the Thunder are in no rush to see him out. He still has two years left on his relatively fair $25 million per year deal.
As for Andre Roberson, Sam Presti will have to make a deal more quickly if they want to move him. He’s entering the last year on his $10 million per year contract. If he can show early on that he’s still the defensive maestro he was back in January 2018 (when a patellar tendon tear put his career on hold), he could be a very valuable trade chip. The chance to move him for more coveted long term assets will be tempting, but I don’t think the Thunder will choose to cash in just yet.
Both Adams and Roberson are veterans. Starters since the days of Russ and Durant. There’s a value in holding onto locker room leaders that can carry on a culture. Besides, each could potentially re-sign on team friendly contracts when their current deals end (especially Roberson, given his injury history). Although there will be plenty of trade chatter surrounding them both this season, I think the Thunder’s best long-term play is to hold onto these two adopted Oklahomans.
Likely to be Traded (Next Season)
#3. Dennis Schröder
Dennis the Menace is currently the best German basketball player in the league. Unfortunately that title doesn’t mean much these days.
Don’t expect Schröder gone anytime soon, but know his time is coming. Making $15.5 million each of the next two years is a lot for a backup point guard, but after this season his trade value will see a jump as he enters the final year of his contract. Teams love expiring deals because of the salary cap flexibility that comes the following offseason. Cap flexibility that can be used to target superstar free agents. Expect to see Dennis Schöder’s name in trade rumors far more often next season.
Will Trade if Possible (This Season)
#2. Chris Paul
Here’s a list of every basketball player making more money than Chris Paul this season:
1) Stephen Curry.
That’s it. That’s the whole list.
Chris Paul is owed $124 million over the next 3 years. While he is still very good at basketball, at 34 years old (and still getting older!) his contract is one of the worst in NBA history. It took a very special set of circumstances for Houston to move him and the same will have to happen for Oklahoma City to have any chance of shipping him out.
Right now teams would want the Thunder to give them assets to offset the damage of taking on Paul’s salary. So for now, OKC will wait and hope CP3 has a quality first half of the season and boosts his value enough to net the Thunder future assets instead of giving them up. If this ideal scenario occurs, Paul will surely be gone by February.
But things rarely go according to plan. Sam Presti may not find a deal he likes, and if Paul plays poorly or gets injured, teams will avoid him completely. Each year, Paul’s talent will decline. He will become harder and harder to trade until his contract finally, mercifully expires in 2022.
Definitely Getting Traded (This Season)
#1. Danilo Gallinari
If Danilo Gallinari is still a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder by the time the trade deadline closes on February 7th, there will be only two logical explanations.
One possibility: the Thunder find themselves firmly in the playoff race at midseason and decide a push for the eighth seed is worth the effort. Keeping Gallinari is the best bet to get them there. Even in this case, Sam Presti will prioritize his vision of the future and look to move the Italian Marksman, only holding onto him if a quality deal isn’t available.
Otherwise, if the Thunder are not in the playoff hunt, the only possible way they don’t trade Danilo Gallinari is if Sam Presti quits his job as General Manager to start an alternative rock band and is replaced by an actual brick.
Gallinari is an elite scorer on an expiring $22 million dollar deal who will certainly attract the interest of multiple championship hopefuls. He can play multiple positions and would instantly bolster almost any teams starting lineup. His large contract coming off the books this summer would leave his new team with flexibility for future moves in the offseason. Someone will be willing to give up a young prospect, a pick, or even more. Letting Gallinari play out his time in OKC (with no playoff payoff) only for him to leave in the offseason for nothing would be a monumental mistake. Whether it’s Presti or a brick making the moves, expect Gallinari gone sooner rather than later.
Connor Ayubi is the newest member of The Franchise’s OKC Thunder insider coverage team. An Oklahoma native, he now studies Economics and Sport Analytics at Rice University. Connor has experience leading the analytics team for Rice Men’s and Women’s basketball, consulting for Rocnation Sports, and preparing the Phoenix Suns for the 2019 NBA Draft with his scouting and analysis. Follow him on Twitter @AyubiNBA