By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY – While most of the teams in the NBA have a timid approach when it comes to making trades, the Oklahoma City Thunder never have been in that category.
As the 2016-17 trade deadline approached Thursday, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti once again showed he is not afraid to make moves.
Presti sent guard Cameron Payne, forward Anthony Morrow and forward Joffrey Lauvergne to the Chicago Bulls for forward Taj Gibson, forward Doug McDermott and a 2018 second round draft pick.
This was the third major trade the Thunder have been involved in since the end of last season. Only seven players remain from the unit that lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
The move strengthens the Oklahoma City bench and provides more consistent scoring around MVP candidate Russell Westbrook.
“Russell can help both of these guys, and both of them complement him,” Presti said. “I think we’re a better team this evening than we were this morning.”
Gibson leaves Chicago averaging 11.6 points and 7.0 rebounds a game. McDermott is posting 10 points a night while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range.
Gibson, who had been with the Bulls for eight years, says he didn’t find out about the trade until after Thursday’s practice.
“We were joking about (trades),” Gibson told the Daily Herald. “Nobody really took it seriously the whole practice. When (Jimmy Butler) heard the news, he texted me because everybody just left and didn’t know what was going to happen.
“He texted me that he loved me of course and he’d see me in the summer. Continue to keep doing well and go get the bags. That’s his words.”
The Thunder return back to action Friday night for their first game since the All-Star break. It is doubtful Gibson or McDermott will be in uniform when they host the Los Angeles Lakers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Lakers are still feeling the impact of the takeover of Magic Johnson, who was named president of Basketball Operations Tuesday.
The Hall of Famer met with his team for the first time Wednesday in the Lakers’ first practice since before taking off for All-Star weekend. It didn’t take long for Johnson to sell the talented, but young Lakers on where he wants to guide the franchise.
“The Lakers organization isn’t a losing organization,” guard D’Angelo Russell told NBA.com. “He wants to get back to where we were.”
Johnson led the Lakers to five NBA titles in his 12-year career. Along with Larry Bird, he is credited with turning around the NBA in the 1980s.
But Johnson might have an even tougher challenge doing the same for the current Lakers (19-39), which sit one game out of last place in the Western Conference.
Johnson’s first move as president was to trade sixth-man Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and an unprotected first-round pick. Los Angeles also showed interest in trying to pry Paul George away from the Indianapolis Pacers, but was unsuccessful.
“Everything happened so fast,” Lakers coach Luke Walton ESPN.com. “The initial thought is why do it right before the trade deadline, but Magic came in and we got to work right away.”
However, whether the Lakers made any trades or not, Westbrook really wasn’t concerned. He made it clear, he doesn’t care what changes are made to other teams.
“Like I’ve always said, I never worry about other teams,” Westbrook said. “I don’t care if the Lakers have Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Kobe (Bryant), it don’t matter. All my job is to worry about my team and who we got here and we go out and compete.”
One of the pleasant surprises for Oklahoma City was having center Enes Kanter return to practice for the first time since he fractured his forearm Jan. 26 in a game against Dallas when he slammed it into a chair.
The Thunder have been without his 14 points and almost seven rebounds a game and it has showed.
Kanter took part in drills Thursday and Friday, but coach Billy Donovan hasn’t said whether he will be available when the Thunder host the Lakers at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“Him being out there with the team, it’s just good to have him back,” Thunder center Steven Adams said of Kanter. “Just a lot of energy.”
Oklahoma City (32-25) has 25 games left on its schedule. Only seven of those are against teams with winning records. As they fight to move up in the standings, the players admitted to looking at the standings and talking about what they have to do going forward.
“We want to try and create some rhythm, some momentum going toward the right direction,” Westbrook said.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com