So far the count is up to ten officially announced trades for the Thunder, working with 14 other teams to get complicated deals done in a stunningly short period of time. Over the past week and a half General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti and the Thunder have been extremely active, pushing forward with the plan to re-orient the franchise after dozen years of aggressive contention.
The tactic is to take the long view – to try to build up through diligent planning to return to the top of the Western Conference in years to come as young players mature and draft picks can be strategically deployed.
After completing transactions that involved the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards, the Thunder now has a strong collection of young players and future assets.
The grand total is now officially 16 first-round picks and 13 second-round picks through the 2027 draft, where most teams would normally only have seven of each.
“It's a continuation of the things that we've talked about since last summer, which is continually trying to reposition the team after 12 years of extremely high performance results, and ultimately continuing to try to replenish our flexibility and tools for us to continue to build a platform for an elite team going forward but full-well knowing that that's going to take time,” said Presti.
In addition to moving up in the 2020 Draft to select Aleksej Pokuševski and a pair of trades to pick up Vit Krejčí, Admiral Schofield and Vincent Poirier, the Thunder also is welcoming in a whole slew of young players for the team to incorporate into the organization’s development system.
Ty Jerome is a 23-year-old point guard, who at 6-foot-5 has an interesting combination of size and skill level to be an effective player both on and off the ball. The former National Champion at the University of Virginia learned the ropes of a disciplined defensive scheme with the Cavaliers before being selected in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft.
“Ty Jerome is a very, very skilled and very cerebral player,” Presti said. “He is a dogged worker and just a guy that really understands the game at an extremely high level. And he's a great shooter, so he does a lot of things well.”
Justin Jackson is another former first round pick, and at 25 years old has considerable experience both as a collegiate player at the University of North Carolina and as a rotation piece for the Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks over the past three years. Over 214 games in his career, he’s averaged 6.5 points and 2.6 rebounds, while shooting 43.1 percent from the field.
In the frontcourt, TJ Leaf is a 23-year-old former first round pick of the Indiana Pacers who has shown flashes of his ability as a screen and roll man, with the knack to put home a little floater in the lane. At 6-foot-10, the Israeli-born son of a professional basketball player was behind some big names in the Pacers’ rotation but will get a chance with the Thunder to show what he’s learned in his first three professional seasons. Per-36 minutes, Leaf is averaging upwards of 13 points and eight rebounds.
Kenrich Williams, a 25-year-old forward, has started 47 of his 85 career games over the past two seasons with New Orleans. The Waco, Tex. native and TCU graduate, Williams went undrafted but fought his way onto an NBA rotation through running the open floor, defending and knocking down corner 3-pointers. Alongside Williams, the Thunder also added 27-year-old Josh Gray and 25-year-old Zylan Cheatham from New Orleans.
“We're really excited about some of the things we've been able to accomplish, but have a very, very long road ahead of us in order to ultimately build a sustainable team capable of elite performance,” Presti said. “We're also really excited about the season starting and getting a chance to see some of the new players that we'll ultimately have on the floor and for the community to get to know them.”
NBA elder statesmen Trevor Ariza, George Hill and Darius Miller are also coming to the Thunder in the wake of the trades that sent Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari and Abdel Nader on to new teams. Paul returned to Oklahoma City, where his career started and used a resurgent season to propel the Thunder to a playoff berth.
Adams, a Thunder fan favorite, a proud founding member of the Stache Bros, a ferocious screener and cerebral defender was a major factor in Thunder playoff runs since 2013.
As the Thunder embarks on the next stage of its life cycle as a franchise, it will be on the hunt for players who can develop from young, raw talents into more well-rounded players who can have long-lasting NBA careers. Finding those types of players is difficult but through the recent collection of trades, the young players that were acquired and the draft picks on the horizon, the Thunder will have the opportunity to go after exactly which youngsters they want and build towards greatness day-by-day.
“(It’s) just giving yourself as many opportunities as possible to find players that can stick, and some players can do great in one place and not great in another. There's a lot of different factors that go into it,” Presti said. “Some of it is opportunity, sometimes it could be injury, sometimes it could be maturity, sometimes it could be you had somebody in front of you that plays the same position and you don't get a chance to get out there. There just can be so many things. A lot of things have to line up for things to go right.”
With the young players and draft picks the team has, there’s reason for optimism as the Thunder embarks on the long road ahead. Through the Thunder’s intentional approach to the draft, free agency and trade market, new up-and-comers and the next contending Thunder team are out there in the distance.