By Chris Sheridan
The Oklahoma City Thunder are nine games over .500 coming out of the All-Star break and riding a six-game winning streak, and they also happen to be one of the few NBA teams under the salary cap.
They're also holding some nice trade chips -- two No. 1 picks in the 2010 draft, their own and the Suns', plus Matt Harpring's expiring $6.5 million contract, which is being paid by an insurance company.
If I am owner Clay Bennett or general manager Sam Presti, I have to ask myself this question: We're pretty darn good, so should we get aggressive and try to make a deal or two that puts us in position to get to the Western Conference finals, or beyond?
It was with that premise that I had a little fun with ESPN.com's NBA Trade Machine today in between making and receiving phone calls, and came up with two deals that could make the Thunder an instant powerhouse while also getting two current tax-paying teams, Phoenix and Washington, below the luxury tax line.
Let's assume Presti and Bennett were prepared to throw in both of their 2010 No. 1 picks in this deal, plus maybe their own 2012 No. 1 pick: http://games.espn.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yjmgktq
Yes, it's lopsided talent-wise, but it would shave more than $5 million off Phoenix's payroll, getting them under the tax threshold and entitling Suns owner Bob Sarver to receive a $4-plus million share of luxury tax distributions, plus roughly $2 million in actual cash savings from not having to pay Harpring. They'd get a valuable young asset in Harden, plus two or three No. 1 picks and substantial financial relief. And remember: Financial relief has been the driving force behind many of Sarver's trades (Shaq to Cleveland; Kurt Thomas to Seattle).
Then, with the Wizards looking to dump $2.68 million to get under the tax line, I would propose this deal, which cuts $2.76 million off Washington's payroll: http://games.espn.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=ygokcws
OKC would have to waive two players (Kevin Ollie and Collins?) to clear roster room, but their 13-man playoff depth chart (only 12 can be active) would be:
C: Stoudemire, Nenad Krstic, Oberto
PF: Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka.
SF: Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha
SG: Barbosa, Young, Boykins.
PG: Russell Westbrook, James, Eric Maynor