The Oklahoma City Thunder were meant to use the 2019-20 season as a transitional period that would nurture players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and allow OKC’s young players to show tangible progress as the club prepared to compete down the road.
Instead, the Thunder have been one of the stronger teams in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City improved to 28-19 with a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night, and they are firmly entrenched in playoff position. The Thunder are six games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies — who are currently in the eighth spot — and just 1.5 games behind the Houston Rockets for the fifth seed.
One of the major reasons for OKC’s success? The strong play of their veterans.
Chris Paul has been one of the best clutch players in basketball while giving Gilgeous-Alexander the freedom to play on the ball and get a high volume of offensive opportunities. Meanwhile, forward Danilo Gallinari is averaging 19.1 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.
While Paul is around for the next few years due to an unmovable contract, Gallinari’s future with the Thunder might be in question since he is on an expiring deal.
A number of teams could use a stretch 4 who can also rebound a bit, with the Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers recently reported as interested suitors. Simultaneously, the Thunder would inherently damage their playoff chances by trading Gallo.
So, what are the pros and cons of trading Danilo Gallinari?
There is no question Gallinari would be one of the most valuable trade assets on the market. Plenty of teams are looking for shooting prior to the February deadline, with names like Robert Covington, Marcus Morris and Bogdan Bogdanovic coming to mind.
Similarly, a fringe competitor might be willing to sell high on Gallinari to try to make a push after the All-Star break, which could give the Thunder more leverage in trade talks if they want to stockpile future assets.
Gallinari’s departure would obviously open up a hole in the frontcourt, but that might not be a bad thing.
The Thunder could give more playing time to the likes of rookie Darius Bazley and Nerlens Noel, both young players averaging less than 20 minutes per game. The 19-year-old Bazley would get the chance to see more minutes and develop chemistry with Paul and SGA, while Noel — who is still just 25 — would give the Thunder more rebounding and rim protection down low.
Not a winning move
It might be fair to say the Thunder are expecting to win, now that they are in this position. Any trade involving Gallinari would almost certainly lessen their chances of retaining a playoff spot or winning a playoff series.
The Thunder lack capable perimeter shooters outside of Gallinari, and he provides Paul with the perfect outlet in the pick-and-roll. Trading him would make Oklahoma City weaker on the perimeter while also likely changing the style of play.
Sure, Gallinari’s departure might lead to defensive improvements. However, the Thunder are already an above-average defensive team, and they need Gallinari in the frontcourt to bolster their half-court offense.
Sam Presti is going to have to choose between competing now or getting value from Danilo Gallinari before he enters free agency this summer.