Rumors are swirling that Earl Watson, the current starting point guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder wants out of town. This comes as no surprise considering Watson was supposedly asking to be traded last season when the team was in Seattle. However, when Darnell Mayberry asked him point blank, this is what Watson had to say:
I don’t want out.
Honestly, on my mind right now, I’m more focused on winning these next two games, and I’m more focused on the holiday season. As far as moving, I don’t think anyone wants to move during the holiday season. So that’s my focus. I’m here right now, I practice every day and I work hard every day. So until you see my effort otherwise, I don’t even know how to answer that question.
Color me less than convinced that he is here for the long haul. Technically, Watson is contracted to be with the team for two more seasons at $6.2MM a year. However, explaining that the reason he doesn’t want to be traded is because of the holidays? It’s likely only a matter of time before he publicly starts clamoring to be “traded to a contender.”
Losing him would not be a big deal. It shouldn’t be hard to find a guy who can guide the team to a 1-6 record. Currently, Watson averages 7.6 points, 5.6 assists, and one steal per game. That assist figure is in the top-25 for the league, but most of those come from handing the ball off to Kevin Durant and letting him do his thing. The real measure of how Watson is doing for the team is how the team looks on offense, since he is the starting point guard. No one who has watched more than a couple of ESPN highlights would suggest the Thunder run like a well-oiled machine.
If he can’t be convinced to happily play for Oklahoma City in return for $6.2MM a year more than his play suggests he’s worth, I say let him go. Russell Westbrook is slated as the future for the team at Watson’s position and he might as well get some more experience when the team isn’t expected to win. Hopefully, the deal can be taken care of on Thanksgiving Day.
The question, then, is who would take him off the Thunder’s hands, and who might the team receive in in return. After the jump, I have outlined some possibilities.
(All of the trade possibilities listed below work under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and the NBA Players Association which require that teams over the salary cap–a fraternity which includes almost every franchise–can only trade players if the salaries changing hands are within 25% of each other.)
Watson and Damien Wilkins to Chicago Bulls for Kirk Hinrich
Of all the deals that would work, this would probably be the biggest name the Thunder could hope to acquire. Hinrich, who looks like the offspring of Mr. Spock, was part of the Jayhawk tandem (along with current Thunder player Nick Collison) that nearly won Roy Williams a national championship for Kansas. For awhile, he was considered to be a core player for the Chicago Bulls who rewarded him with a long term contract worth $10MM a year.
As fate would have it, Hinrich started to lose his shine for the Bulls as they had a tumultuous season in 2007/2008 that started with high expectations. Chicago then lucked out and won the draft lottery last season where they selected Derrick Rose to be their franchise point guard. Now they have Hinrich slated as an overpaid reserve for the next four seasons.
Based on this, the Thunder could possibly take Hinrich off the Bulls hands for Watson and Damien Wilkins (Kevin Durant’s back-up at shooting guard–who would be needed to make the salaries work under the collective bargaining agreement). For Chicago, Watson would slide in as Rose’s back-up and be less of a salary cap burden since his deal expires after next season. For Oklahoma City, Hinrich could possibly rejeuvenate his career with his friend Collison while playing in a market more similar to where he thrived as an Iowa high schooler and Kansas collegiate.
With Hinrich at point guard, Westbrook would spend most of his time at shooting guard (where he probably belongs), and Kevin Durant would move to his more natural small forward position.
Watson to Indiana Pacers for Jamaal Tinsley
If Thunder GM Sam Presti called Pacers President Larry Bird with this deal, Bird would accept the deal before Presti finished his sentence that would end “hypothetically speaking.” For the rest of the conversation Bird would call Presti and “Indian giver.” The Pacers badly want to get rid of Tinsley and his awful contract without buying him out. Today, they pay him his $6.75MM salary even though they refuse to allow him into their facilities. If they continue to refuse to buy him out and no one takes him off their hands, they will give him $7.2 and $7.5 million over the next two years for sitting at home playing Rock Star on his PS3.
The Thunder should not make this deal. Tinsley is always injured, and the Pacers tired of him because of his off court problems that included allegedly firing a gun in a night club. If the team did acquire Tinsley, though, it would be because he is a talented floor general who they felt would have difficulty finding trouble in a place like Oklahoma City. Look how well that worked out for the Birdman.
Watson to New Orleans Hornets for Mike James
James and Watson have essentially identical contracts. If Oklahoma City’s former team and Oklahoma City’s current team enacted this deal it would simply be a swap of point guards who they hoped would fit better on a different team. Mike James was actually a highly desired player after a great contract year for Toronto three seasons ago. Since then, he’s been nothing more than a bench warmer. Then again, he has a contract season coming up next year, so now might be the time to pick him up.
Watson to L.A. Clippers for Tim Thomas
Thomas is another contract-year wonder. The guy got along on having great potential for year, but then Chicago got tired of waiting for him to show that potential and waved him. He was then picked up by Phoenix during the season that was chronicled in :07 Seconds or Less and helped an undermanned Suns team make it to the Western Conference finals. He then cashed in by getting a big deal from the Clippers and went right back to being worthless. I’m sure the Clippers might let him go for a solid back up to Baron Davis.
Watson to Memphis Grizzlies for Darko Milicic
I’ve always been a defender of the Pistons for selecting Milicic 2nd overall in a draft where they could have had Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, or even Kirk Hinrich. If they had taken one of those other players and Milicic had become the 7’1″ superstar center with point guard skills that scouts felt he would become, Detroit would have been crucified by their fans. Besides, they were a rare team that had a number two overall pick that didn’t need immediate help.
That actually came back to bite them as Larry Brown basically crushed the spirit of Darko. You’d think it would be hard to crush the spirit of a person who grew up around the civil wars of Bosnia, but Brown managed to completely destroy any confidence the kid had. Subsequent stops in Orlando and Memphis have done little to repair the damage.
Then again, Milicic is still only 23 years old, is still 7’1″ tall, and has a reasonable contract for a person of that stature. Besides, the Thunder don’t like big men who aren’t projects, and unlike Johan Petro and Robert Swift, Darko does have a high ceiling talent-wise.
Watson to Milwaukee Bucks for Dan Gadzuric
Of all the deals I’ve suggested, this one is the most realistic. It is completely boring and un-sexy, like most trades. Neither team will be giving up much and neither team will be receiving much. On the other hand, the Thunder already traded the Bucks their starting point guard from last season, Luke Ridnour, a guy who wanted out because he didn’t want to play with Watson. So, it will likely never happen.
Watson to Minnesota Timberwolves for Jason Collins or Brian Cardinal
This falls into the realistic category, as well. In this case, Minnesota would take on Watson to give them a veteran presence at the point guard position. They currently have Randy Foye and Sebastian Telfair as their only point guards. The Thunder would beef up their post with one of two guys who generally blend into the scenery.
Watson to New Jersey Nets for Stromile Swift
Swift has bounced around the league ever since the Grizzlies selected him second overall in the 2000 draft. That was probably the highlight of his career because on the floor he has always been a disappointment. In a deal like this, though, you can’t expect too much, and Swift would provide height and athleticism. Plus, with Chris Wilcox constantly injured, they could use him.
Watson to New York Knicks for Jerome James
There were actually several deals I found when looking at the Knicks roster. That probably says a lot about how dire the circumstances in New York are.
James was actually a former member of the Thunder back in their Seattle days. He sat at the end of their bench, but when they made the playoffs several years ago, James came off the bench and played good defense against Tim Duncan. Isiah Thomas apparently watched just that footage because he gave James the Knicks full mid-level exception. Then, James promptly sat at the end of the Knicks bench.
Sadly, James might actually be an upgrade to the “Craptastic Trio” (Petro/Swift/Mouhammed Sene) the team currently employs at center.
Watson to New York Knicks for Jared Jeffries
Jeffries is another mid-level exception mistake made by Thomas. Coming out of college, his height (6’10”) and versatility suggested he might become a good NBA player. To date that has not been the case. There is some hope in New York that Jeffries, who Sooner fans might remember from the 2002 Final Four, could turn out to be a good player in current coach Mike D’Antoni’s fast paced system. Of course, he’d have to stop getting injured to show any of that promise. He’s also an unlikely player to be coveted by the Thunder who have two similar, but superior, players in Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.
Watson & Wilkins to New York Knicks for Eddy Curry & Mardy Collins
Isiah Thomas’ bad decisions continue to haunt the Knicks like Frank Keating’s capitol dome does the state of Oklahoma’s budget. Curry cost the Knicks two first round draft picks and more than $9MM a year in salary (double when you consider luxury tax). Now? Curry shows up in the box score as “DNP-Coach’s Decision”.
In fairness, that isn’t to say Curry is a bad player. Overpaid? Yes. For the Thunder, however, he could provide value as a low post scoring threat. Even Mardy Collins, another guy not liked by D’Antoni, might help the Thunder as a big point guard.
Watson to Orlando Magic for J.J. Redick and Brian Cook
Saving the best for last… It isn’t a trade column unless I figure out a way for the Thunder to acquire J.J. Redick. And the Thunder should acquire J.J. Redick. The current roster contains nobody who can come into the game and make the opposing defense play honestly on Kevin Durant by providing a deep threat. No one.
Redick may be a one dimensional player, but he is one of the best shooters in the world. If he played the shooting guard while Kevin Durant was the small forward, no one would leave J.J. to double on Durant. It would be silly, because Redick would drain a three. As such, defenses have to change their game plan when he’s in the game.
The Magic already have some three point threats. As such, they don’t need Redick and it shows in his playing time. They do, however, need point guards. At this point, they have Jameer Nelson and no one else. Brian Cook would have to be included to make the salaries work, but it doesn’t look like Orlando would miss him, and the Thunder could cut him.
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