Entering Thursday, it was unclear what exactly the Oklahoma City Thunder would do at the 2024 NBA trade deadline. This is a team that had the second youngest roster in the NBA, but also boasted a top three record in the entire NBA. Simply put, Oklahoma City had the assets and reasons to be a buyer, but also didn’t necessarily need to make a move at all to be a legitimate contender.
Regardless, the Thunder made one of the biggest splashes of any team on deadline day. Instead of waiting until the final minutes of the 2:00 p.m. CT deadline, Oklahoma City got to work earlier in the morning. With more than four hours to spare, Thunder GM Sam Presti pulled the trigger on a trade that brought veteran wing Gordon Hayward to Oklahoma City.
In return, the Thunder sent the Charlotte Hornets a package that included Tre Mann, Vasilije Micic, Davis Bertans, and a pair of second-round picks. While Micic had started to earn spot minutes and was really turning a corner as a 30-year-old rookie, the reality is that he was on a very tradable contract and may not have been part of OKC’s playoff rotation. Furthermore, Bertans was much-needed salary filler and was not part of the nightly rotation for the Thunder. Tre Mann was the cornerstone piece of the deal as a 23-year-old former first-round pick, who has tremendous talent and will have a chance to thrive in Charlotte with less competition for minutes in the backcourt.
Given this was the package Oklahoma City sent out, it was essentially a swap of three players that aren’t in the regular rotation — who have played a combined 571 total minutes this season — for a proven veteran in Hayward that will be one of the five best players on the Thunder roster if he can stay healthy.
Again, Hayward avoiding injuries is the key here for Oklahoma City. This season in just 25 games played, the 6-foot-7 forward has averaged 14.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists per contest while shooting 36.1% from beyond the arc. When he’s healthy, Hayward is still an incredibly impactful player in the NBA. He’ll have a real chance to earn a starting role on this team, but more importantly be a closer. This is especially true for the postseason.
In the four seasons prior to the 2023-24 campaign, Hayward averaged just 49 games played. Thats truly the one concern with a player like him, but it’s well worth the risk for Oklahoma City.
In fact, there’s very little downside at all in this deal. In a worst case scenario, Hayward plays very little with the Thunder due to injury or simply not fitting well. Even then, he’s making north of $30 million this season on an expiring contract that would give Oklahoma City significant cap space this summer in free agency. Conversely, he could be the piece that really elevates the ceiling of this team as an established veteran player.
A three-level scorer, Hayward can create for himself when operating with reserves, but also plays well off-ball as a secondary scoring threat when playing with some of Oklahoma City’s other creators. He will also instantly become one of the Thunder’s best passers, notching better than a 21% assist rate this season as a forward.
The only other move Oklahoma City made at the deadline was one involving draft capital. Given the Thunder already had three selections in the 2024 NBA Draft entering deadline day, Presti got creative in finding a way to defer that front-loaded trio of assets to further down the road. To help facilitate a deal between the Dallas Mavericks and Washington Wizards centered around Daniel Gafford, the Thunder sent the worst of its three remaining 2024 picks for the rights to swap selections with the Mavs in 2028. Given that pick Oklahoma City sent out at the deadline is projected to be in the late twenties, this not only kicks the can down the road in terms of having to use draft capital, but also provides an opportunity for that later pick to be much better.
While it wasn’t the most exciting trade deadline overall around the league, the Thunder quietly put tougher one of the most impressive days. Not only did OKC add a much-needed veteran at a very low cost, but the Thunder also may have potentially enhanced its pool of draft capital.
First appeared on www.forbes.com