As the 2023 NBA trade deadline approaches in less than 24 hours, there has been a bit of a stalemate around the league, with the notable exception of Kyrie Irving being sent to Dallas after a sudden trade request over the weekend.
After this summer where Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Dejounte Murray all got dealt in trades where three or more first round picks (plus at least one pick swap) were sent out, there seems to be a gulf between what teams are demanding for players and what teams are willing to give up, particularly in terms of draft assets. Seemingly every rumor that’s come out this trade season has been about how X team wants at least a first round pick for X player — the Pistons reportedly want an unprotected first rounder for either of Saddiq Bey or Bojan Bogdanovic, and the Hornets, at least initially, allegedly pushed for a first for Mason Plumlee.
Unsurprisingly, that’s caused things to move very slowly, as the only thing that can get teams to move off of their demands is the time crunch of the deadline. The Toronto Raptors are the team everyone expects to be a big seller, but unsurprisingly, they are asking for a lot in return for the four players most widely reported to be on the market. OG Anunoby, who wants a larger role but has not yet proven to be an All-Star caliber player, is going to apparently require a team to move three firsts and more for him. Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. are likewise on the market with lesser asking prices and, thus, seem more likely to be moved, while Pascal Siakam is the potential blow it all up maneuver, but a team will seemingly need to move heaven and earth to get him.
When surveying the landscape of playoff hopefuls and contenders who could be interested in those players, it’s hard to see a lot of teams being willing to meet that kind of asking price. The Suns have apparently registered interest in Anunoby, but their best package is more player-focused than pick-centric. The Hawks have already exhausted their picks stash to get Murray, and are once again shopping John Collins in vain at the moment. The Miami Heat pop up in rumors every year, but seem rarely willing to make a splashy deal happen. Considering that Anonoby apparently would like a larger role, it would make sense that a team is hesitant to pony up the picks for a player that might remain unhappy if he’s asked to fill a similar role to what he’s doing in Toronto.
There is, however, one team that can check all of the boxes and could swoop in on deadline day with little competition if they want to take a big swing: the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder have spent years building up the resources to meet any asking price in terms of draft capital and still have plenty of first round picks to spare. There is plenty of room for someone to step into the No. 2 role alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and they have ample cap space to re-sign a player to a big deal. As a bonus, they have put themselves so firmly in the play-in hunt that turning on the tank again to bottom out for lottery odds, as they have at the deadline in the past, is not tenable — the San Antonio Spurs, which have the third-worst record in the league, are 12 games behind Oklahoma City in the standings.
The hardest part for the Thunder will be matching salary in a trade. They have 10 guys on rookie deals, and only two total who make more than $10 million a year — SGA on a max and Luguentz Dort on his new deal that pays him just over $15 million annually. This makes it a bit tricky to make a deal without having to send three or four players in return for one. Even so, there are plenty of salary combinations they could use to make a deal work, particularly if they could find a third team to help facilitate a trade.
Anunoby, in particular, would be a fascinating addition for the Thunder because it would provide him with the green light he craves and a far more open and fluid offensive system to work in, compared to the fairly restrictive halfcourt offense run by Nick Nurse in Toronto. Offensively, Anunoby is something of a mystery box. He flashed tremendous growth over his first four years, peaking in the 2020-21 season, but has stagnated since. There’s a genuine question of whether he’s tapped his potential or if that stagnation is because his role has not expanded — his offensive usage rate has not changed at all in the last three years. In Oklahoma City, there’s a creative void beyond Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, which would be an opportunity for Anunoby to show if that’s a skill he could continue to develop, as he seems to believe he can.
While offense is the question mark that determines Anunoby’s upside, there’s little question he would fit their general ethos of playing stout defense. No matter the combination of players that they send out, Oklahoma City still would have a number of strong wing defenders to pair with Anunoby (and Shai at the point of attack) to make life miserable for opposing ball-handlers and have plenty of versatility in terms of switchability 1-4. Mark Daigneault has gotten the buy-in from this team on the defensive end, and there’s little concern about Anunoby’s ability to slot in to what they do and further the cause.
There is obvious risk for Oklahoma City in there being no guarantee Anunoby would flourish in a larger role, but that’s mitigated for a pair of reasons, one of which is fairly unique to OKC. For one, we have a pretty good sense that Anunoby’s floor is a solid starter on a good team who is a positive defender, solid spot-up shooter and cutter, and a tertiary creator when needed. That’s something the Thunder could use, even if that wouldn’t be what they’re trying to trade for. For the Thunder in particular, they’re also a team that has so many assets it’s worth taking a risk to swing on some potential. From 2024-2026, the Thunder hold ten first round picks, not to mention some swap opportunities in 2025. If they sent out one from each year, they’d still have seven firsts at their disposal for whatever they saw fit over those three years.
If not Anunoby, Collins would also make a lot of sense in Oklahoma City, particularly as a long-term fit alongside Chet Holmgren, and would cost considerably less than Anunoby in terms of assets — but cost more annually on his current contract. Collins has been lost in the shuffle in Atlanta, as offensively he wants to occupy much of the same space as Clint Capela, but has to be a floor spacer instead. He is a roll threat that the Thunder simply do not have on their roster, and could flourish in pick-and-rolls with Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey. He’s a capable shooter, but that does not need to be a huge point of emphasis as the Thunder have plenty of fives who can pivot out, including Holmgren when he makes his debut. On the other end of the floor, Collins has become a very solid defender and has some positional versatility. His physical strength would be a boost next to Holmgren, who could use a four-man next to him that’s able to take on some post defense responsibilities, allowing Chet to act as a helpside rim protector with his outrageous length.
As always, trades take two to tango and the Thunder still have to piece together a coherent offer that meets the teams’ demands. The Hawks are apparently requesting a “quality player” in return for Collins but no longer mandating a first round pick, with picks, ironically enough, being more expendable for the Thunder than players. Still, one has to think that with a chest of picks bursting at the seams in a market that has teams scoffing at high asking prices, the Thunder could stand to be one of the few teams to benefit from the sudden inflation of value in terms of draft assets being sent out for players. They have picks to burn and a team that has taken a full-blown tank out of the equation.
There isn’t an established star out there to cash picks in on, but the Thunder are still early enough in their build that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They can afford to take a swing on a lesser-proven commodity, and show fans and the rest of the team (namely Shai) that they believe in what they’re doing enough to invest a little bit of their future capital now to try and make another leap.