OKC Thunder: Are the Thunder preparing for a big trade before the NBA draft?

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is battling a foot injury, has averaged 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game this season.main
Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is battling a foot injury, has averaged 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game this season.main /

The OKC Thunder have been in accumulation mode for some time now, stocking up on NBA draft assets at every opportunity. Starting when they flipped Paul George for every draft pick the LA Clippers will have until the end of time, and continuing when they traded Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and another draft haul, the Thunder only do deals where they can come away with a surplus first-round pick or three.

At a certain point, though, a war chest full of draft picks begins to have diminishing returns. Why have 25 picks when the difference between 20 and 25 means that teams are going to start demanding you throw in more picks when you start trying to consolidate? For that matter, if none of those picks are exceptionally valuable, what’s the point of any of it?

The OKC Thunder reportedly offered the Detroit Pistons the sixth pick in the NBA draft and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Are the Thunder ready for a big trade?

The Thunder could have been the ultimate king-makers of this year’s draft if a couple of things broke their way. For starters, they could have simply won the lottery themselves, instead of the Detroit Pistons, which would have given them maximum power. They would have their war chest, and among their picks would be the most prized one of all.

However, they fell all the way to sixth, well outside of the range of desirability. To make matters worse, they had the Houston Rockets’ top-four protected pick. If the Rockets ended up getting anywhere from the first through the fourth picks, they would keep it. If their pick ended up exactly fifth, the Thunder would get it.

The Rockets ended up getting the second pick and keeping it. So instead of a best-case scenario where the OKC Thunder have the first and fifth overall picks, they ended up getting the sixth pick and only the sixth pick.

Naturally, the Thunder have more cracks at future top lottery fortune, but it’s an unlucky spot for them to completely whiff on the opportunity to draft Cade Cunningham, this draft’s prohibitive favorite to go first overall.

So now if the Thunder want to make a big splash in the draft, they’re going to have to get creative. Reportedly, they offered their sixth overall pick and young star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the Pistons in exchange for the first overall pick and were rebuffed by general manager Troy Weaver.

If the Thunder have another offer in them, it’s probably going to have to come in the form of a better pick than No. 6 along with Gilgeous-Alexander. Should they somehow procure the second overall pick from the Rockets, for example, maybe then the Pistons could be convinced of agreeing to a trade for No. 2 and Gilgeous-Alexander. But then how are the Thunder going to get that second pick without trading the budding young star in the first place?

There’s no clear path for them to make that leap into the top tier of the draft, and the Pistons are quite simply unlikely to make a deal even if they did. But the Thunder may feel compelled to start cashing in some of their chips to improve their stock in this draft nonetheless. They own the 16th and 18th picks in this draft as well, and some combination of these three picks and other young players on their roster could potentially nudge them up a spot or two.

The Thunder are in a tough spot, but it sounds like they’re in an ambitious mood as Thursday’s NBA draft nears.

Next. Regrading every pick from the 2018 NBA Draft. dark