The OKC Thunder earn a useful weapon in perceived salary dump

Davis Bertans #44 of the Dallas Mavericks (Photo by Amanda Loman/Getty Images)
Davis Bertans #44 of the Dallas Mavericks (Photo by Amanda Loman/Getty Images) /

The Oklahoma City Thunder once again made a Draft Night trade. During the hustle and bustle of the first round, OKC Thunder General Manager kept his streak intact. In each draft since 2019, Presti has made a trade during the NBA Draft. On Thursday, the Oklahoma City Thunder made a deal with the Dallas Mavericks to bring Cason Wallace and Davis Bertans to Bricktown.

Sam Presti explained this move during Saturday’s Rookie Press Conference, mentioning the plan each year is to acquire the highest pick they can. This year, that was a two-spot jump to pick 10. Presti explained that he and Mavericks General Manager Nico Harrison were in contact for about a week on the framework before it worked out on Thursday.

The OKC Thunder traded for a top-ten pick, but the perceived salary dump could be a helpful asset.

The official trade ends with the Mavericks sending the tenth pick (Cason Wallace) and Davis Bertans to Oklahoma City for the 12th pick (Dereck Lively II), with Dallas earning a traded player exception.

Davis Bertans is on a massive contract worth 17 million dollars next season and up to 16 million dollars in 2024-25. However, if Bertans fails to play in 75 percent of his games next season, the power forward can be waived for just five million dollars following the 2023-24 season.

While many look at Bertans as a salary dump, and for Dallas, he is, for the Oklahoma City Thunder, they could turn the odds on the casino.

For the Dallas Mavericks, who have a thin roster and needed cap flexibility to fix it as they try to capitalize on a championship window around their two stars, Bertans was a liability. He could not play on the defensive end of the floor, and Dallas did not have the time or money to blow while waiting for that five million dollars out.

A 30-year-old vet who only plays 11 minutes a night and ranks in the bottom six percentile on defense according to synergy is not a luxury Dallas could afford, but OKC can.

The Thunder do not need Bertans to be a top-notch player, to be featured in the rotation, or even to show up frankly. And while Sam Presti might cut Bertans, trade him, or even ask him not to report, let’s look at the most likely case scenario and how this could play out.

The most likely case scenario is Davis Bertans reports to Bricktown, is a spot player for Mark Daigneault, and then goes the way of the glass bottled milk come next July. In the meantime, Bertans is a flame thrower on a team that lacks shooting.

Daigneault will still trot out 10-12 players a night, and the OKC Thunder still need Bertans to play in 74 percent or less of games, so there is no worry that the power forward being on the roster will cut into developmental minutes.

However, Mark Daigneault has been able to extract some value from every player Presti hands him during his tenure as Thunder bench boss (which is quite the compliment), and I expect Bertans to be no different.

Even in Dallas, the Latvian only averaged 11 minutes, and in that time frame, he put on a shooting clinic turning in 38 percent on the catch-and-shoot, 50 percent on corner threes, and 38 percent on non-corner triples. This ranks Dallas in the 99th percentile as a spot-up scorer and 94th percentile coming off screens.

That is useful for this OKC Thunder offense, especially for a player that will spend more time on the bench than in the lineup. A typical game for Bertans will be playing five to ten minutes, seeing if he can capitalize on a few corner catch-and-shoot looks, and calling it a night. The vast majority of the time, he will be riding the pine.

Though, with Mark Daigneault’s ability to get the most out of players, including hiding those with defensive limitations, this is a luxury the OKC Thunder could afford. They were not going to spend money in free agency anyways; as they entered Draft Night with top-ten in the league cap space, they essentially bought the chance to move up two slots and ensure they got their guy in Cason Wallace, especially with reports of the Raptors lurking in shadows to leap up to the 11th pick to nab Wallace according to ESPN’s Jeremy Woo.

Ultimately, Davis Bertans could stay or go. He could be involved in a trade thanks to his salary matching ability, he could be bought out, flipped at the deadline, or just slow played all year buying time for his eventually 2024 offseason release. Though, I lean closer to him providing some value than not.

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