By JEFF LATZKE
OKLAHOMA CITY — With Reggie Jackson taking over as the backup to All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder shipped free-agent-to-be Eric Maynor to Portland on Thursday and picked up a trade exception to use during the offseason or early next season.
Oklahoma City also attempted to bolster its backcourt for the rest of this season by sending a 2014 second-round draft pick to New York for Ronnie Brewer, a frequent starter who has been on playoff teams five of his first six years in the NBA.
The Thunder have the second-best record in the Western Conference, despite losing three games in a row.
“I think the addition of Ronnie Brewer and the versatility he brings, his understanding of winning basketball certainly helps us, and we were able to do that without disrupting our core playing group at present,” general manager Sam Presti said in a phone interview. “We want to try to maximize those opportunities in the present. At the same time, the trade exception is something that we’re going to look at strategically going forward.
“So, I feel like we helped ourselves in the present and also put ourselves in position to try to capitalize on something in the future.”
The Thunder, already near the NBA’s salary cap with Kevin Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and others under long-term contracts, were unlikely to re-sign Maynor at the end of the season and were able to get back a trade exception for his approximately $2.4 million salary that they will be able to keep for one calendar year.
Oklahoma City also got the rights to Greek forward Georgios Printezis, who hasn’t played in the NBA after being picked by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the 2007 draft. He currently plays for Olympiacos in the Euroleague.
Brewer, however, could make an immediate impact if he can find a spot in the Thunder’s rotation that already features Durant, defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha and sixth man Kevin Martin on the wing. Training camp invitee DeAndre Liggins has earned minutes as a defensive stopper in recent weeks, and that role could shift over to Brewer.
Presti said the decision on when Brewer would play will fall to coach Scott Brooks.
“He brings in a defensive mindset, versatility in regards to defending different positions. He’s played for a number of programs that we have a great deal of respect for and has been a part of winning, which we value in him as a player,” Presti said. “And he’s another high-character individual that we feel will fit very well with our current group.”
Brewer has played in 10 playoff series in his career with Utah and Chicago, winning five. He started 34 of the Knicks’ first 35 games this season before being shifted out of the rotation following Iman Shumpert’s return.
“He has started about 300 games with those teams, and those teams are highly competitive. So, I think what it indicates is he really understands how to fit into a group, how to find a way to impact winning and I think he really embraces that,” Presti said.
The deals fit in with a relatively calm trade deadline around the NBA, with teams focused on avoiding harsher penalties for going over the salary cap under the new collective bargaining agreement. Those include financial penalties under the luxury tax but also limits on flexibility in roster moves.
The trade exception provides another tool that could prove useful in such an environment.
“I think having a trade exception or additional draft picks, things of that nature have certainly become more valuable in the new system,” Presti said. “I think everybody’s still trying to determine the best way to proceed within the new CBA.
“At this juncture, I think it’s clear that team-building mechanisms and tools to do so are important.”
To get it, Oklahoma City gave up Maynor, who had been a reliable backup to Westbrook over his first two seasons in Oklahoma City, ranking among the top 10 in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. He missed almost all of last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, but regained his spot in the Thunder rotation during training camp before getting replaced by Jackson in mid-December.
Maynor has played sparingly since, mostly in mop-up duty. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
His departure means Oklahoma City has only two established point guards on the roster.
“That’s definitely something that we’re going to evaluate in the coming days, and we’ll do that,” Presti said. “In the meantime, we’re very confident in the group that we have.”