Initially, with this being New Years Day, and all, the plan was to unveil a few New Years Resolutions for the team. So those don’t go to waste, here they are:
- Here’s an idea: Win some games
- Unveil a mascot. Preferably one that doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of the ClarkPupp
- Market the team (Who cares if one of the billboards turns into a running joke like “Feel the Buzz with the Birdman”. The way to insure long-term success for the team in this market is to assist in making the players household names. Kevin Durant’s face should be on my television and plastered all over Oklahoma City. Right now, the Thunder brass are basking in the sellout of season tickets. Well, guess what? The goodwill of moving the team and securing a major league franchise will only last for a couple of seasons. So either the team needs to start winning games or the hearts of the fans. With the crappy game production and crappy floor product, they are doing neither. For the sake of the future, start marketing now!)
Now that that is out of the way, the news of the week is trade rumors. Re-making the roster before the trade deadline will be the focus the remainder of the way.
Quote of the Week: Chris Wilcox
Right now, we’ve got nine big men. . . . Something has got to happen.
With the signing Nenad Krstic, things in the front court became even more muddled. Jeff Green, who starts at power forward, is the only player whose role seems set in stone. The starter at center rotates nightly and the back up minutes at both spots are tough to distribute.
The man who is short on the totem pole tends to be Joe Smith, which is sad. A former first pick overall after winning the Naismith Player of the Year award as a sophomore at Maryland, Smith has had a solid career. Despite never being a superstar, Smith has always been a good scorer and rebounder for the many teams he has played for over the past thirteen seasons.
Unfortunately, with the youth movement the Thunder are currently undertaking, a 33-year old veteran falls to the bottom of the pecking order. So, it is time to let Smith, whose contract expires at the end of the season anyway, to go. The good news is that Smith could still provide a lot of value to the Thunder.
Rumors are rampant that the Celtics would love to acquire Joe, and Joe would probably love to play for the Celtics since they appear to be the best contender for the league championship. (Think of how nice it would be to leave the hell that is 3-29 to play for a team that is 28-4.) Of course, as much as Boston would like to have him on the team, they don’t want to give up any key cogs that have helped them jump out to such a great start. They probably feel they can wait it out, hope Oklahoma City buys out Joe’s contract after the trade deadline, and woo Smith with the promise of playing for a title.
In the meantime, Thunder GM Sam Presti needs to do everything he can to make Boston think Smith might go to one of the other top contenders. There is talk that Miami, Toronto, Orlando, and Denver are discussing possible trades. With the exception of Denver, all of those teams are in direct competition with the Celtics for Eastern Conference supremacy. Then again, Miami is just a fringe hopeful and the Raptors are simply trying to get into the playoffs. That leaves Orlando. At 24-7, the Magic have to put at least a smidgen of fear into Boston, and if they had some depth at the power forward position, that smidgen might blossom to a full out fear.
The monkey wrench is the statement put out by Magic GM Otis Smith:
“Did those rumors say what we are giving up for him? What am I going to do with another big? Am I just collecting them?” Smith said with a laugh.
Odds are, this is just posturing. Smith can play up the “we have too many big men” card all he wants, but all it takes is a trip to the NBA.com roster page to see that the primary back ups behind Magic front court starters Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard are Marcin Gortat and Tony Battie. Get either one of those starters in foul trouble and Doc Rivers can kick back with a margarita while the Celtics roll to victory.
Why would Otis Smith posture? He know the Celtics could become even more lethal with Joe taking the veteran-big-man-off-the-bench role P.J. Brown played for the team last year. He also has to know that Joe Smith is much better than any post player currently playing a reserve role for the Magic. What the Orlando GM wants, though, is to keep Boston confident that they can snag Smith after the deadline and he doesn’t want to give up anything of significant value to Sam Presti in the process of acquiring Joe.
Where Otis Smith has it right is that Boston really has nothing that the Thunder really want. Any package the Celtics would be comfortable in offering would have to include Brian Scalabrine for salary cap purposes. While Scalabrine is, by all accounts, a good teammate, he provides little in the way of on court contribution. And he’s owed $3.1 million for each of the next two seasons. So, in a deal for Joe Smith, who has an expiring contract, the Thunder would actually have to take on future salary for a player who would not be in the team’s long term plans.
In addition to Scalabrine, the Celtics would only be willing to give up a minor prospect outside of their rotation. A player like Gabe Pruitt, J.R. Giddens, or Bill Walker. If Presti really were able to create a bidding war, Boston President Danny Ainge might be willing to offer a rotation player who like Leon Powe or Glen “Big Baby” Davis. But both of those players would do nothing to alleviate the Thunder’s log jam at power forward. In a best case scenario, the Celtics might be willing to give up Tony Allen, a defensive specialist at the two-guard who has local ties.
Knowing that Boston cannot make a better deal than them, Orlando’s GM is probably offering a pu pu platter of Brian Cook (a little used power forward whose expiring salary will be needed for salary cap purposes) and one of the Magic’s plethora of shooting guards that aren’t very well coveted. Likely, Keith Bogans. Bogans is a Damien Wilkins clone, who just happens to the be the shooting guard the Thunder is stuck with right now. Except, Bogans is a probably not as good. He doesn’t elevate the team’s shooting a great deal, and Presti couldn’t expect that he’d be a long term assistance at the position.
So, what Sam Presti needs to do is drive up the market value of Joe Smith in order to force Otis Smith into sweetening the offer. The quickest way to do that is to involve another contender, and the best candidate is the Cleveland LeBrons.
At 26-4, LeBron’s Cavaliers are the team Boston fears most, and the team Orlando wants to leapfrog. In all likelihood, the best deal Cleveland could offer would be swingman Sasha Pavlovic. While not an ideal candidate, he would provide length (6’7″ shooting guard) and somewhat improve the shooting ability of the team (he shot 40% from three two seasons ago–but has struggled since). Pavlovic is also a solid defender.
Sam Presti, however, has nothing to lose by playing out the whole process. Worst case scenario, he doesn’t make a trade, the team gets nothing in return for Joe Smith, and his contract comes off the books at the end of the season, buy out or no. So basically, right where we are anyway.
So, if he can get an offer of Pavlovic, or even just bluff that the Cleveland is willing to give him up in order to acquire a big man who can score off the bench, then Orlando would probably be inclined to give up the package that most addresses the Thunder’s needs.
That deal? Shooting specialist J.J. Redick (and Brian Cook’s contract). Personally, I’d pay money just to watch Redick shoot free throws, but he really is the type of player the Thunder sorely lacks. If you want the reasons, you can probably just check any Peace, Love and Thunderstanding article in the archives.