Mailbag: Should the Thunder make a trade to compete for a title this season?

Mailbag: Should the Thunder make a trade to compete for a title this season?

The Thunder are off to a 10-4 start. Is now the time to start making trades to set up a deep playoff run? Jon takes a reader's question and has some thoughts about why staying the course is probably the best bet.

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

| Nov 22, 2023, 10:00am CST

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

Nov 22, 2023, 10:00am CST

The Oklahoma City Thunder are winners of five straight headed into Wednesday night’s game versus the Bulls. Despite some early disappointing losses, the Thunder have impressed so far this season. It’s made some fans wonder just how far the team can go this season.

For this week’s mailbag question, I turn the mic over to newsletter subscriber Brian Grady:

Suppose Sam Presti decides that it is time to make a trade that makes the Thunder possibly competitive for an NBA title this year. Is there anyone that could be traded for at a reasonable cost and who would that player be? 

Thanks for the question, Brian!

I’ve seen some variation of this question make the rounds. It’s similar to the question that has been asked both locally and nationally: Will the Thunder “push the button” and try to accelerate this process?

I have several thoughts when it comes to this topic.

It is highly unusual for a sub-40 win team to make an instant leap to title contention. The Cleveland Cavaliers did it in 2015, but that’s because the Cavs lured a 30-year-old LeBron James back to the organization and swung a trade for Kevin Love. San Antonio was a western conference power that endured a single injury-riddled, 20-win season in 1996-97. They were rewarded with Tim Duncan and returned to dominance. The Boston Celtics bucked a ton of historical trends by winning an NBA title one season after posting 24 wins. Making blockbuster offseason trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was massive for them.

Typically, the core of championship teams is forged through years of playoff battles. Golden State took its lumps for a couple of seasons before Steve Kerr unlocked Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and company. Boston’s current tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown needed several seasons to mesh before reaching the 2022 NBA Finals. The Denver Nuggets endured four seasons of playoff exits before winning the championship in 2023.

So what kind of a trade could the Thunder make to become a title contender this season? Let’s be completely honest, it would take acquiring the kind of player that simply isn’t available for trade. The likes of Jokic or Giannis Antentekounmpo are no more available than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. 

Obviously, those are pie-in-the-sky scenarios. I’ve seen fans throw around a variety of other ideas to fill specific roles, or perhaps pounce on a buy-low opportunity from a team ready to hit the reset button. But it feels like the Thunder are trending in the right direction with plenty of room left in its ceiling. Why mess with that? 

Even if you could concoct a trade that picked from the carcass of the Bulls, Wizards, Blazers, et al, you have to think about the overall ramifications. Bringing in a high usage player will rob possessions from someone like Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey or Jalen Williams. Tinkering is fun and finding ways to move the needle are a fan pastime, but it’s more exciting to think about those players continuing their growth.

Granted, change is inevitable. At a minimum, OKC will eventually shuffle through players at the edge of the roster eventually. Some players without a big role right now might appreciate an opportunity to play elsewhere and land another contract. Whether such a trade could return a player that can crack Mark Daigneault’s 10-man or 18-man rotation is questionable.

Which brings me to my final thought on this topic: timing. The Bucks had a pair of crushing playoff defeats before the team assembled a blockbuster trade. And it’s a good thing they didn’t push the button before Jrue Holiday became available. The Nuggets started turning heads in 2018 but it wasn’t the right time to swing for the fences. The opportunity to trade for Aaron Gordon didn’t come along until 2021.

In the meantime, I encourage everyone to stay in the moment and enjoy what the team is now. In the words of the great Axl Rose, all we need is just a little patience.

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