For the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 2010 draft will go down as one in which the front office engineered trades and maneuvered to find pieces they hope will fit the future plans of 2010 NBA Coach of the year, Scott Brooks, and build on the success the fledgling franchise had this past season.
This draft was more than a way to build around a young core of players; it was about impressing Kevin Durant, the only superstar free agent that no one is talking about. Durant is expected to sign a max deal on July 1st, but Thunder general manager, Sam Presti would be remiss if he thought he could coast through this draft without wooing his 2010 All-Star by drafting young talent to prove the organization is taking steps toward a championship.
Presti made a strong statement to Durant and Thunder fans by taking the highly talented and controversial guard from the University of Kentucky with the 18th overall pick.
No, not that Kentucky guard, the other one.
Still on the board at eighteen, Eric Bledsoe was a bargain for the Thunder and will help shore up a back court that by all accounts overachieved and was highlighted by the outstanding play of former UCLA guard, Russell Westbrook.
Bledsoe will add a perimeter shooting threat and the ability to play well off the ball to help exploit the one-on-one talent of Kevin Durant and Westbrook in isolation and has demonstrated the quick feet and active hands needed to play in the N.B.A.
The addition of Bledsoe also gives more flexibility to Thunder rotation, allowing James Harden to move seamlessly between the shooting guard and small forward positions while still being a spark off the bench for the Thunder as an ideal sixth man.
Presti and his team of coaches, scouts and big board assistants made several quick decisions including trading the 21st pick, Craig Brackins from Iowa State University and 26th pick Quincy Pondexter from the University of Washington, to the New Orleans Hornets for veteran shooting guard Morris Peterson and the 11th overall pick Cole Aldrich from the University of Kansas.
The trade will not be official until the new salary cap goes into effect on July 8th, 2010.
Peterson is a nine year pro out of Michigan State. He averaged 7.1 points per game and 2.7 rebounds per game in 2009-2010 for the Hornets. He adds experience and depth to a team that is in desperate need of both.
Aldrich has shown the ability to rebound in traffic and his finesse around the offensive end helped him to average 11.3 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game and 3.5 blocks a game as a junior at Kansas.
At 6′11″ 245lbs, his frame leaves something to be desired in weight, questioning whether he can withstand the physical nature of an 82 game N.B.A. season. Aldrich will join Kansas alum and power forward Nick Collison and look to contend with Nenad Kristic and Serge Ibacka and last year’s 24th overall pick, Byron Mullens, at the center position.
There is a combined seven years of N.B.A. experience among the four players expected to play at center, with five of those years owned by Kristic. With the development of Bledsoe, the youth in the middle of the Thunder front court will be interesting. Aldrich will be expected to step up quickly and Mullens is likely to be thrown into the fray after a year of careful tutoring under head coach, Scott Brooks.
The Thunder also drafted Magnum Rolle, a center out of Louisiana Tech with the 51st pick and obtained the rights to New Jersey Nets 31st overall pick Tibor Pleiss, a center out of Germany, after a bizarre trade between the Nets and Atlanta Hawks took place involving 27th overall pick Jordan Crawford and 24th overall pick Damon James, further adding to their crowded low post.
Going into the free agency period the Thunder are not short of big men.