Boomtown Hoops

To Be 15 Again: How The Thunder Can Trim Their Roster And Gain More Assets

Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti speaks to the media during a news conference in Oklahoma City, after a whirlwind summer that saw the team trade stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The Thunder currently sit at 21 players with guaranteed money on their roster, but the league allows for a maximum of 15 players to be held on a roster (not including 2-way players) during the regular season. The 21 player estimate does take into account the Al Horford trade, which cannot be processed until December 8th due to league rules not allowing recently acquired players through trade (Danny Green) to be aggregated with other players (Terrance Ferguson) in an outgoing trade.

In a normal season, one would have to wait two months to aggregate other players together in a trade, but in the new age of a December starting season, it has been shortened to 20 days after the trade was sent to the league office. Essentially, if the Thunder want to immediately trade one of its recently acquired players, they have to be the only player they send out.

A recent example of this is what Presti did with Jalen “Baby Westbrook” Lecque, who was acquired in the Chris Paul trade from Phoenix. OKC sent Lecque to Indiana for a 2027 2nd round pick and TJ Leaf, which has already been announced by the team.

Due to this restraint of not being able to package newly acquired players immediately, “one-for-one” trades like this will not reduce the number of players on the Thunder roster. So, how does the Thunder get their roster to 15 before the season begins?

For reference, here is a list of players on the Thunder including ones acquired by official and unofficial trades.

Projected Roster

  1. Shai-Gilgeous Alexander
  2. Lu Dort
  3. Hamidou Diallo
  4. Darius Bazely
  5. Al Horford*
  6. Mike Muscala
  7. Aleksej Pokuševski
  8. Theo Maledon
  9. Ty Jerome*
  10. Justin Jackson*
  11. TJ Leaf*
  12. George Hill*
  13. Darius Miller*
  14. Trevor Ariza*
  15. Vincent Poirier*
  16. Isaiah Roby 
  17. Admiral Schofield*
  18. Kenrich Williams*
  19. Zylan Cheatham*
  20. Josh Gray*
  21. Frank Jackson

*= recently traded and have the aggregated time restriction on packaging them within trades

The Thunder’s goal moving forward this season, even though some fans do not want to hear it, is to have the best chance of having the top pick in the draft. Skilled veterans such as George Hill, Trevor Ariza, and Darius Miller may have been nice during the Durant/Westbrook or Westbrook/George era, but on today’s team, would only take minutes away from developing youth and give more of a chance to win games. Because of this, I believe these players will be looked at by Sam Presti to be traded, if he can obtain an asset for them. 

Projected Trades

First of all, to trade Darius Miller and Trevor Ariza, I project them to join into the Charlotte and Boston sign and trade for Gordon Hayward, with the Thunder acting as a third team. It was believed that Charlotte was going to waive and stretch Nicolas Batum’s contract over 3 years (which would be 9+ million of dead money each year on their books) to allow them to sign Hayward for 4 years/ 120 million. Now, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, they may be looking for a third team to take on Batum’s contract. 

Who better to do that than Oklahoma City, who has just acquired a 27.5-million-dollar trade exception in the Steven Adams trade? 

Trade #1: Oklahoma City Thunder – Charlotte Hornets – Boston Celtics (as part of Gordon Hayward S&T)

Thunder would acquire another 1st round pick, and take on a veteran with an expiring contract. The Hornets would also be adding 2 shooters around Lamelo Ball, who is an extremely good passer with great court vision. Sam Presti will always be looking to take on expiring contracts for an asset. This also decreases the Thunder roster by 1 player. 1 down, 5 more to go.

The next player to likely be traded is George Hill. Many fanbases are clamoring for their team to trade for him, due to the fact he shot 46% from the 3 point line while playing with the Milwaukee Bucks. Which team is desperate for some shooting and a “true point-guard”? The Ben Simmons led Philadelphia 76ers. A trade with Philly could (and should) be packaged in the same Al Horford deal that was made on draft day to match salaries accurately.

Trade #2: Oklahoma City Thunder – Philadelphia 76ers (as part of Horford trade)

George Hill would be great, but he would push the Thunder too far towards mediocrity. Although Hill’s contract has two years remaining, his last year is only guaranteed 1.2 million, which makes his contract very valuable to teams in need looking forward to the 2021 free agency class. I would have loved to have dumped another player onto the 76ers in this trade, but that is unlikely due to the fact that they have 15 guaranteed contracts on their roster as of now.

While this trade does not reduce the amount of contracts on the Thunder roster, it will get them a 2023 1st round pick. Remember, the Thunder also have the 76ers’ 2025 1st round pick that was acquired  for taking on Horford’s contract.

Besides, I know Thunder fans can get behind having a Michael Scott on their side. Sometimes I’ll start a trade and I won’t even know where it’s going; I just hope I find it along the way. You know what they say, fool me once, strike one, but fool me twice, strike three.

Projected Cuts

The Thunder are now at a projected 20 players on the roster, and have 5 more to give up. Oklahoma City does not have many other players to trade that have current value, aside from the untouchables (Bazley, Dort, and SGA). Al Horford could be traded, but I bet he is the new “project” like Chris Paul was last season. The Thunder need to try to refurbish Al Horford’s reputation as a competent player that was tarnished when he played the 4 next to Joel Embiid.

The easiest five contracts to get off of then would be Kenrich Williams, Admiral Schofield, Isaiah Roby, Zylan Cheatham, and Josh Gray.

First of all, I believe Kenrich Williams is a competent enough player that the Thunder could trade him to somebody without acquiring back another player. That team would absorb him, and the Thunder would send a “heavily protected” 2nd round pick in the trade to make it work. Teams should be willing to take a fly on him with a cheap contract that is not guaranteed in 2021/2022.

Admiral Schofield was acquired in the trade that allowed Thunder to draft Vit Krejci as the 37th pick, sending the 53th pick and a future 2nd to the Wizards. While I would love to have the true “Admiral” of basketball on the Thunder, his 1.5 million contract that is un-guaranteed in 2021/2022 is a prime candidate to cut.

Next, the Thunder can cut Isaiah Roby, who has a similar contract. Lastly, the Thunder cut Cheatham and Gray, who were acquired in the Steven Adams sign and trade to New Orleans. This acquisition was only for money purposes, and the Thunder should have no allegiance to either of these guys.

If Presti is not willing to cut these guys, the Thunder could always trade them to a team who is willing to absorb their salary, at the cost of a 2nd round pick, similar to what the Thunder did with Vincent Poirier and the Celtics. The Thunder have acquired seven 2nd round draft picks since the conclusion of the NBA Draft, and when you have as many 1st round picks that the Thunder have, what’s the point of keeping a 2nd?

Conclusion

Overall, this is a lot. Probably by the time you are reading this or it has been posted, Sam Presti has worked his magic and turned another trade, making my article useless. But, I hope that the many of you who did read it have better knowledge of where the Thunder are right now, and where they could go in the future.

Thunder Up! Cade Cunningham, here we come.

Jamison Maxwell is a 2nd year medical student at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. This is his first article for Boomtown Hoops.