Buckle up. Sam Presti is wheeling and dealing once again.
The Oklahoma City Thunder sent Al Horford, Moses Brown and a 2023 second-round pick to the Boston Celtics and received Kemba Walker, the 16th pick in the 2021 draft and a 2025 second-round pick.
With Horford gone and another first-round pick in Presti’s war chest, it’s the second straight offseason where he and the Thunder were incentivized to take on an all-star on a bad contract and trade him for a pick one year later. Even with the significant health concerns and $73.6 million owed to him over the next two seasons, there will likely be interest among contenders for Walker at some point.
With another aging star on the books and an additional draft pick in hand, where does OKC go from here?
Draft night trades are coming
After Friday’s trade, the Thunder now have five picks in the top 36 of this year’s draft and another selection at 55. Which picks they have once draft night rolls around will be determined by the ping pong balls on Tuesday and whether or not OKC gets the fifth pick from Houston to jumpstart the rebuild.
Regardless, there’s very little chance OKC makes all six selections. Consolidating assets to move up in the draft is a far more likely scenario. The Thunder have the added benefit of cap space, too, as they sit about $64 million below the luxury tax. They could take on more bad money to lessen the cost of trading up in the draft.
A few days ago, it was possible for OKC to leave lottery night with just the seventh and 18th picks in the first round of the 2021 draft. Now, seventh, 16th, and 18th is the new worst case, and with that comes added flexibility for Presti to get his guy. (If you’re wondering, picks one, five and 16 is now the new best case for OKC on lottery night.)
None of us know where in the draft Presti would look to move up and grab his guy, although making trades near the top of this draft is probably unlikely at best. But the bottom line is the Thunder general manager now more ammo on draft night, and with that, flexibility that he didn’t have before.
Just last season, Presti traded picks 25 and 28 to move up to 17 and select Aleksej Pokusevski. If the Thunder does end up with picks 16 and 18, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see Presti move into the back half of the lottery. And then that’s where we’d have to trust the OKC scouting department to pick the right guy because there are almost always all-star caliber players in that range.
No, this doesn’t have any bearing on who the Thunder will take in the draft
I’ve seen some speculate that this trade means the Thunder probably aren’t targeting Jalen Suggs. Or that this means they’ll take Evan Mobley if they have the chance. Presti isn’t making any plans with Walker in mind, especially when it comes to who he selects in the top five if given the chance.
And no, Brown being gone doesn’t put the Thunder in a situation where they have to take a center. Brown was in the G-League at this time last year, and the Thunder could easily pluck another young player from the G-League to play center if that’s how the draft falls.
The Thunder will pick the best player available. If they opt for Mobley over Suggs, it’s because they like Mobley more. Not because Walker is in OKC and Brown is gone.
What teams could have interest in Walker? Will he ever play a game in OKC?
Although Walker is owed $73 million, he only has two years left on his deal, which should make a trade palatable for some contender either this offseason, at the deadline, or next offseason when he’s an expiring contract. Walker missed 45 games in the past two seasons after missing just 35 games total in his previous eight years in Charlotte. He battled left knee issues in the bubble and even missed the start of this season. He even missed Games 4 and 5 against the Nets despite resting back-to-backs all season.
Still, Walker is just 31, and it’s hard to know how much a shortened offseason hampered his health this season. He was effective when on the court, as he averaged 19.3 points and 4.9 assists per game. Despite the health questions, Walkers’ shot creation for himself and others is something that a contender would value. And unsurprisingly, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps is reporting Presti will work with Walker in a similar fashion to find Walker a suitable new home as he did with Chris Paul and Danny Green.
The obvious trade is to the Mavericks for Porzingis, which works straight up for now. It’s possible the Mavs have to add a few throw-ins depending on their cap situation after (presumably) paying Tim Hardaway Jr. But the Mavs may want to try to salvage Porzingis’ value instead of trading him when he’s hit rock bottom in that regard.
The Lakers and Clippers can cobble together contracts and add their 2021 picks on draft night. The Nuggets are another team that might have some urgency to make a trade and they can also cobble together contracts plus a pick. Jamal Murray will likely miss most of next season and they don’t have the most inspiring backcourt behind him. The Knicks, should they miss out on other targets, can absorb Walker’s salary without trading anything but a pick.
As for whether or not Walker ever steps foot in OKC, it’s less likely than it was with CP3 and Horford because this trade was executed so much earlier in the offseason with draft night still on the horizon. But I’d still bet that Walker plays for the Thunder this season.
However, the real focus should be on how the Thunder takes advantage of their added flexibility in a crucial draft for the future of the franchise.
Now back to your regularly scheduled good vibes for lottery night.