Russell Westbrook is gone. Paul George is gone. And the Oklahoma City Thunder have entered a rebuild. At the same time, they still have some seasoned veterans such as Chris Paul, Steven Adams, and Danilo Gallinari. Inevitably, these three have and will continue to be mentioned as potential trade candidates through the NBA trade deadline.
For the moment, most rosters around the league are set, making trades involving these players — who are all reeling in over $22 million in the 2019-20 season — unlikely before the regular season. But once December 15 (the date that players who signed contracts over the summer are eligible to be traded) arrives and the trade deadline nears, the Thunder could surely trade some of their veterans to open up more playing time for their youngsters.
Here are three potential midseason landing spots for Paul, Adams, and Gallinari.
Chris Paul: Miami Heat
The Trade: Heat receive Chris Paul, Thunder receive Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow
Miami has endured a bizarre offseason that has, most notably, sent Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers and brought Jimmy Butler to South Beach. Butler and Paul are each proven go-to scorers who get the ball in the cup in a multitude of ways and play at a high level defensively. In a way, they need each other. Butler needs some offensive help, and Paul needs to escape the Thunder rebuild.
Plus, it’s the Eastern Conference. Outside of the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, there aren’t any threats to win the East. There are competitive teams, but having the likes of Butler and Paul could help the Heat climb and shake things up in the conference. They have depth on their frontline, blossoming and intriguing youngsters such as Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro; and a respected head coach in Erik Spoelstra.
The Thunder have zero leverage in a Paul trade. He was a piece of the team’s return on Westbrook from the Houston Rockets, and they’ve supposedly been looking to move Paul since they acquired him. Taking back Dragic’s expiring contract gives the Thunder some cap relief past this season, and Winslow could be another piece to the puzzle in their newfound rebuild, as he’s a crafty two-way player who could benefit from a change of scenery.
The Thunder want the ball in Shai Gilegous-Alexander’s hands. Having Paul present impedes their aspirations and the growth of the second-year guard. Perhaps Gilgeous-Alexander and Winslow become a compelling young backcourt and give the Thunder a new identity.
Steven Adams: Washington Wizards
The Trade: Wizards receive Steven Adams, Thunder receive Ian Mahinmi, Ish Smith, and a 2021 first-round pick
This is a deal that would take place after December 15, as Smith signed a two-year deal with the Wizards in July. It’s anyone’s guess what the Wizards long-term strategy is, but it at least appears they’re sticking with Bradley Beal and John Wall; they might as well go all in on that commitment and acquire an established center.
Adams is one of the best centers in the NBA. He’s a defensive backbone, finishes relentlessly inside, and hits the boards at a high level. Under contract for two more years, Adams fits into Beal and Wall’s timeline and would be an extraordinary alley-oop and/or pick-and-roll threat with either of the two guards. When healthy, those three would be a formidable trio. It would also be wise to have sturdy fixtures by rookie Rui Hachimura’s side on the Wizards frontline.
In this deal, the Thunder take back Mahinmi’s expiring contract and Smith, who’s under contract though the 2020-21 season, but get the Wizards’ 2021 first-round pick. While it’s not an immediate enhancer, the Thunder already have a surplus of draft picks, and adding a future first rounder adds to their draft capital. There’s also the possibility of the draft pick panning out to be a lottery pick, as the Wizards have an uncertain road ahead with Wall’s injury and Beal’s murky contract situation.
Adams is due roughly $53 million over the next two seasons. The NBA knows the Thunder are likely sellers this season, which means president Sam Presti can’t expect to get a haul for his veterans, especially since they’re not selling superstars (anymore), so to speak. However, demanding a first rounder for Adams is feasible.
Danilo Gallinari: Minnesota Timberwolves
The Trade: Timberwolves receive Danilo Gallinari and a 2020 second-round pick, Thunder receive Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Napier
The Timberwolves are coming off a stagnant year, but with Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins in place, they’re not going to throw in the towel; they’re going to continue building around the number one draft picks. As a result, Dieng isn’t a fit in their rotation. It makes little sense to pay two centers in excess of $16 million a season, especially when one of them is your franchise player.
This move gives the Timberwolves some cap flexibility moving forward, as Gallinari is entering the final season of a three-year deal. Meanwhile, he could serve as a mentor to younger wings and forwards such as Jarrett Culver and Robert Covington. If things go swiftly and Gallinari thrives as a secondary source of offense, perhaps the Timberwolves consider re-signing him in the offseason.
While a proven scorer, Gallinari isn’t a long-term piece to the puzzle for the Thunder. With Adams a potential midseason departure, they could acquire Dieng and see if he fits with their young nucleus. The big man is a smooth defender, can finish inside, has a bit of an outside game, and is a big body that can inflict havoc in the paint. With Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson, Andre Roberson, and Darius Bazley present, the Thunder have a bit of a youth movement on their hands.
They could easily add to that core via the draft and by trading veterans for youth. Dieng is 29, but he hasn’t been given the chance to be the guy in the paint. Barring an unforeseen season, the Thunder aren’t going to be a free agent hotspot next summer. Taking a year and a half flier on Dieng is worthwhile, and maybe Napier proves to be a nifty bench scorer.