Friday, January 13, 2012

Talking Thunder Point Guards

Could Sam Presti have struck gold again?
I have already gone on record saying that the reported chemistry issues between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have been far overblown, but let's take a look at the Thunder's point guard situation overall.  Barring a trade for someone like Dwight Howard, I don't want to see Westbrook traded because he is an All NBA caliber performer and one of my favorite players despite the fact that his decision making infuriates me sometimes. He is even more important to the Thunder now that backup point guard Eric Maynor has unfortunately torn his ACL and rookie Reggie Jackson will have to be pressed into a key role.

Ever since GM Sam Presti swindled Maynor from Utah in the Matt Harpring salary dump, the savvy point guard has provided a steady hand for the second unit. His absence will have a ripple effect on the rest of the team, and he will be a big loss in the locker room since he is very popular amongst his teammates. Now, Jackson will lead that group in a much different style. The results have been varied in the games since Maynor's injury, but Jackson has looked good overall. The rookie has a mature confidence to him, and coach Scott Brooks has shown no fear in throwing him into the fire. I have high hopes for him for a number of reasons.

Coming into the draft, I was a big fan thought Jackson could have gone in the middle of the first round if he would have worked out for teams. He had a minor knee injury and then supposedly refused to partake in individual workouts because he had a promise from the Miami Heat that they would draft him with the first pick of the second round. However, Presti has a great eye for talent and took him 24th overall anyway, and the Heat smartly made their move for Norris Cole as a result. Interestingly enough, Durant asked Daily Thunder blogger Royce Young his opinion of the pick right after the draft, via twitter, before saying he heard Jackson is like Westbrook and not to doubt Presti. (Sidenote: How awesome is KD for reaching out to the Daily Thunder blogger for his opinion?)

I found this interesting because I quietly have the hope that Reggie will eventually be able to replace Russell. The speculation has always been that once all of the Thunder players were eligible for extensions after their rookie contracts, Maynor would be the one who Oklahoma City couldn't afford to keep. Thus, this draft pick made sense as a future backup point guard a couple of years down the road. However, I do have the worry that Westbrook will be the one who's out of the picture because he is worthy a near Max contract to go with Durant's current one and with James Harden and Serge Ibaka likely to get nice pay days a year later. OKC isn't a large market that could afford to become regular Luxury Tax payers, although they could keep it together for a year or two. That's where Jackson steps in. He doesn't have the potential or freakish athleticism of Westbrook, but he is very skilled and a high flier in his own right. Like Russell, Reggie has great size at 6'3 with a 7' wingspan, and that, combined with his athleticism, should make him a plus defender. Furthermore, Jackson is a better shooter and more natural point guard that could potentially run the offense more smoothly around Durant. He may not become an All NBA player, but he could become a very good starter to go with the possible returns from a Westbrook trade.

Now, there's no telling what the return would be from a Westbrook trade since the scenario I'm proposing would be based on financial reasons. Dwight Howard would be an amazing pairing with Durant, and a Westbrook + Kendrick Perkins deal would be a decent return for Orlando, but it Howard is doubtful to want to remain in the Midwest long term. In terms of players of similar value around the league, LaMarcus Aldridge is a player I am really fond of (and would be another Longhorn like KD in Sooner country). During the Blazers-Thunder game last week, I couldn't help imagining a Raymond Felton + Aldridge for Westbrook + Ibaka swap if the Thunder really wanted a veteran point guard back and was willing to trade away Ibaka's potential. I doubt the Blazers would do that deal anyway since they are looking like best team in the West right now, but I'm just throwing ideas out there. Felton's shooting and control of the game would fit around Durant perfectly, and, not that it really matters, he went to North Carolina -- the school KD always wanted to go to before he visited Texas. Felton's also on a very reasonable $7.5 million expiring deal, so the Thunder would have some financial flexibility.

Another deal that I've been think about is a swap for John Wall if things continue to go badly in Washington. He isn't a great shooter either, but he is a more natural pass-first point than Westbrook and won't be eligible for an extension for another two years. Again, I'm just throwing my ideas out there that would bring back players I really like in reasonable deals. It's likely a futile effort, and I hope they can keep Westbrook anyway.  If they can't, I really like the potential of Jackson, and hopefully they can get a strong return of assets back in a trade or sign-and-trade. A high level big man would be my preference since Perkins is limited and I still am a bit concerned about his currently healthy knee. He's really the only big contract that I could see them using the Amnesty clause on down the line if he has health issues since they overpaid him a bit in his extension last year. They have a nice big man prospect stashed away in Germany named Tibor Pleiss that I have some hope for, and they have young Cole Aldrich as well, but a dominant big man in return for Westbrook would be more of a sure thing. Finally, veteran point guards Steve Nash and Andre Miller are going to be free agents this summer and would be intriguing, inexpensive options to help take the pressure off of Jackson and a recovering Maynor. There are certainly a lot of ways this situation could play out.

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