Thanks to a draft selection acquired from the Toronto Raptors in the James Harden trade, OKC possesses a lottery pick for the first time since 2008.
Sitting at the No. 12 slot on the draft board should be tantalizing for any team that's already a proven contender. However, should the Thunder be aiming for an even higher spot in this year's draft?
So far, it seems that Thunder general manager Sam Presti is, at the very least, intrigued about doing so, and there have been multiple reports to confirm it.
Andy Katz of ESPN.com, for instance, wrote about Oklahoma City's interest to trade both of its first-round picks (No. 12 and No. 29) and Kendrick Perkins in exchange for a top-five pick.
Additionally, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports also reported that the Thunder wanted to move up and even gave the name of the prospect they may be targeting that high in the draft.
There's bound to be loads of rumors flying around during the days leading up to the draft, so it's usually wise to take most things you hear with a grain of salt.
However, Presti does have a history of making some significant moves on and around draft day, so these reports may actually have some ground. A good example is the 2010 NBA draft, where Presti dealt for the 18th-overall pick the day before the draft, used it to select Eric Bledsoe and then subsequently traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers for a future first-round pick.
During that draft, Presti also took the Thunders 21st overall (Craig Brackins) and 26th overall (Quincy Pondexter) and swapped them with New Orleans for Cole Aldrich and Mo Peterson.
Now, both of those moves proved to have some mixed results (to put it nicely), but it further proved that the Thunder can and will make things happen in terms of draft deals.
The question remains for this draft, though: Should the Thunder trade their No. 12 pick?
There really is no simple answer. Though this draft class is getting criticized as being rather weak overall, there are surely still some diamonds in the rough that could become great contributors for the Thunder—and maybe even future All-Stars.
However, the lower you are in the draft, the harder it becomes to find those types of players. So maybe the right deal to move up for Oklahoma City could prove to be lucrative.
A possible trade scenario for the Thunder to move up into the top five would probably mean giving up their No. 12 and 29-overall picks for this draft—plus a prospect like Perry Jones III and, possibly, another future first rounder thrown into the mix, too.
It'd be great to fit Kendrick Perkins into a deal to ship off his poor performance/big contract, but that seems unrealistic at this point due to the teams in the top five not really having a need for a center—let alone an unproductive one.
Cleveland has Anderson Varejao, Orlando has Nikola Vucevic, Washington has Emeka Okafor, Charlotte has Bismack Biyombo and Phoenix has Marcin Gortat. To top it all off, several of these big men (Varejao, Okafor, and Gortat) all have large, multi-year contracts that those teams are probably trying to unload as well.
Therefore, taking in Perkins wouldn't be sensible for any of them.
It's also very possible that no one bites on OKC's offers to move up that high, meaning the Thunder would likely stay put at their spot and weigh the available options.
The biggest need for Oklahoma City is, obviously, to find a starting-caliber center who could replace Perkins as soon as humanly possible. Ideally, the Thunder would like to snag Alex Len to fill this role, but that's not even remotely possible with the No. 12 pick. He may very well end up going first overall to the Cavaliers.
Len has shot up the big board recently thanks to his good size and versatile offensive skill set. He's young and seems very teachable, which would make him the perfect man to play behind Perkins for a season before eventually easing himself into the starting five.
Therefore, at their current spot, the Thunder would probably have their pick among the likes of Cody Zeller, Steven Adams and/or Kelly Olynyk. These guys don't necessarily scream superstar potential, but there's still reason to believe that one of these prospects could become starting material with the right development.
One scenario I haven't noted is one where the Thunder trade into the top five successfully, but end up seeing Alex Len slip away from them to the Cavs at No. 1 overall. If the Thunder get lucky, though, this could end up being a blessing in disguise.
What I'm getting at is that this draft could be a huge home run for the Thunder if they could sneak away with the player who was once supposed to be a sure-fire top pick: Nerlens Noel.
Even though Noel is coming off a serious ACL injury that ended his freshman season at Kentucky early, it would still be beneficial for him to develop slowly with OKC and model himself after some great defensive bigs—like Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Just take a look at how good he looked in his limited games last season.
Obviously, to secure either Noel or Len, the Thunder would have to sweeten the pot a bit for teams in the top five, which would only be worth it in order to obtain either of those players.
If Oklahoma City was unable to trade up to a spot where they could secure either Len or Noel, then I believe trading up would be futile and counterproductive for the roster. Should the Thunder find themselves bogged down at No. 12, then it would be wise for them to take the best big man available and spend the next two picks (No. 29 and No. 32) on a small forward to possibly become Kevin Durant's backup and/or an international player to maybe bring in after a few years.
The Thunder may have lost in just the second round of the postseason, but that obviously doesn't signify a need for drastic change in the roster. OKC's core is defined and solid with Russell Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka. So the main concern for the team should be adding younger depth around them and strengthening the roster during this window for a championship run.
In order to do that, the Thunder should try and preserve their future picks and use these current picks in the 2013 draft.
My suggestion to stay put, however, is only valid if the price is too high to acquire either Len or Noel. The highest price that Oklahoma City should be willing to pay should be: both of the first-round picks from this draft, a young player (Jones III or maybe Reggie Jackson) and, if necessary, one future first rounder as well.
If there isn't a team in the top five willing to make a deal with that package, then it'd be in the Thunder's best interest to bow out of the negotiations before making a trade that they end up regretting down the road.
Again, I can't emphasize enough how draft rumors about trading picks up and down the board often get blown out of proportion every year. However, if the Thunder are willing to take a big risk here, they could validate those rumors and make a big splash in hopes of finding the missing piece to an NBA championship.
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