At 30-8, the Thunder is cruising right along. There might be a slip-up here or there, but for the most part they've got a full tank of gas, it's 80-degrees and the top is down on the convertible.
Owning one of the best records in the NBA will do that. Yet somehow, there's a cloud that hangs over this team.
That cloud is the Miami Heat, and they continue to rain on the Thunder's drive.
Can the Oklahoma City get through Miami? Maybe. Better execution during a seven-game series and, yeah, it's possible.
But if there's an opportunity to acquire a guy that puts this team over the hump, Sam Presti has to step up and pull the trigger.
The trade deadline is about a month away, so nothing has to be done immediately, but that doesn't mean Presti shouldn't start kicking the tires on a few potential acquisitions.
What helps the situation is the fact that Oklahoma City might have the best collection of trade pieces in the entire league. Along with their regular draft picks, OKC acquired the Toronto Raptors' top-3-protected 2013 first-round pick along with the Orlando Magic's top-20-protected 2013 first-round pick in the James Harden trade. The Thunder also received promising rookie Jeremy Lamb in that deal. Couple that collection of first-round picks with the potential of rookies Lamb and Perry Jones, not to mention Eric Maynor, whom OKC has clearly deemed expendable, and you've got better trade assets than most clubs. You can even throw Reggie Jackson and DeAndre Liggins into that mix, both are young guys that some team might want as a throw-in.
The decision Presti must make is what to do with those assets. Do you keep them and gamble that they'll develop into rotation players, while using the picks to help build a sustainable and consistent winner? Or do you trade them? And if you do trade them, do you break up the group by trading, say, Lamb and a pick for an average role player, or do you add the group together to bring in someone who can really make a difference? It's not an easy call, but if the Thunder decides to make a move, and I think they should, it's got to be something that vaults them to the next level.
"Whom?" You might ask. Whom could this team acquire that would make a difference against Miami? Whoever it is would need to provide this team with something it currently lacks.
Well, I'm glad you asked. Here's a start.
1) Someone realistic. Can't just call up the Clippers and ask if they'd be willing to part with Blake Griffin. They'll hang up and laugh at you. It has to be a deal that makes sense for both organizations, both on the court and in the checkbook.
2) Someone who knows how to win. Doesn't have to be the Derek Fisher/Robert Horry how-does-this-dude-never-lose? type guy. But someone who has some experience on the winning side of big games at some point in their life would be nice.
3) Someone to help against Miami, and this is key. OKC has proven it can beat everyone else. That's not the problem. The Thunder has serious matchup problems (most teams do) against the Heat, so anyone they go get needs to either help improve those matchups or be talented enough to flip the script and force Miami to match up with them.
With that said, mostly everyone that falls into those categories is a forward or center. Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Martin and Kevin Durant will take care of most of the minutes at the 1/2/3 spots. This team has problems because of the current lack of production coming from the 5 spot when playing a big lineup and the general lack of defensive versatility from the forward/center positions against a team as athletic as Miami.
Here is a list of some guys that might be available, could be affordable, fit the profile of what OKC needs to improve, and would help turn the tables on the Heat.
To see part two of this list, click here.
Prince is a dynamic and very intelligent defender that would bring Kevin Durant-like length to the Thunder's front line. Prince's 7-foot-2 wingspan, above-average quickness and high basketball I.Q. have combined to make him one of the NBA's most versatile defenders over the past decade. He was a key member of the Pistons' run of success in the mid-2000's but is currently the lone-member of that once-powerful force stuck wasting away on some sort of post-apocalyptic-looking joke-roster that Joe Dumars has assembled . Detroit might be hesitant to move him because he's their veteran leader, but the Pistons could use some more young talent to build around and the Thunder can provide that. Also, Dumars has known Prince a long time and might be willing to let him go out of respect, allowing his ever-loyal friend to play out his days with a winner.
Prince's $6.7 million salary wouldn't be too much of an obstacle for the Thunder and he would bring an instant spark to the second unit. He's a guy that can log heavy minutes guarding LeBron in a small lineup, allowing Durant to focus his energy on offense.
Luc Richard Mbah A Moute
Here's another 3/4 hybrid that is athletic, strong and can move. Mbah A Moute would probably only make an impact in the rotation if Brooks made a commitment to small-ball and traded Kendrick Perkins, because as of now he would fill the same roll as Nick Collison and there aren't enough minutes to go around. But if Presti did unload Perk, Mbah A Moute would instantly become one of OKC's best matchups against LeBron.
The problem is Mbah A Moute's availability is unclear. Milwaukee is stuck in mediocrity, a place every NBA team tries to avoid. They're going to look to shake things up at some point, likely starting with trading either Brandon Jennings, Monte Ellis or both. Mbah A Moute's very reasonable $4.7 million salary doesn't provide a lot of incentive to trade him, but the Bucks do want to find more minutes for forwards Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson, and trading Luc Richard would do that.
"Nobody likes you when you're 23, and you still act like you're in freshman year, what the hell is wrong with me? My friends say I should act my age. What's my age again?"
We know the punk band Blink 182 couldn't have had Cousins in mind when they wrote those lyrics back in 1999, (Cousins was only nine) but they might as well have.
Cousins is immature, somewhat selfish and doesn't handle his emotions very well, at least publicly. But to be fair, Cousins isn't quite 23 yet, so he's got until August until What's My Age Again? officially becomes his theme song.
In all seriousness, Cousins is a 22-year-old kid that needs to grow up. But he's a potential superstar that would instantly be an unbelievable upgrade over Perkins in the middle. He comes with the same no-nonsense attitude that Perkins provides, but adds a boatload of talent to the equation. He has the potential for 25 points and 15 boards on any given night, unlike Perkins who gets credit for a "good game" if he gets five and seven. Yes, I understand Perk's value starts and ends with his defense, but he's proven to be completely useless against the Heat.
As long as Scott Brooks still wants to go big against Miami, OKC could plug Cousins in for Perk and instantly become better. Remember, the Heat isn't exactly blowing the Thunder off the court. Every game is close, and a star in the middle could make the difference, especially against a team as pitiful in the paint as Miami.
The Kings recently announced they are no longer shopping Cousins, which has only about a 100 percent chance of being a lie. They've suspended him multiple times and reports indicate he single-handedly got coach Paul Westphal fired last season, so it's not like the Kings are vehemently opposed to parting ways if the right deal comes along. Cousins recently fired his agent and hired the silver-tongued Dan Fegan, whose theatrics helped Dwight Howard coax a trade out of Orlando last season after months of annoying basketball fans on a daily basis. Cousins didn't change agents to stay in Sacramento; he hired Fegan to book him on a one-way flight to Anywhere-but-here-ville.
Oklahoma City could dangle Lamb, the Raptors' pick and Eric Maynor to match Cousins' affordable $3.9 million salary.
If not Cousins, how does a little World Peace sound?
Metta World Peace
Yep. I said it.
The artist formerly known as Ron Artest has long-been known as one the NBA's elite defenders. He's a 6-foot-7, 260 pound-beast that has the lateral foot-speed of a shooting guard with the strength of a power forward. In fact, there might not be a better fit to guard Oklahoma City's most royal of nemeses. Acquiring World Peace obviously comes with some red flags. He's got more baggage than Louis Vuitton and has never seemed quite mentally stable—BUT—nobody will play harder than he will. He's a guy who's been a winner his whole life and would show up in OKC and bust his butt from day one. Thunder fans might not like him because of his cheap shot on James Harden, but now that Harden took the money would Thunder fans still hold that grudge?
Brooks could go small by using Artest to guard LeBron, while putting Serge Ibaka on Chris Bosh and let Durant save his energy by guarding the immobile Shane Battier.
While the initial thought would be that one Western Conference power wouldn't willingly trade a useful player to a fellow power:
1) If the Lakers are a power, they forgot to pay the bill because they're awful.
2) I don't think Lakers' GM Mitch Kupchak has any better option.
World Peace doesn't fit new coach Mike D'Antoni's system at all and the Lakers are in desperate need of some young talent as their current season continues to spiral out of control. Perhaps offering Perry Jones and a second-round pick (plus Perkins to match salary) would be good enough to land Artest.
Regarding both Cousins and Artest, I get your hesitation. OKC's team chemistry isn't spectacular, but it's definitely above-average. The thought that bringing in someone with a checkered past could disrupt that chemistry is understandable, but it has a history of working.
Kevin Garnett (Celtics), Rasheed Wallace (Pistons), Bruce Bowen (Spurs), Dennis Rodman (Bulls) and of course Artest (Lakers) were all key cogs in their respective teams' titles in the past 15 years.
Heck, even long-time scrub DeShawn Stevenson's constant smack talk and theatrics got under the skin of James and his teammates during the Mavericks' thumping of the Heat in the 2010 NBA Finals.
I understand if you might not like them, but neither Cousins nor Artest would be coming to marry your daughter or babysit your kids. They'd be guns-for-hire that would make the Thunder title favorites.