The Oklahoma City Thunder and General Manager Sam Presti continue to show their hand during the second half of the season, and expectations are it will only get more blatant after Thursday’s trade deadline. The team has benched Mike Muscala, the sharpshooting stretch five who is shooting 37-percent from beyond the arch, averaging a career-high in points, and the second-most rebounds per game in his career. Muscala has only played 35-games this season, and in the second half of the season has played 12:14 minutes. The Thunder offense would undoubtedly be better with Muscala back in the second unit, but that might be the problem for the front office. So instead, Muscala has been a “DNP-CD” (Did not play, coaches decision). The expectation is, the veteran forward having one of the best years of his career will get moved at the deadline. Even in the pair of 20-point losses of last week, Muscala did not play a second.
The Thunder took this a step forward on Sunday, in their attempt to lose to the lowly Rockets, when they sat Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a 22-year-old third-year player, for “caution and maintenance.” If this game mattered or was one the Thunder want to win, SGA would have been in there. A 22-year-old does not need maintenance on a shoulder injury that has never popped up on the injury report before. Which, if the Thunder wanted to be a playoff or play-in team, they desperately need every win they can get, because they are as far away from the play-in as they are a 14-percent chance (the highest odds you can have) at a top pick. Another indicator this organization is using every excuse to rest players and actively make the team worse. Throw in the Lu Dort magical toe injury, and a random Theo Maledon injury, and things start to seem like Sam Presti’s funny business. It is hard to imagine if this was a contending team, that these young players would sit out so often.
With Al Horford, the team has begun to just randomly rest the veteran forward, including last night against the Houston Rockets. Even though the team had two straight days off prior to the front end of a back-to-back, the organization decided to sit Horford against the worst of the two teams to try to make their team Sunday as bad as possible. Of course, it did not matter because Mark Daigneault is amazing.
George Hill’s thumb is still in a cast, but would anyone be surprised if on Friday, March 26th when Hill is in his new city if the cast is off and he is ready to go?
Mix all of this with the moves Presti made after the bubble to ship off Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams, allow Danilo Gallinari to walk in a sign-and-trade with the Hawks, and all the other moves Presti made to actively make this team worse, it is clear what the goal is.
Now, just as Presti tried his hardest to build championship teams and failed with the OK3 area, and maybe picking the wrong parts around Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant prior, you can try your hardest to build a tanking team and fail.
I have said since this season started that in this specific year especially, tanking will be just as hard as winning a championship. The Thunder have gotten to play teams like the Mavericks without Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic. With COVID messing with rosters, injuries from the shortened jam-packed season, and the NBA changing the rules to allow teams to rest players in non-national TV games and then not giving OKC a national TV game, we knew this would be hard.
However, that does not stop Sam Presti from trying. Thursday’s deadline will be interesting, and the rumors are heating up. I hope you have a ton of coffee on hand for this week, it will get wild. Bricktown Buckets and Locked on Thunder will have you covered the entire way.
With the schedule picking up after tonight’s game against Minnesota and the deadline near, things might get dark in Oklahoma City when it comes to winning games. It will all be worth it if OKC can pair a young star next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
If the Thunder make moves to get worse this week, and the OKC Thunder still fail to lose, it opens up the flood gates or takes. Most notably, what team do you have to put around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to make him lose? At that point, after all this team has put him through, can you get a team bad enough when you have a great player like SGA, is he the guy OKC is looking for all along? We will save that conversation for when the time comes.