The March 25th NBA trade deadline came and went with little, but expected, action from the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC shipped away veteran guard George Hill to the 76ers but stood pat beyond that.
So where does the Oklahoma City Thunder roster stand right now? What comes next? What is the plan for the rest of this season? Is this it? Those are the questions that have to be answered soon, and I will do my best to answer all that we know right now.
So as of March 25th at 3 p.m. here is the Thunder roster:
Guards: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Austin Rivers, Lu Dort, Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome, and Svi Mykhailiuk. (6)
Forwards: Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokusevski, Kenrich Williams, Justin Jackson, Darius Miller, Josh Hall (Two-way), Isaiah Roby, and Meyers Leonard. (8)
Centers: Moses Brown (Two-Way), Tony Bradley, Mike Muscala, and Al Horford. (4)
Picks the next 7 years: 34.
The first question is: Are the moves over?
That has an easy answer, No. The Thunder have to make a move to get down to the 17 man roster requirement (including-two-way’s), so the Thunder at least has to waive one player. That is expected to be Meyers Leonard who only came over to facilitate the Trevor Ariza trade, and the team will not even let him report to the organization. That allows OKC, who made a two-for-one swap with Philly to get back to the maximum roster limit.
The next question is: Are there moves to be made beyond that?
There are a ton of options, absolutely. Justin Jackson, Mike Muscala, and Austin Rivers are all buyout candidates. Teams were monitoring both Justin Jackson and Mike Muscala prior to the trade deadline buzzer. Mark Daigneault and the Thunder have only allowed Justin Jackson and Mike Muscala to get limited action throughout the second half of the season. For Justin Jackson, his playing time never became routine, but for Mike Muscala the organization made a clear decision to cut his minutes in favor of Moses Brown and others.
The OKC Thunder do not typically buy out players but there are exceptions to every rule. Mike Muscala is having one of the best years of his career, is only owed two million dollars, and deserves a shot to fight for his next NBA gig on a contender. Given Sam Presti’s relationship with Mike Muscala, as the Thunder GM traveled to Minnesota to meet with Muscala prior to inking him as a free agent, I would expect a “goodwill” move of sorts after OKC could not offload Muscala at the deadline. Muscala, like Jackson, Is not owned money past this year.
For Austin Rivers, he already fell out of favor with the New York Knicks, is on a non-guaranteed deal past this year. However, Rivers could also fill minutes with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out for a “significant amount of time.”
The bottom line is none of these three players are in the future plans for the OKC Thunder, so buying them out with no money owed to them moving forward, could make sense.
The follow up question to that is: If releasing Meyers Leonard gets you to the 17-player mark, why release anyone else?
Well, you could see one more move to open up a roster spot to convert Moses Brown to a full-time NBA player, though the motivation for that in season is lost as the NBA now allows two-way players to play an unlimited amount of games this season. So a Moses Brown NBA contract could easily come in the offseason.
Another question that has to be asked is: What did we learn about this roster at the deadline?
The Oklahoma City Thunder really values Kenrich Williams. I believe that the Thunder could have gotten a second-round pick or two from a contender to bolster their roster, but OKC would not bite. They value Kenrich Williams more than that, and the 26-year-old is in the long-term plans for the team. If he was not, I believe Sam Presti would have pulled the trigger on more picks.
As I said any time, either decision to trade or not to trade Kenny Hustle would have been explainable. This decision certainly warms the hearts of Thunder fans who have fallen in love with the reincarnation of Nick Collison.
Markets for Al Horford, Mike Muscala, and Justin Jackson never developed. Al Horford was always a long-shot, Justin Jackson provides little if any value, and Muscala’s 2-million dollar deal made him a hard match as a non-throw in for a trade. Nothing about this was out of the ordinary.
The final question is: What is the the plan for the rest of the season?
The Oklahoma City Thunder will continue their plan of playing and prioritizing young players and their minutes over everything else. Al Horford will play in maybe half of the intense April slate of games, and when he does play he will see his minutes on par or less than Moses Brown. If not bought out, Darius Miller, Mike Muscala, and Justin Jackson will continue to ride the pine for 48 minutes a night, and the only question mark is Austin Rivers.
With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out, Austin Rivers is a bit of a curveball, especially because we have not gotten the report of OKC refuting his services which was the sentiment immediately with the Trevor Ariza and Meyers Leonard acquisitions. My bet is Rivers does not play, but nothing is official just yet.