Not even 24 hours after the Thunder announced extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, the Thunder completed another transaction, trading Ersan Ilyasova (and a top 20 protected first round pick, according to reports) for the Philadelphia 76ers’ Jerami Grant.
Grant is in his third year out of Syracuse and was a second-round selection by the Sixers in the 2014 NBA draft. He has been a part of the Sixers’ rotation nearly from inception, averaging 24 minutes a game in his career. This season, in two appearances, he’s averaging 8 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game, while shooting 35% from the field. He’s a career 27.6% shooter from deep, and is still looking for his first made three of the season (on five attempts).
This is clearly financially motivated. While Grant has a reputation for being an athletic specimen, his offensive game has left much to be desired. On the other hand, though Ilysova lacks notable defensive skills, his strongest attributes are as a floor-spacer, a stretch four to replace Serge Ibaka. From a need-based point of view, this does little to improve Oklahoma City’s roster. The Thunder already have an athletic defensive wing in Andre Roberson, and not only do their skills overlap, but so do their deficiencies (little offensive threat).
However, as Bobby Marks reported, the Thunder freed up $7.1 million in cap space for this season (the team was previously over the salary cap, but under the luxury tax line). This sets the Thunder up to make an additional acquisition without having to match contracts, that pesky rule that prevents teams over the cap from acquiring significantly more salary than they are trading. Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of players available at $7.1 million or less that would really move the needle for the Thunder (think, Lance Thomas). On the other hand, this space could coupled with a sizeable contract, say Enes Kanter’s $17.1 million contract, allowing the Thunder to theoretically take on a contract in excess of $24 million. So, while Adam and Oladipo’s extension removed any possibility of chasing a max-contract-level free agent, the Thunder now could trade for a max contract. The only problem being they don’t have many assets that a team like, purely as an example, the Clippers might want in exchange for, purely as an example, Blake Griffin.
In sum, this trade hurts the Thunder’s offense, slightly upgrades the defense, and adds flexibility for the Thunder to make a future trade, though some of that flexibility is a mirage. It should be pointed out that Rudy Gay, who the Thunder were linked to in trade talks involving Cameron Payne, is making $13.3 million, and a trade involving Payne and Singler for Gay now works, without any other contracts needing to be attached. For what it’s worth, Payne’s injury will be re-evaluated in 2-4 weeks.