The Thunder spent Thursday night being bold as ever, trading Serge Ibaka to the Magic for a package starring Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis. This would be a blockbuster every day of the year, owing to Ibaka's OKC roots and the Thunder's proximity to the NBA Finals this season. That it happens eight days before Kevin Durant becomes a free agent is even more interesting.
Thunder GM Sam Presti is smart. Brilliant, perhaps. He ran the team when OKC went out on a limb to draft Russell Westbrook No. 4 and James Harden No. 3. He plucked Ibaka out of second half of the first round. He drafted Steven Adams in the late lottery. Sam Presti is savvy. He would never make a deal that would upset Durant and risk the opportunity to keep the scorer extraordinaire.
In fact, any move Presti makes at this stage has to be made in an attempt to prove to Durant the Thunder are ready to take an additional step forward. OKC beat the Spurs and almost knocked out the Warriors, and the Thunder might even have been favored over the Cavaliers in the Finals. Those teams will all be back in 2016-17, and a few others expect to take an upward leap. Ibaka's on-court production has slipped in recent years, but he's still a phenomenal athlete who can defend near the rim and out of the perimeter. He also offers a nice release valve on the pick-and-pop.
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Oladipo projects to either a starting defense-first two-guard who can slash, replacing Andre Roberson. Or, Oladipo could replace Dion Waiters as the combo guard off the bench. Waiters is a restricted free agent and figures to be expensive after a strong postseason (especially against Golden State). Sabonis is interesting as an addition to a rather full frontcourt that will now also feature a true stretch-4 in Ilyasova. Assuming no further moves, it'll be interesting to see how coach Billy Donovan fits those three and Enes Kanter together into a rotation.
If Durant has plans on testing the waters, Presti knows it. The beauty of a move like this is that it works whether Durant ends up staying or not. It works so long as it doesn't push Durant into the welcoming arms of another team. Which it won't, because Presti is not a fool. Because Presti wouldn't do this deal without at least taking Durant's temperature about a Thunder team without Ibaka in some way. (In a video, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that "you can be certain" Presti got "some sort of reaction" from Durant before making this deal.)
Whether Durant stays or goes, the Thunder have one of the most athletic backcourts ever and a brimming frontcourt. If Durant is gone, the team will be critically flawed, but still young and poised to reboot quickly. If Durant stays, the team will again compete for a title. There were rumors the Thunder were trying to flip Ibaka for a high pick, perhaps No. 5 overall (eventually Kris Dunn). Instead, in typical Presti fashion, the Thunder went for breadth, picking up a lower-rated prospect and a really promising young player in Oladipo.
This deal is a huge shock, and perhaps will throw Durant for a loop in the immediate term. But as long as Presti can sell it to his star, and so long as Durant isn't already looking to leave for a more glamorous locale, this trade can help the Thunder reach a higher level. Fortune favors the bold, and few take more risks than the Oklahoma City Thunder.
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