The Feb. 8 NBA trade deadline is less than a month away and the Oklahoma City Thunder looks like they’ll be buyers for the first time in several years.
The Thunder sit at 28-13, good enough for second place in the Western Conference standings. OKC is set to make its first playoff appearance since 2020.
The biggest fish in the sea for this trade deadline that’s within the realm of possibility is Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen, who’ll likely make his second consecutive All-Star appearance this year.
With that said, it looks less likely now than it did a month ago he gets moved. The Jazz have been one of the hottest teams recently, owning a 22-21 record. This puts Utah right in the thick of the playoff race. So don’t expect the Jazz to deal their franchise player unless absolutely blown away by an offer.
The Thunder are theoretically a team that can make that happen. With several young prospects and being rich in draft assets, OKC can outbid other teams in a trade market.
Let’s make a case for the Thunder to trade for Markannen, pass on it and hand out a final verdict
The case for making a move for Markkanen
Since landing with the Jazz, Markkanen has developed into one of the best forwards in the league. He’s likely set to make his second consecutive All-Star appearance with Utah.
It’s been another stellar season for Markannen, who’s headlined Utah’s surprising season. In 33 games, he’s averaging 24.1 points on 49.8% shooting, 8.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He’s shooting an impressive 39.8% from 3 on 7.9 attempts.
On paper, he’d be a perfect fit for OKC. He could be a dangerous partner with Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams while providing Holmgren help at the frontcourt. The fact he’s a seven-footer who provides elite spacing increases his value tenfold.
Markannen will also help improve OKC’s rebounding woes, who rank 28th in rebounding rate. His 13.3% rebounding rate would easily be the best on the team.
If the Thunder added Markannen, then they’ll quickly graduate from a young upstart to an immediate contender who has as good of a chance as anybody to win a championship.
The case against making a move for Markannen
If the Thunder were to trade for Markannen, the package would sting. Odds are, it’ll require Cason Wallace and possibly even Williams plus several draft picks — at that point, is it worth it to shorten your window’s length but increase it in length?
It’s a philosophical question with no right answer. It depends on how confident one is that the Thunder can win a championship within the next two seasons, knowing it’ll cost the prime of a probable multi-time All-Star wing with several years of cheap control.
That also doesn’t include the fact that Markannen is only under contract through the 2024-25 season, which means there’s no guarantee he stays beyond 1.5 seasons. Considering his role will likely get reduced, it’s a bit dicey to assume he’ll stay, which means OKC will need to win and make deep playoff runs to sell itself to him.
The payoff of this gamble could be massive, but there’s no way to prove OKC can’t reach the same destination following the path it is currently on. It’s very easy to argue a title window spanning several seasons is the right decision here.
The final verdict
Markannen’s fit with the Thunder is seamless, but the projected price is a bit too expensive — especially if it costs OKC Williams. For now, I’d pass on trading for the All-Star forward.
Now, that doesn’t mean a deal can’t happen between now and the 2025 offseason, but the Thunder should sit this one out and see how their trio of Gilgeous-Alexander, Holmgren and Williams performs in the playoffs first before making drastic roster moves.
Not having a guarantee he’d stay for the long run and the fear of missing out on a cost-control All-Star wing makes me a bit trigger-shy to pull off any realistic deal that OKC needs to acquire Markannen by the trade deadline.