Ranking the top five in-season trades in Thunder history

Ranking the top five in-season trades in Thunder history

The Oklahoma City Thunder has made several in-season trades over the years. Here are the top five, plus one honorable mention.

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

| Feb 8, 2024, 6:00am CST

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

Feb 8, 2024, 6:00am CST

The Oklahoma City Thunder have never been shy about making trades, whether it was the scale of a Hollywood blockbuster or an indie flick.

Historically, OKC saves its major moves for the offseason. Once the season tips off, Sam Presti and company rarely make a move that would shake up the starting lineup, or cause continuity to reset. But that’s not a golden rule. The Thunder makes moves when they need to and when the planets align to do so.

5. Oklahoma City acquires Jeremy Grant for Ersan Ilyasova and a 2020 first-round pick  (protected 1-20, else the pick converts to second-round picks in 2022 and 2022) on November 1, 2016.

The Philadelphia 76ers decided to rapidly pivot from “The Process” — a long-term plan to build via the draft, specifically targeting multiple top-5 picks — into trying to win. Grant showed some promise in his first two Philly seasons but was still very raw. Ilyasova gave them a more ready-made contributor and the draft capital was desired for down the road.

The Thunder was still re-working the roster around Russell Westbrook after Kevin Durant’s departure to Golden State. Running a little low on young prospects,  OKC was able to make immediate use of Grant’s still-developing skills, such as shot blocking, while investing in Grant’s long-term potential.

The Bottom Line:  The time Grant spent with the Thunder helped propel him to multiple long-term contracts, including a recent five-year deal with Portland worth $160 million. He developed into a valuable contributor with the Thunder, averaging 9.2 points. He was traded to Denver in 2019 for a first-round pick in the 2020 draft.

On a side note that would require a whole other story to fully explain, the Sixers ended up getting the 21st pick from OKC in the 2020 draft. It’s the selection Philly used to select All-Star Tyrese Maxey.

4. As part of a three-team trade, Oklahoma City acquired Dion Waiters from the Cavaliers. The Thunder traded Lance Thomas to the Knicks and a 2015 first-round pick to Cleveland (lottery protected in 2015) on January 5, 2015.

After trading James Harden in 2012, OKC needed a reliable guard off the bench. Kevin Martin filled that role for one season. Jeremy Lamb was never able to gain the team’s trust. Reggie Jackson had played well in the role but wanted a starting position elsewhere.

The Thunder took a chance on Waiters, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft. The former Syracuse star was a bad fit with LeBron James, who had just made a celebrated return to Cleveland. The Cavs were willing to take a chance on JR Smith, who had played his way into the Knicks’ doghouse, and convinced New York to include wing defender Iman Shumpert.

Waiters brought some bad habits with him to Oklahoma City, giving coach Scott Brooks an additional challenge amid an injury-ravaged season. Waiters averaged 12.7 points that season in his 47 games with OKC

The Bottom Line: Waiters never reached the production of previous Thunder sixth men but he contributed, particularly during the Thunder’s run to the 2016 Western Conference Finals. After Durant left, OKC had to let Waiters leave to preserve cap room to renegotiate Russell Westbrook’s contract.

Because the Thunder missed the playoffs in 2015, the pick was not conveyed until 2016. OKC ended up selecting Cameron Payne in the 2015 draft. The Thunder’s 2016 selection ended up being the 26th overall pick. The Cavs later traded it to Denver, who later traded it to Philadelphia. The Sixers selected Furkan Korkmaz.

3. In a three-team trade, the Thunder acquired Enes Kanter and Steve Novak from Utah and DJ Augustin and Kyle Singler from Detroit on February 19, 2015. OKC traded Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the rights to Tibor Pleiss, and a 2018 first-round pick to the Jazz. OKC also traded Reggie Jackson to the Pistons.

Perkins was in the last year of his contract and playing backup minutes. The Thunder needed to refresh the roster with younger contributors who could be signed to long-term deals. Kanter — who later changed his name to Enes Freedom — and Singler were eligible for restricted free agency after the season, allowing the Thunder to retain both and not risk losing either outright in free agency.

Freedom had fallen out of favor in Utah. He was not offered a rookie scale extension with the Jazz and there was little desire to work out a long-term deal after the season. The Pistons identified Jackson as a starting caliber guard and an upgrade over Augustin, a former teammate of Durant’s at the University of Texas.

The Bottom Line: The Thunder ended up matching a four-year, $71 million offer sheet for Freedom from Portland. Freedom bonded with Steven Adams and became one-half of the Stache Bros. On the court, he backed up Adams and sometimes played alongside him, giving OKC a pair of bruisers. Freedom was also very productive in limited minutes, but the Thunder would soon have trouble finding ways to hide him defensively in the playoffs.

Singler misfired in his first half-season with the Thunder, shooting 33 percent from the field in 26 games. Despite this, OKC made a four-year gamble on Singler (with a fifth-year team option) in the summer of 2015. He was never able to deliver on the promise he showed as a high IQ 3-and-D role player in Detroit, and his NBA career ended on the waiver wire in 2018. 

The first-round pick conveyed in 2018 as the 20th overall selection. The Jazz later traded this pick to Minnesota, who used it to select Josh Okogie.

2. Oklahoma City traded a 2009 first-round pick to Chicago for Thabo Sefolosha on February 19, 2009.

Fun fact: the first free agent signing in Thunder history was swingman CJ Miles, who inked a four-year offer sheet in July 2008. Miles was a restricted free agent and the Jazz opted to match the offer sheet. It’s a small sliding door moment in OKC history. If the Thunder acquire Miles, then it likely doesn’t trade for Sefolosha and also doesn’t have the salary cap tool to later sign Nenad Krstic.

But with Miles back to the Jazz, the Thunder still needed a young wing. Enter Sefolosha, who eventually became buried on the Bulls’ depth chart. 

The Bottom Line: Sefolosha became the starting off guard for the Thunder for five and a half seasons. He was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive second team in 2010. In the summer of 2014, Sefolosha reached a deal to sign with the Atlanta Hawks. The Thunder worked with the Hawks to turn it into a sign-and-trade transaction, granting OKC a traded player exception it later used to acquire Waiters.

The pick OKC traded to Chicago was a pick it acquired from Denver roughly six weeks earlier. The Bulls selected Taj Gibson with the 26th overall pick. The trade was a win-win. Gibson even wound up playing briefly for the Thunder in 2017.

1. The Thunder traded Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, and a 2012 first-round pick to Boston for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson on February 24, 2011.

The Western Conference was loaded with big men. Denver had Nene. Portland had LaMarcus Aldridge and, potentially, Greg Oden. Utah had Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. The Lakers had Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The Grizzlies had Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The Spurs had Tim Duncan and an assortment of other big men. 

The Thunder wasn’t big or physical enough. Enter Perkins. His arrival also allowed Serge Ibaka to slide into the starting lineup, providing the defensive backbone for multiple Western Conference Finals runs.

OKC and Green did not agree to an extension before the season. Perkins was a potential free agent coming off of an ACL injury. Salary Cap rules limited what the Celtics could offer in an extension. Boston feared losing Perkins outright and also had a desire to unload Robinson’s contract.

In a subsequent trade, OKC sent DJ White and Morris Peterson to Charlotte for Nazr Mohammed. When the dust cleared, OKC was under the salary cap by about $2 million. That allowed the Thunder to negotiate Perkins’ contract and extend it, a maneuver the Celtics could not do.

The Bottom Line: Perkins remains a hot topic in some Thunder fan circles. His presence was instrumental in getting OKC through the brutes in the West. But when opponents went small, as the Miami Heat did in the 2012 NBA Finals, Brooks stuck with his trusted big man. OKC lost in those Finals, and it’s debatable whether less Perkins would have equaled more wins.

His detractors will point to his offensive game which did not exist. His defenders will scrounge up obscure defense and hustle stats, employing “trickle-down economics” tactics to explain his value. Bottom line: the Thunder were one of the best teams in the league despite or because of his presence.

Robinson was eventually released and extended his career a few seasons by playing the role of spark plug scorer off the bench.

The draft pick sent to Boston was originally acquired from the Clippers in the 2010 NBA draft. Boston used it to select Fab Melo, who played only 6 career NBA games and tragically passed away in 2017.

Honorable mention: Thunder acquires Tyson Chandler from the Hornets for Joe Smith, Chris Wilcox, and the rights to Devon Hardin on February 19, 2009.

Speaking of sliding door moments, this door is so large it must be located somewhere at the Kennedy Space Center.

A few paragraphs aren’t enough room to cover this properly, but bottom line: the Thunder completed this trade with New Orleans and then rescinded it 24 hours later. The Hornets were having massive financial issues. Chandler was oft-injured and highly paid. Smith and Wilcox were in the final seasons of their respective deals.

The Thunder’s team physician, Dr. Carlan Yates, made the recommendation to rescind the trade after examining Chandler’s left big toe. Yates had operated on the same toe when the Hornets were temporarily relocated to OKC.

“He said he doesn’t know how long I’ll last,” Chandler told ESPN at the time. “He told me, ‘I have no doubt you can play on it. I’m just saying it could take a turn for the worse if you come down on somebody’s foot or hyperextend it or something.’”

The Thunder eventually waived Smith so he could rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wilcox was traded to the Knicks for Malik Rose. Hardin never played in the NBA.

The Bottom Line: Chandler was eventually traded again, this time to the Charlotte Bobcats. After one season, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 2010 where he anchored an NBA champion defense. He was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, when he was also named to the All-NBA third team. He would play 11 more seasons after the rescinded trade, snagging a pair of rich four-year contracts along the way.

On a positive note: remember, the Thunder was one of the best teams in the league regardless.

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