Thunder Succeed With Deal For Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott

On the day of the NBA trade deadline, the Oklahoma City Thunder made a deal that will pay dividends now and moving forward.

The Oklahoma City Thunder traded Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow Thursday to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and an unprotected 2018 second-round pick.

According to the ESPN report by Royce Young and Nick Friedell, the Thunder are also using a portion of their trade exception obtained in the deal that sent Ersan Ilyasova to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jerami Grant and a conditional future pick earlier this season.

For the Bulls, they receive a 22-year-old point guard that’s spent two seasons backing up Russell Westbrook in Payne (the Thunder have had a couple decent guys in that slot) and two proven rotation players in Lauvergne and Morrow.

For the Thunder, the top priority heading into the summer is convincing Westbrook to sign a massive five-year, $219 million contract extension that he’d be eligible for thanks to the designated player extension drafted in the new collective bargaining agreement.

Both Westbrook and James Harden were grandfathered into eligibility for the new super-max contract, according to CBS Sports’ James Herbert.

As of right now, Westbrook is signed through next season with a player option for 2018-19 that he’d surely opt out of in an effort to cash in at maximum value, reaching free agency and also the very depths of Oklahoma City’s nightmares.

Getting Westbrook to sign that extension this summer is at the very top of the Thunder’s list after the season.

Adding McDermott and Gibson is a win-now move for Oklahoma City without giving up any of their valuable pieces.

Andre Roberson‘s name was tossed around often in the heat of deadline day, and Twitter broke when Thunder Digest tweeted out that Roberson was hugging people at practice.

However, Oklahoma City was able to hold on to their best perimeter defender with the most notable piece leaving being Payne, who would never have had a chance to fulfill his potential with Westbrook ahead of him.

In Gibson, the Thunder snatch what has been the heartbeat and longest tenured member of the Bulls franchise for a number of years.

Gibson has been one of the consumate professionals of the league, flying under the radar, buying into whatever the Bulls are preaching and makes no bad news. He’s also a pretty good basketball player.

At 31, Gibson is having one of his best seasons, averaging 11.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 blocks and 0.5 steals per game while shooting 52.1 percent from the field in 27.3 minutes per night.

General manager Sam Presti loves finding glue guy big men, and has a history of doing so in trading for Kendrick Perkins and keeping Nick Collison since inheriting him upon taking the job. Gibson possesses those traits while being a better all-around player than either of them.

It remains to be seen whether coach Billy Donovan will insert Gibson into the lineup, or stick with rookie Domantas Sabonis and bring Gibson off the bench in heavy bench minutes.

Either way, a four-headed monster of Steven Adams, Gibson, Sabonis and a healthy Enes Kanter is as terrifying a quartet of traditional bigs that exists in the league.

Like the other three, Gibson also can step out and hit the mid-range jumper, either on pick and pops or finding the gaps in the modern NBA defense geared towards limiting layups and 3-pointers.

Gibson also has a forceful post-up game that includes playing a lot of bumper cars, something that had to have appealed to Presti as Gibson can abuse small-ball lineups.

He’s also an underrated rim protector, as opposing players shoot 8.5 percent worse than their average when defended by Gibson around the rim, one of the best marks in the entire association.

In McDermott, the Thunder finally have a bonafide knockdown shooter their team has so sorely lacked all year. McDermott’s greatest asset is his ability to move off the ball and find space to spot up. He’s had to do so on the last ranked team in 3-pointers made, attempted and percentage.

McDermott is moving up exactly one spot to the 29th ranked team in 3-point percentage, but the threat of Russell Westbrook meteoric drives will surely give Dougie McBuckets room to breathe.

Look for his attempts from deep to tick up, as he’s only averaging 3.4 attempts from deep per game this year.

Even in Chicago, McDermott was able to find enough space to convert from range at an above average rate, and doesn’t need much time to get his feet set.

The Thunder are also third in the NBA in fast break points per game, according to NBA Stats with thoroughbreds like Westbrook, Victor Oladipo and Roberson eager to get a head of steam.

Look for McDermott to feast on transition 3’s which double as backbreakers and massive momentum swings, just ask whoever played the Golden State Warriors last.

McDermott also has a sneaky effective post-up game that he whips out when guarded by smaller players. He’s a full 6-foot-8, and with his feathery touch references his Creighton days when he would receive plenty of touches below the free-throw line.

This move provides depth and shooting to one of the thinner rosters in the league, and ticks Oklahoma City upward into the fight for the fourth seed as the stretch run approaches.

Currently the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Thunder are within three games of each other in the playoff race.

Acquiring Gibson and McDermott without losing a key cog to the machine sends a signal to Westbrook and the league that despite a tumultuous 12 months that could’ve gone off the rails long ago, the Thunder are committed to this group.

Even if general manager Sam Presti doesn’t put on a jersey, he’s likely the most valuable employee of the franchise not named Russell Westbrook.

Presti has established a reputation for “winning” trades (except for maybe just one) and time will tell if this continues that trend, but it certainly looks that way now.

For what the Thunder were lacking, McDermott and Gibson provide in spades. This move helps give the Thunder a chance come April and May and in this league, where a turned knee can flip the playoff picture upside down, that’s all you can ask for.

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