The Oklahoma City Thunder made their first move of the offseason on Monday when it was announced that they have traded away the No. 30 picks in the 2022 NBA draft and two future second-round picks to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for JaMychal Green and a protected 2027 first-round pick.
The Nuggets – who owned the 11th-highest team payroll this past season and the fourth-highest payroll entering next season – were able to shed $ 20 million off of luxury taxes by moving Green.
While the presumed headliner of the deal is Green, the real get in this trade for the Thunder is the 2027 first-round pick. While the protections right now are unknown, they really don’t matter because it can’t get any worse than picking 30th overall – which was the case with this year’s draft.
Owning the No. 30 pick is arguably the worst pick to have in an NBA draft as it guarantees a first-round salary to a player who probably would’ve been there in the second round. The difference between a first-round and second-round rookie contract is massive as the former is signed for five years with millions guaranteed the first three seasons while the latter’s contract is significantly smaller than that and can be a non-guaranteed deal as soon as the second season.
The Thunder were never going to use all four of their picks this draft and this was the consolidation trade many expected from the team as they were likely to trade at least one of their picks. Out of the four they previously owned, this one was the most expendable.
The Thunder now get another chance at getting a future first-round pick being better than No. 30 – which, with the odds being 29/30, is likely to happen.
The team also continues to kick the can down the road as the mystery behind how the Nuggets look like in 2027 could entice teams in the future to potentially value that pick much more than it will likely end up being. Who knows how a 32-year-old Nikola Jokic looks like if he’s even on the team five years from now? The Nuggets other two big investments in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. have also not returned yet after dealing with serious knee and back injuries.
While the Thunder being forced to give up two future second-round picks along with the first-round pick might sting a little, the team has a huge amount of picks coming during the 2020s – from both themselves and other teams – that losing two second Rounders should not cause a lot of lost sleep for the front office and fanbase.
With all that said, what’s next for Green? The 31-year-old is still a solid role player, as he played in 67 games and averaged 16 minutes a night for a playoff team last season. Green’s $ 8.2 million 2022-23 salary is a bit too rich for someone of his stature – especially after a down season last year. It’s hard to envision any team knocking on the door to trade for Green just because of his large salary.
While Green is a useful player and could help out the young players on the Thunder, giving him minutes over younger players who need it more for experience and development is a shortsighted approach. Green is a fine player, he just arrived in OKC a couple seasons too early. Considering the team’s relaxed approach in giving 30-year-old veterans consistent playing time, I expect Green to play very little – if any – minutes for the Thunder.
The most likely conclusion between the Thunder and Green involve him either being moved in another trade or being bought out.
When a potential Green trade could occur could happen as soon as next week or as late as the 2023 NBA trade deadline in February. If a trade is to happen in the immediate future, it will likely occur because Green’s salary would make a bigger trade work instead of it being a trade centered around him.
If Green starts the 2022-23 season with the Thunder – whether he’s physically with the team or not – the longer he’s on the roster, the more attractive he becomes to other teams. If the Thunder hold onto Green until the trade deadline, then he becomes that much more affordable to other teams as they would only need to pay Green whatever remains of his salary for the last couple months of the regular season as just purely a rental.
A buyout is another possibility but I just have a hard time envisioning ownership approving a third one. The team already has $ 28.4 million in dead cap next season between Kemba Walker and Kyle Singler. Asking ownership to add another $ 8.2 million – or whatever amount both the Thunder and Green agree to – is a tough ask, even if it just affects the team’s payroll for just next season.
Either way, these are the exact kind of moves you want to see a rebuilding team make: taking on a bad contract with attached assets on it. It’s even better when the bad contract isn’t an albatross and just for one season like Green’s. League opinion over Green must be pretty high too as the 2012 undrafted rookie has worked his way to carve out a nice eight-year career so far with four different NBA teams.
This trade will be a very small one in the grand scheme of the 2022 NBA offseason, but small market teams like the Thunder need all of the advantages they can get when competing with the rest of the league. Absorbing a bad but movable contract for a future first-round pick is one of those foresighted advantages.