Suns land defensive-minded Darius Bazley in trade with Thunder for Dario Saric

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Just as Oklahoma City let squad starter Mike Muscala go off to Boston, the Thunder have now traded Darius Bazley to Phoenix in exchange for foward Dario Saric and a second-round pick just an hour before the trade deadline yesterday. 

Bazley, who up to last night was the Thunder’s longest-tenured player, was drafted by his former team with the 23rd pick in the 2019 draft. He was already a part of the squad even before Lu Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, which now are the only two players remaining from Oklahoma’s 2019-20 playoff team.

The 22-year-old was a regular starter for many important moments for the franchise, starting in 118 out of 221 games over the course of his four seasons. This season especially, he’s seen his role diminished as the Thunder became a stronger team each year and invested in better players.

This campaign at Oklahoma he’s been on court 36 games times so far, and is averaging 5.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in 15.4 minutes. One of his best performances of the season was arguably last month’s Thunder victory over the Chicago Bulls.

Check out Bazley’s highlights as he dropped 14 points, won 4 rebounds and stole the ball three times:

The Oklahoma side decided to trade the 22-year-old rather than letting him reach restricted free agency this summer. Although the Thunder management considered to re-sign Bazley, they finally preferred to exchange him for a second-round pick and not let him walk for free.

In Phoenix, Bazley will reunite with Chris Paul, a player who mentored the youngster as he took his first steps as a Thunder player.

Saric, on the other hand, has been a pro for seven years already, as the Croatian was the 12th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and has played for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The 28-year-old had suffered a torn ACL last season and unfortunately missed the entire tournament. This campaign he got back on track and has averaged 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 37 games for the Phoenix.

It’s still unclear if Saric will remain on Thunder’s roster, as the player currently earns $9.2 million on an expiring contract.

The Thunder will have to deal the rest of the season without Muscala

Earlier Thursday, Oklahoma City traded center Mike Muscala to the Boston Celtics for Justin Jackson and two second-round draft picks. His former squad will surely miss the sharpshooter for the remainder of regular season.

A few of our favorite sport betting sites consider that the Thunder possesses only the 22nd best chances (+30000) to win the league this year, a completely different reality than the Suns who most sportbooks believe now are the second favorites (+450) as they traded in star Kevin Durant. Will the Oklahoma side qualify for playoffs without Muscala and Bazley?

Bazley will also be a missed in Oklahoma as more than his offensive qualities, his defense at times has been elite. The 6-foot-8 power foward was the Thunder’s most versatile defender, guarding every position from center to point guard.