Tank Watch is a series, measuring Oklahoma City Thunder up against the worst teams to see who has the best chance of grabbing the top draft picks.
Featured Teams: WAS, HOU, TOR, DET, MIN, ORL, CLE,
Oklahoma City Thunder (19-25) as expected, were busy at the trade deadline. In a three-way trade with the Knicks and the Sixers, George Hill moved as expected and will help the Sixers in the playoffs this season. Hill certainly will impact the lead-ball handling position for the Sixers and a steady vet will help add depth to a team desperate for the finals. OKC received Austin Rivers from the Knicks, Tony Bradley from the sixers along with two future second-round picks. It’s unclear whether Austin Rivers will be playing for the Thunder as they look to the future, but Tony Bradley is another interesting young big man OKC can explore along with Moses Brown who has been performing well for the Thunder lately.
Sam Presti was never going to pass up an opportunity to bolster the draft picks, was he? Over the next seven years, OKC now has 34 draft picks, 17 first round, and 17 second round. This level of draft pick hoarding must mean that Presti has a master plan down the line, surely. That master plan is slowly taking shape as the Thunder push into Tank mode further in the second half of the season. We have been seeing systematic resting of vets like Al Horford and the overly cautious approach to the injury report for any and everyone. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks to be battling plantar fasciitis in his right foot, which could turn into a worrying and chronic injury if not managed properly. The Thunder will likely coast from here on out and try to drop deeper into the standings, but on a nightly basis, this team just seems to remain competitive no matter what. The pairing of good coaching and hungry young players looks like a double-edged sword for a team trying so hard to tank but simply looks too good to drop enough wins.
Washington Wizards (15-28) shuffled their deck at the trade deadline too, but it isn’t clear whether this could be considered an upgrade yet. Despite rumors that they tried to trade for Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen, they ended up involved in a three-way deal with the Celtics and the Bulls. Mo Wagner departs to the Celtics and Troy Brown Jr. joins the Bulls, in return, the Wizards received third-year wing Chandler Hutchinson and sophomore big Daniel Gafford. They were both no longer part of Chicago’s plans moving forward it seems, as Chicago has pushed their chips in and gone from rebuild to playoff-bound in one trade deadline. But where do these trades leave the Wizards? Well, it would be a stretch to say they are looking better with the changes in the short-term, but Daniel Gafford will be playing backup center minutes next year behind Thomas Bryant and there should be plenty of opportunities this season to prove himself on this Wizards team that lacks solid center depth. The Wizards will be happy to see the back of this trade season after every man, woman and child seemed to be pining for Bradley Beal’s departure all year. Can the season be called a success if they miss the playoffs, but Beal stays and wins the scoring title?
Houston Rockets (12-31) saw the James Harden trade pieces of 2020-21 finally reach their conclusion, and they have gone out with a whimper more than a bang. Flipping Victor Oladipo into Miami’s Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, and a pick-swap, after supposedly long and grueling trade conversations is definitely underwhelming. It had been known well in advance that Oladipo only had eyes for Miami which must have scared away any potential suitors and gave the leverage to Miami. The Rockets were able to save face instead of Oladipo walking for free in the off-season, but the returning players don’t seem to be in line with the Rocket’s new direction. Houston has entered tank mode now, and Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk are mutton here, not lamb. They aren’t the youthful players Houston would have hoped for, but they will both be free agents in the off-season and will alleviate owner Tilman Fertitta’s money woes further. Oh, and where is Demarcus Cousins’ next destination? Did the NBA forget he is a free agent now too?
Toronto Raptors (18-26) fans had one hell of a rollercoaster also. There would have been many fan outlets waiting to press play on their ‘Goodbye Kyle Lowry’ montage videos, but they will have to wait a little longer now. It appeared as good as done, he was either going back home to Philly, or teaming up with JiMVP candidate Jimmy Butler in Miami, but sadly both teams went for the cheaper option in Hill and Oladipo. For the sake of the league’s fairness the Los Angeles Lakers missed out on Lowry too, Lebron, Anthony Davis, and Lowry would have been devastating in the playoffs. Kyle seems set to move in the off-season now, so the new era Raptors is delayed a little longer. The direction is clear though, building around the future of Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet, and OG Anunoby, the Raptors swapped Norman Powell for Portland’s Gary Trent Jr. who should be a more affordable option down the line. As a Gary Trent Jr. fan, this move looks great for the Raptors in the long term as a player who should blossom next to Vanvleet or in a sixth-man role as a pure scorer. He duplicates much of what Norman Powell brought to the table offensively and defensively, except 6 years younger with great potential.
Detroit Pistons (12-31) remained as quiet as possible this trade deadline thankfully, not doing anything foolish like shopping Jerami Grant. They made their moves earlier, trading Derrick Rose and buying out Blake Griffin, but they are secure in their identity for the season now of developing Killian Hayes, Saben Lee, Jerami Grant & co. They did swap veteran point guards with Sacramento, receiving Cory Joseph and two second-rounders for Delon Wright. Delon should help Sacramento chase that elusive playoff berth behind Haliburton and Fox in the backcourt, whilst Cory Joseph is a true professional in the league at this stage of his career and can help the rookie guards Hayes and Lee learn the ropes. By the time you are reading this, the Pistons would have welcomed Blake Griffin back into the Little Caesars Arena, it will be interesting to see if Blake dunks in front of his old coaching staff.
Minnesota Timberwolves (10-34) chose to sit this trade season out, after being one of the teams showing interest in Aaron Gordon. They are comfortable with their position in the standings (you don’t have to look; they are still last) and should focus their efforts on the prospects they have rather than trading for fresh ones. Unfortunately for Minnesota, it has not come together for them yet, going 1-3 the past week. If you are a fan of the T-Wolves, you should still be very pleased with the growth shown, particularly in Anthony Edwards. As the current frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award, you can almost see his basketball IQ increase and evolve in real-time. There are fewer offensive possessions where he would be standing next to another Timberwolves player and he is greatly benefiting from the added usage. He has not met a shot he didn’t like yet, and as his basketball IQ continues to increase and his shot selection improves, Edwards is looking as if he could be a real danger in the future.
Cleveland Cavaliers (17-27) followed through on their promise and have agreed to a buyout for Andre Drummond now. It is now in the hands of the contenders, the Lakers, and Miamis of the world what will happen to Drummond, and Cleveland is to continue their season without him. They secured their big man in the Harden trade by getting Jarrett Allen (Houston really did fumble the bag all over, huh) and Allen has been performing as advertised. A rim-running, rim-protecting, board-grabbing energizer, he has been a terrific partner with Collin Sexton so far. The Cavs split their week 2-2, with a big 19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals display from Allen in their win over Chicago. This season is likely not Cleveland’s season in the wins and losses columns, next season probably won’t be either, but the young core emerging out of Ohio is looking more promising with the evolution of Sexton into a proper point-guard. If Sexton could increase his passing further the pairing could drive winning basketball in a few years. Javale McGee was also moved at the trade deadline for Isaiah Hartenstein and two second-round picks to the Denver Nuggets. The trade made sense for all parties involved, McGee gets to compete in the playoffs again, adding needed depth to the Nuggets behind Nikola Jokic, Hartenstein gets out of a situation where he saw very limited minutes and potentially another shot at being a solid rotation player and Cleveland get to take a flyer on another prospect, cause why not?
Orlando Magic (15-29) have done it, they finally pulled the trigger. Long-time readers of Tank Watch may recall the repeated calls, predictions, and suggestions that Orlando blows up this iteration of the team and kudos to the ownership and management of Orlando in doing so. Three out of their four big names were moved by the end of the day, leaving Terrance Ross standing alone in the room like Will at the end of Fresh Prince. Once the big domino in two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic fell, it was clear this era of Magic basketball was truly over. Vucevic was the ultimate sell-high target, and sell high they did, receiving Wendell Carter Jr, Otto Porter, and two first-round picks for him and Al-Farouq Aminu. Carter Jr. may only need a fresh start without fighting for minutes with Thad Young to be a viable option, and Otto Porter is still a good forward when he is healthy. The two first-round picks could be very valuable moving forward for this rebuild as Chicago’s playoff contention could crash back down very easily to the benefit of Orlando. This could also spell good news for Mo Bamba, giving him the breathing room to play without being overshadowed by Vuc’. Aaron Gordon gets to compete at a high level in Denver now, and it only cost Denver R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris, and a far-out first-round pick. The Nuggets have been trying to shift Gary Harris and his contract for a while now but losing the highly touted prospect R.J. Hampton for an Aaron Gordon (and Gary Clark) must sting. At some point, Denver had to take a step forward and make a move towards winning instead of youth development, and in the short-term Aaron Gordon can be that answer. He adds the extra wing depth that the Nuggets will need against teams like the Clippers and Lakers in the playoffs whilst being a fairly productive inside-out scorer (37.5% from three this season so far on 4.5 attempts per game). For the Magic, the real prize here is R.J. Hampton. Hampton was highly regarded in high-school before playing for the New Zealand Breakers, and if this 6’4 guard reaches his predicted potential the Magic may have struck gold. Evan Fournier’s move to the Celtics made a ton of sense also, giving the Celtics a jack-of-all-trades shooting-guard, he is a massive upgrade for them over Jeff Teague who joins the Magic. Teague will fill minutes here and there for the Magic this season, but unless he is beloved in the locker room as a veteran mentor for the young guards, Cole Anthony, Fultz, and now Hampton, it is highly unlikely he will re-sign in the off-season. The $17 million trade exception Orlando received for this not to be sniffed at either, they now have a year to use this exception, but the route Orlando is taking means it probably will not amount to much.
So, what does this all mean for Orlando? The Magic of old has disappeared overnight, the players will most likely all feature in the off-season this year (I would hope the Bulls make the playoffs after going all-in for Vuc’) and what is left for the Magic is youth, raw prospects, players needing second chances and above all else, Terrance Ross. We can expect to see a lot of minutes for R.J. Hampton, Mo Bamba, and Wendell Carter Jr. moving forward this season with Ross playing the veteran daddy bear. All of the above are desperate for minutes and experience along with current rookie Cole Anthony, and this current situation will accelerate growth all-around. Ultimately, the Magic could look back on this trade deadline and receiving the likes of R.J. Hampton as a turning point, and this could be the best thing to happen to the Magic since Dwight Howard.
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