The Chicago Bulls shuffled a few deck chairs on Thursday without losing the captain. The Oklahoma City Thunder is just hoping they’re making their own captain happy enough to stick with the ship.
Chicago didn’t exactly give up on its season when it dealt Taj Gibson and third-year swingman Doug McDermott to Oklahoma City on Thursday, not in the same way it would have with a deal including All-Star Jimmy Butler (who will remain in Chicago), but it did lessen its punch significantly in the trade deadline deal. The Thunder, meanwhile, pick up two significant rotation assets that come straight out of central casting for the club.
The Vertical’s Shams Charania was the first to report that OKC will send Cameron Payne and Joffrey Lauvergne, along with veteran shooter Anthony Morrow, to the Chicago Bulls for McDermott, Gibson, and a 2018 second round pick from the Bulls. Chicago will not receive compensation in the form of a draft pick for a player in McDermott that the team dealt two first round picks for back in 2014.
In adding Gibson and McDermott, the Thunder will add two major parts desperately needed in the 32-25 club’s attempt to move into the realm of the Western elite behind the stellar, MVP-styled work of Russell Westbrook.
Gibson, a free agent this summer, has long worked as one of the league’s more underrated players as a combo center/forward. The USC product turns 32 this June, but he’s parlayed an impressive career out of his expert defensive work, timely work finishing the paint, his pick and pop ability and underutilized black hole of a low post game. McDermott, the No. 11 pick in the 2014 draft and favorite of Bulls general manager Gar Forman, will attempt to resurrect a basketball career that has been dormant thus far in three seasons.
The 25-year old has hit for 10.2 points per game this season, but he’s shot just about the league average from three-point line this season and has hardly worked his way into the sort of lights-out long range bomber that could offset his mitigating limitations in other areas (defense, rebounding, general NBA court awareness).
McDermott never had a chance in his injury-plagued 2014-15 rookie season under ex-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, and he’s struggled with confidence in the years since. A new setting, especially alongside Thunder star Russell Westbrook, could be just the script McDermott needs to turn into an NBA mainstay.
Gibson averaged 11.6 points, seven rebounds and a block in 27 minutes per game with Chicago this year, starting 55 times in 55 games. This is the first time in Gibson’s eight-year career (all with Chicago, who drafted him 26th overall in 2009) that he has worked as a go-to starter with Chicago. He could reprise that role in Oklahoma City alongside center Stephen Adams, with backup big man Enes Kanter out until late March with a fractured right forearm. The Bulls will look to second-year colt Bobby Portis to learn on the fly in Taj’s absence, in the great Chicago tradition of both Gibson and 1987 Jerry Krause draftee Horace Grant.
McDermott is on his rookie contract until 2018, when he’ll become a restricted free agent. Gibson could walk this summer as a free agent, and even at age 32 (after entering the league at age 24, averaging just 25 minutes a night on his career) he’ll be a sought-after free agent addition. If P.J. Brown and Antonio Davis can age expertly at that position and frame, Gibson figures to be ahead of the game in that regard – at least he never had to bang with the 1990s New York Knicks in his mid-20s.
In return the Thunder will give up on Cameron Payne, the late-lottery prize (No. 14 overall) from the Thunder’s lone, mostly-Westbrook and Kevin Durant-less, season spent out of the playoff bracket in 2014-15. Best known for his chemistry showcased with Westbrook (at least, off the court, an improvement upon his predecessor in Reggie Jackson) in their pre-game dance routines, Payne has suffered two frightening foot fractures over the last 19 months.
The 22-year old has suffered through a miserable second season, missing two-thirds of his shots and failing to distinguish himself in 20 healthy games. He’s averaged 5.1 points, 1.9 assists and 1.6 rebounds in 13 minutes per game on his career, through 77 contests, making just 31.9 percent of his three-pointers.
Chicago, which has gone through a deadened Derrick Rose, a wasted Rajon Rondo, Jerian Grant, ex-Rookie of the Year and current punch line Michael Carter-Williams among others (your Kirk Hinrichs, Nate Robinsons, D.J. Augustins and others) in the years since Rose tore his left ACL during the 2012 postseason, figures not to have found its newest point guard savior in exchange for its most reliably productive player of the last eight years in Gibson, and a shooter who needed another chance in McDermott.
The Thunder, even if McDermott flames out again and Gibson walks this summer, have still made a bit of a killing in exchange for a player last seen missing all six of his shots from the field in 12 minutes against Rose and the New York Knicks. Lauvergne has his charms and could fit in with what the Bulls hoped would be Fred Hoiberg’s movement-heavy offense, while Anthony Morrow will hit long range shots and (weirdly) rebound if given minutes.
In one deal, Chicago gave up on two draft picks that have overachieved (Gibson) and disappointed (McDermott) to equal degrees. Oklahoma City didn’t ensure its return into the top half of the Western bracket, but in adding needed and potential-laden players, they just made their final few regular seasons months interesting in ways that move beyond Russell Westbrook’s triple-double watch.
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