- The Oklahoma City Thunder have embarked on a tear-down that has seen them trade three of their best players, including Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
- In exchange, the Thunder have received a haul of draft picks and now own as many as 15 first-round draft picks in the next seven years.
- The Thunder have the chance to not only take as many stabs at the draft as possible but to acquire a superstar in a trade, as they can offer an intriguing package built around the picks.
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The Oklahoma City Thunder have begun a massive tear-down that is netting them one of the biggest collection of assets the NBA has ever seen.
This summer, the Thunder have traded Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jerami Grant to the Denver Nuggets, and on Thursday, Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets.
In exchange, the Thunder have taken back just two players. But they also received multiple draft picks, and over the next seven years, they own as many as 15 first-round picks.
Here’s the list:
- 2020: Own pick, top-2o protected (goes to Philadelphia 76ers if it falls below 20th)
- 2020: Denver pick, top-10 protected
- 2021: Own pick
- 2021: Miami pick
- 2022: Own pick, top-10 protected (goes to Atlanta Hawks if it falls below 10th)
- 2022: Clippers pick
- 2023: Own pick, rights to swap with Clippers
- 2023: Heat pick, top-14 protected (goes to Thunder if it falls below 14th)
- 2024: Own pick
- 2024: Clippers pick
- 2024: Rockets pick, top-4 protected (goes to Thunder if it falls below 4th)
- 2025: Own pick, rights to swap with Clippers
- 2026: Own pick
- 2026: Clippers pick
- 2026: Rockets pick, top-4 protected (goes to Thunder if it falls below 4th)
The Thunder can also swap picks with Rockets in 2021 and 2025, meaning in those years, they can choose the best pick between their own, the Clippers, and the Rockets.
It’s an incredible amount of draft capital, and the Thunder might not be done yet. As they tear down their roster, they could still trade Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari, two productive veterans who could help playoff teams and likely land the Thunder further assets.
The Thunder could go down a 76ers-esque “Process” road in which they use those picks for as many stabs as possible at landing a future star or two via the draft.
The value of these picks is yet to be determined. If the Rockets’ and Clippers’ plans unfold as they hope, they will both be contenders for the next several years, meaning the draft picks would fall in the 20s. It’s hard to find a star there.
Some of the picks are so far down the line that’s impossible to say what the NBA will look like then. We’ve seen how much the league has changed over two weeks this summer. Things will look different by the time many of these picks convey.
However, the high-stakes games the Clippers and Rockets are playing could benefit the Thunder.
Kawhi Leonard’s decision to sign a three-year deal with a third-year player option with the Clippers puts pressure on Los Angeles. If Leonard and George leave the Clippers in 2021 (the nightmare scenario for the Clippers), those picks and pick swaps could become valuable for the Thunder.
The same is true for the Rockets, Westbrook and James Harden have undeniable star power, but their fit is questionable. The two guards will be making $US94 million combined in 2023, when they are 34 and 33, respectively. The Rockets will remain contenders in the coming years, but the back-end of those deals could look ugly, raising the value of the future picks.
There’s also reason to believe the Thunder won’t use all of these picks. Because some of them are so far down the road, it will be hard for the Thunder to develop a coherent plan around players drafted in 2020 and 2026. A lot can happen in those six years.
The Thunder can be aggressive in pursuing future stars who hit the trade market. Hypothetically, the Thunder could offer a bounty of picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Karl-Anthony Towns if things go south in Minnesota. They could offer the Washington Wizards a chance to jump-start their rebuild by trading several picks for Bradley Beal.
Again, these are hypothetical deals, but the Thunder can jump to the front of the line in any prospective trade involving a superstar because of their assets. Should they draft a promising player or two with any of their immediate picks, those trade packages will only become more alluring.
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