Category Archives: Free Agency

Paul George traded to the Thunder

westbrook george
Sarah Phipps – The Oklahoman

Just as I was about to release a primer for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s foray into this summer’s free agency, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN dropped this bomb:

It was just 12 days ago that George put out the feelers that he wanted out of Indiana and was not going to re-sign with the Pacers when his contract expired after the 2017-18 season. I wrote about the Thunder’s chances of obtaining George when the statement came out. He included in his statement that he had an eye towards signing in his native Los Angeles when he became a free agent. That statement was released a full three days before the draft. The timing of the statement was no accident.  Continue reading Paul George traded to the Thunder

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Daily Thunder Rumblings – 30 June 2017


Happy Friday to all. Here is the DTR on eve of the madness we all know as free agency. At 11:01 PM CST tonight, the Thunder should have somehow acquired Blake Griffin, Paul George, and Kristaps Porzingis, right? That’s how NBA free agency works, right?

Semaj Christon and Taj Gibson made the list of buzzer-beaters for the 2016-17 season.

Well if Blake Griffin and his injured toe don’t work in OKC, maybe Rudy Gay and his surgically repaired Achilles tendon will: “The Thunder tried to acquire Gay last October in a deal which would have send Cameron Payne and other pieces to Sacramento. That was before Gay tore his Achilles after playing only 30 games. Gay declined a player option worth $14.2 million for 2017-18. With career averages of 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 34.2 percent from 3-point range, Gay figures to command a higher salary when free agency open Saturday.”

Andrew Schlecht of Daily Thunder looks at Gay’s fit with the Thunder: “Will Gay accept a role? If he is a starter at either forward position, will he be satisfied spotting up? He could allow Westbrook to be off-ball some, but it would be more of a  “your turn, my turn” than the motion offense that Billy Donovan wants. The truth is, if the Thunder can’t make a major splash, Rudy Gay is not a terrible option. The ideal situation would be Gay signing for a small dollar amount within one of the exceptions, and agreeing to come off the bench. This would allow the Thunder to move on from Enes Kanter without giving up any bench scoring. Gay could also close games at the power forward position. If he gets his touches earlier in the game, he would probably be fine spotting up in closeout situations.”

As July 1st approaches, a sobering reality comes into view if Westbrook declines to sign the Designated Player Veteran Exception: “Russell Westbrook called his teammates to the stage Monday night in New York. So up trotted Nick Collison, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson and Enes Kanter to stand in solidarity as Westbrook delivered his MVP speech. Irony oozed in Basketball City. The brotherhood was evident. So was the likelihood that the band is about to break up. Of Westbrook’s five teammates on stage, one (Kanter) is on the trading block and three others (Collison, Roberson, Gibson) are free agents, with none better than 50-50 of staying in Oklahoma City.”

Tim Bontemps looks at three small-market stars who could be on the move come the start of free agency: “But when Westbrook was asked a few minutes later about the potential of signing an extension with the Thunder, he did everything he could to avoid an answer. “Man, tonight is so important for me, and obviously with the contract and stuff coming up, it’s not really on my mind at the moment, honestly,” Westbrook said. “I’m just overwhelmed with a tremendous amount of blessings I’ve been able to get to be able to get this award. “Man, I’m just thinking about tonight, and then after that, I’ll move on.” Not the most reassuring of answers for a Thunder fan.”

When you have a good GM, openings will lead to rumors: “This does bring up an interesting scenario though. The past ten years (yes Presti was there for one Seattle season) SuperSonics/Thunder fans (yes there are a few of us out there) have been blessed with a young, intelligent General Manager. Unlike players, GM’s don’t switch teams unless they are 1) fired from one job or 2) one of the best GM’s in the game. It just so happens Presti falls in Category #2. So now the Big Fish of the NBA want in on Oklahoma City’s biggest off-the-court advantage.”

Mountain Dew unveils the triple-double breasted suit to honor the MVP.

An art teacher in the OKC school district celebrated Westbrook’s MVP win in a way only an art teacher would appreciate.

The HBO show Vice looks at the Enes Kanter situation against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

According to Yahoo Sports, the Thunder have been interested in Blake Griffin for months: “It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later. Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.”

D-Day: Decision Day for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Enes Kanter

kanter thunder

Why do people save money? There are usually two reasons why people save money. The first is to be prepared for an emergency. If the car breaks down or the air conditioner goes out, you have the funds necessary to replenish this item without digging into the budget. The second reason people usually save money is to purchase an item of great worth. Be it shoes, a house, or a boat, these are the items where patience becomes a virtue. Too many times, people head into a situation where they want to save, but end up either getting a cheaper knockoff or end up purchasing the item too quickly on credit, which leads to future budgeting issues.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been saving for the past 6 seasons. Emergencies happen all the time in sports. These emergencies usually involves a catastrophic injury to a key player or two. Having that salary cap flexibility of not being in the luxury tax is key to recovering quickly if your main player(s) go down. But the true essence of why the Thunder have been saving money can be traced back to October 27, 2012. That was the day the Thunder avoided going into the luxury tax by trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets.

On the surface, the trade has been a disaster for the Thunder. Harden finished 2nd in the MVP voting this past season and led his team to the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder, on the other hand, have seen the last 3 seasons end in disappointment due to various injuries to key players. The players obtained in the Harden trade are known as the pennies in the saying “pennies on the dollar”. Kevin Martin was a great 6th man for one season, but signed with Minnesota the next season. Jeremy Lamb was a marginal bench player his entire Thunder career and was recently traded to the Charlotte Hornets for a 2nd round pick. Steven Adams and Mitch McGary were first round picks obtained in the trade and have been the most valuable commodities from the trade. And Alex Abrines was drafted with the 2nd round pick obtained in the trade and has yet to step foot in the United States. But the most important asset to come out of the trade was the salary cap flexibility.

To the casual NBA fan, talks of salary cap flexibility, luxury tax and repeater tax concerns, max contracts, market size, so on and so forth are the minutiae that makes the NBA offseason so boring. The casual fan only pays attention from November to June (scratch that, April to June). All they see is players, their stats, and how much they make. They don’t take into account that NBA teams have to budget and balance their checkbooks like normal people do. While its true that their budgets likely feature many more commas than ours do, the fact still remains that NBA teams have to run their organization within certain boundaries. Spend too frivolously, and your organization will likely lose money.  Don’t spend enough, and your organization is likely destined for failure. Finding the balance is the key to success in the NBA. And sometimes, in that balance, difficult decisions have to be made.

westbrook kanter thunder

The Thunder made that difficult decision when they traded Harden. They eschewed paying the luxury tax in preparation for this moment. The harsh reality is that James Harden was never going to be James Harden if he stayed in Oklahoma City. He was a redundancy on a team that already featured two great ball handlers. He knew this and, if reports are true, made the ultimatum that he either get paid max money or get traded to a team where he could receive max money. The split between OKC and Harden was a mutual split. Both parties got what they wanted in the end. What Oklahoma City got, in addition to the players and draft picks that came over in the trade, was the comfort in knowing that they could safely go into the luxury tax when the perfect opportunity arose.

On February 19th, 2015, the Thunder traded Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the rights to Tibor Pliess, and a future first round pick to the Utah Jazz for Enes Kanter and Steve Novak. Kanter was in his 4th season, which meant that, with the trade, the Thunder owned his Bird Rights as he headed into restricted free agency in the offseason. In the 26 games Kanter played for OKC, he was a double/double machine, averaging 18.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He provided something the Thunder had never seen before since they moved to the Great Plains, an inside scoring presence. Kanter and Russell Westbrook quickly became familiar with each other in the pick and roll game. With Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka out for much of the 2nd half of the season, Kanter stepped in as that 2nd scorer behind Westbrook. While his defense was deplorable, some of that may have been an effect of Durant and Ibaka not being there to help him out defensively.

After not reaching an agreement with the Thunder when free agency began on July 1st, Kanter decided signed a 4 year/$70 million dollar offer sheet with the Portland Trailblazers, who were one of three teams who still had the cap space to sign Kanter. Reports were the Thunder offered Kanter $15.5 million per season for 4 seasons. Kanter’s representatives instead chose to wait on the market to see if a max contract was offered, which Portland did on July 9th. The max contract features a player option for the 4th year and a trade kicker. Portland tried to add all the poison pills they could to make the contract as unattractive as possible for the Thunder.

So here’s where the Thunder stand. They have until midnight tonight to match Portland’s offer sheet. This is what all the saving was for. The Thunder sacrificed a lot in the past to be in the position they are today. The beautiful thing about it is that they still have options. If they feel Kanter is not worth this contract, they can walk away from the table, and the Thunder would still be one of the top teams in the league, health permitting. But, if they feel Kanter is the final piece to their championship puzzle, they will gladly match the offer sheet with a smile on their face, knowing full well this was the moment they were waiting for.

The Yin and Yang of the Reggie Jackson situation

reggie jackson thunder

Overall, the Oklahoma City Thunder have had a pretty successful offseason. They signed a proven sharp-shooter in Anthony Morrow. Their draft yielded a possible rotation player in Mitch McGary. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook decided not to participate in the FIBA World Cup, which means they’ll be rested heading into the season. Serge Ibaka and his calf look good playing for Spain in the World Cup. And their young players all played reasonably well in Summer League.

One of the goals heading into this offseason was to sign Reggie Jackson to a contract extension. This past season was Jackson’s third in the league, which means the Thunder were the only team allowed to negotiate an extension for Jackson. If the Thunder and Jackson don’t come to an agreement by October 31st, then Jackson will head into restricted free agency next offseason. In restricted free agency, any team can offer the restricted free agent a contract. If the player signs the tender, then the retaining team has three days to match the offer. If the offer is unmatched, then the player moves on to the team that offered him the contract.

It’s a scenario that is currently being played with three prominent young players: Chandler Parsons, Eric Bledsoe, and Greg Monroe. Parson’s got a max contract from Dallas that his previous team, Houston, decided not match. Bledsoe and Monroe are currently embroiled in contract negotiations that may lead them to just play out this season on one-year tenders and then enter unrestricted free agency next offseason. The issue with restricted free agency is that if teams don’t offer the player a contract he feels he deserves, then the upper hand goes to the team the player is currently on. Monroe and Bledsoe both believe they deserve max or near max money, but most of the available money this offseason has dried up. The teams that do have cap space don’t want to blow it on players that are still unproven and probably not worthy of a max contract. How these negotiations play out will probably have a huge bearing on how future contract negotiations for Jackson will play out.

jackson durant westbrook ibaka thunder

If Jackson doesn’t sign this offseason, then the 2014-15 season basically becomes a contract year for him. For a championship contending team like the Thunder, a contract year for one their main players can be both a blessing and a curse. We saw last season how a contract year to a main player can implode a team (Indiana and Lance Stephenson). For a player like Jackson, all the hard work in their first 3 seasons is aimed at getting that first big contract extension. Going from a mindset of “I’m going to take these next few seasons to acclimate myself to the NBA and get better”  to “this is the season that’ll determine how much I get paid for the next 4-5 seasons,” can severely affect the chemistry of the team for that season.

Jackson has stated how he wants to be a starting point guard in the league. Be that with the Thunder or with someone else, he voiced his desire during his exit interview at the end of the season. Jackson has had to fill in for the injured Russell Westbrook on many occasions last season and for most of the playoff run two seasons ago. With Thabo Sefolosha’s departure, the starting shooting guard position is up for grabs on the Thunder. While Jackson started the last four games of the Western Conference Finals as the 2-guard, the Thunder will probably want to start a more defensive-minded perimeter defender this upcoming season. That player will probably be Andre Roberson. But if the Thunder liked what they saw last postseason, and like what they see in the preseason, maybe Jackson has a shot at being the starting 2-guard for the Thunder.

The “Jackson as a starter” narrative takes a bit of a hit if the Thunder don’t have a prominent scorer/creator off the bench. Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Anthony Morrow, and Perry Jones all have offensive ability, but struggle with creating their own shots. They are at their best when someone else is setting them up. That someone will likely be Jackson.

A contract year may be good for the Thunder, though. Contract years are known for two things: disrupted locker room chemistry and statistical anomalies. If Jackson is able to play an entire season at career high levels, he may the final piece the Thunder are missing as a championship team. The flip side to that is that Jackson may push himself out of the Thunder’s price range if he has a career year.

reggie jackson james harden thunder rockets

Whatever happens, the Thunder will go into this season with Jackson on the roster. This is not another James Harden situation. Jackson is the Thunder’s 6th man and one of the better combo guards in the league. His 3-point shooting is improving and he has shown to have ice water in his veins in pressure-packed situation. With that said, he is not James Harden. Even as a 6th man, Harden was viewed as the best young 2-guard in the league. Two seasons after the trade, that prognostication still holds true (even if he doesn’t play defense). Jackson, at this point in his career, is in the lower second or top third tier of point guards. Does he have the ability to move up on that list? Of course. But the league got the memo about a decade ago that good point guard play is tantamount to the success of your team. Since then, most teams have sown up their point guard positions. With Rajon Rondo and Eric Bledsoe likely to hit the market next offseason, Jackson may be 3rd on the point guard free agency list.

Compared to two seasons ago, the Thunder are in a much better place financially with plenty of cap flexibility. They have eschewed the luxury tax the entire time they’ve been in Oklahoma City, which means they don’t have to worry about the repeater tax. And Kendrick Perkins and his albatrossian contract comes off the books after next season. If Jackson’s situation mirrors that of Bledsoe’s this season, he may be more inclined to take the guaranteed money from the Thunder than to test his luck in restricted free agency.

There are still plenty of variables that need to play out between now and next offseason. Injuries, chemistry issues, and the performance of other comparable players have a way of influencing the marketability of a player. The Thunder are now much better suited to deal with this situation than they were to deal with the Harden situation two seasons ago. They may still eventually trade Jackson, but they’ll probably try to hold on to him as long as possible before visiting that option. Another factor that may influence the contract negotiations is the development of Semaj Christon. If Christon shows any ability to perform in the NBA, the Thunder may be more inclined to trade Jackson for assets and roll the dice with Christon. While the situation may draw comparisons to two years ago, the Thunder will probably fight as hard as possible to keep Jackson. It’ll be up to Jackson whether he wants to stay in Oklahoma City or not.

The Truth Hurts: Oklahoma City and Free Agency

OKC-skyline

Oklahoma City has taken a bit of a bashing recently as the NBA’s free agency period has progressed. The Thunder have never really been a big player in free agency, and apparently, that was by design. Going into their 7th season, the Thunder have been all about development from within. Draft well, create a culture that values development, and reward the players that can be a part of a successful core. It has worked extremely well for the Thunder. Almost too well if you factor in the James Harden trade.

But this was the offseason where the Thunder would compete a bit in free agency. Because of their salary cap situation, the Thunder were never going to be big players in free agency. They were over the salary cap, which limited the amount the Thunder can give to perspective free agents. When a team is over the salary cap, the only way they can sign free agents is through the mid-level exception ($5.3 million per year) and the bi-annual exception ($2.077 million per year). With the luxury tax line increasing by over $5 million dollars, the Thunder had enough room under the luxury tax line to sign someone up to the mid-level exception.  After years of acting like 6th grade boys at a school dance, the Thunder were now ready to get off the wall and go onto the dance floor.

But there’s a sort of awkwardness that happens whenever 6th grade boys first build up the courage to go out onto the dance floor. Their palms get sweaty, they start to stutter, and they begin to worry too much about how they look to other people. And sometimes, those fears are realized in the form of rejection and ridicule. With the draft out of the way, it became very apparent that the Thunder were in the market for a 3-point shooter. Luckily for the Thunder, there would be a crop of shooters from which the team could choose from. Players like Mike Miller, Anthony Morrow, and Jodie Meeks were all set to be unrestricted free agents.

pau gasol bulls

But then something funny happens. The pretty girl that you’d always admired from afar, who recently broke up with her boyfriend, is suddenly eyeing you as you stroll onto the dance floor. (Side note: I know the thought of imagining Pau Gasol as a pretty girl is appalling to most, but let’s just stick to the metaphorical script here.) Her now ex-boyfriend is a rich kid who is also one of the most popular kids in the school. As you approach her, she never breaks eye contact with you and actually smiles. You start talking to her, but her friends keep interrupting, saying things like, “Ohh, look at so-and-so. His dad owns a bull farm” or “Oh wow, so-and-so is looking at you. I think his dad works on Wall Street”. Eventually, your insecurities start to creep up, but you keep talking to her anyway. Maybe she’ll see you as something different, something unique. But then, as you start to build some confidence up, she drops the bomb on you. “You know, I like you and think you are cute, but I don’t think you can provide me with what I need.”

And just like that, it’s over. She makes her way to the other side of the room and starts dancing with the kid whose dad owns a bull farm. Eventually you get over it, and start dancing with other girls, but none as pretty as the first one. You begin to fear that you’ll never be able to dance with the real pretty girls.

There you have it. That’s the feeling of most Oklahomans when it comes to NBA free agency. We are learning that, while we aren’t exactly an ugly duckling, the reality is that we aren’t as rich or as big as most other markets. We are a young city that is just now starting to grow, so we don’t have the history or nightlife the bigger markets have. It’s a problem that many other teams face (namely those team not located on either of the coasts), but this was the first time it has affected us so directly. The reality is when you are stacked up against the LA’s, New York’s, and Miami’s of the world, a place like Oklahoma City isn’t really that appealing to young millionaire athletes, especially for time frame of 3-4 years.

butler fisher durant jackson thunder

 

For this reason, the Thunder’s free agency activity is more heightened in February than it is in July. While the Thunder haven’t been players in free agency recently, they have been successful in attracting recently released veterans to join the team for late season playoff runs. Players like Derek Fisher and Caron Butler have been integral parts in recent playoff runs. This is why the Thunder usually have an open roster spot heading into the season. That roster flexibility is not only important heading into the trading deadline, but also afterwards when disgruntled vets are released. Players are more apt to join OKC during this time for two reasons: 1. Older players tend to be married and have kids, which makes OKC a little bit more appealing as a family friendly environment and 2. Even if OKC isn’t on their list as prime destinations, it’s only for a 3-4 month period and could come with a championship attached.

Luckily, the Thunder haven’t had to depend on free agency to build their team. They have literally built their team up from the bottom using the draft and player development. The Thunder didn’t come away empty handed this summer. They signed their shooter (Morrow), and ironically, one of the reasons he chose Oklahoma City is because of its family friendly environment. Maybe, in the end, there’s still hope for that 6th grade boy.

Ten Reasons why the Thunder are Winning this Offseason

durant ibaka jackson westbrook thunder

I have to hand it to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not only were they blessed with the Number 1 pick in a loaded draft, but they were also lucky enough to land the Number 1 player in the NBA during free agency. Getting Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James in the same offseason is enough to give Cleveland the offseason championship, outright.

Despite what many Thunder fans may lead you to believe, the Thunder are having themselves a great summer. Many fans will focus on the fact the Thunder missed out on Pau Gasol, let a $6.6 million dollar traded player exception expire, and used a first round pick on someone named Josh Huestis. But, quietly, the Thunder are putting together a quality championship contender that may be more dangerous than last season’s team. Here are 10 reasons why the Thunder are winning this offseason.

10. The acquisition of Sebastian Telfair

There are a couple characteristics a team wants from a veteran 3rd string point guard. First of all, a team would like them to be cheap. Like, vet minimum cheap. Secondly, a team wants them to come in knowing that they are not competing for a starting job. The job application says “3rd string point guard” for a reason. And thirdly, a journeyman with a story would be a great addition for the youngsters on the roster.

Telfair: Check, Check, Check

After spending a season in the Chinese Basketball Association, Telfair turned down a far more lucrative extension to get back into the NBA. The deal is for the vet minimum and is currently non-guaranteed. That means it is basically a near risk free transaction for the Thunder. With that said, Telfair is still a serviceable player. He never quite reached the potential that was bestowed upon him for being a NY point guard legend out of high school and for being Stephon Marbury’s younger cousin, but he has put together a quality decade long NBA career.

Third string point guards usually only play in blowouts and in cases of injury. But with Reggie Jackson possibly starting, Telfair is still young enough (29) and skilled enough to be used as the primary back up point guard also. For that reason alone, Telfair is probably the perfect choice for 3rd string point guard.

9. Jeremy Lamb seemed more willing to absorb contact

Many people will focus on Lamb’s 3-point shooting (or lack thereof) during Summer League. He shot 4-23 (17.4%) from downtown. Not necessarily a number you want to see from someone you consider to be one of the few perimeter threats on the team. Take away the 3-point shot attempts, and Lamb shot a more respectable 12-27 (44.4%) from the field.

lamb thunder summer league

But the number I want to focus on is 20. That is the number of free throw attempts Lamb shot in the 3 games he played, good for a 6.7 per game average. One of the knocks on Lamb last season was the he shied away from contact too much and settled for too many jumpers. He only averaged 0.8 free throw attempts per game last season. Increase that to 3 FTAs per game, and his points per game average should increase also.

For comparison, let’s look at James Harden’s 2010 summer league stats: He shot a dismal 1-14 from 3-point territory, but averaged 12 free throw attempts per game for the 4 games that he played. When it comes to summer league, we never know what the organization says to the player going into summer league play. Maybe the coaches told Lamb to assert himself offensively, but also to work on driving into the lane and drawing contact. More than anything, we may be seeing the maturation of Lamb’s game.

8. Andre Roberson looked more comfortable offensively

Roberson was already working on his resume as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league last season. Anytime he was in the game, he caused havoc with his athleticism and length. But his offense (or lack thereof) was a liability and prevented him from staying in games for long stretches of time.

The Thunder envision Roberson as a Thabo Sefolosha replacement and even tried him out for 16 starts when Sefolosha injured his calf after the All Star break. The dream scenario would be for Roberson to develop a consistent 3-point shot, especially from the corners, while also providing All-NBA-type defense from the perimeter.

Roberson did shoot 33.3% from 3-point territory in Summer League, but only on 6 attempts. He did average 9.5 points per game in 4 SL games on a variety of drives and put-backs. The most important thing was that he seemed confident with the ball in his hands. He’ll probably never be a play maker, but if he’s able to confidently drive to the basket, that can provide some semblance of an offense until he gets his shot figured out.

The only negative was his inconsistent free throw shooting. The good news is that he attempted 25 free throws in 4 games (6.3 a game). The bad news is that he only made 8 of those free throw attempts. That is a putrid 32% from the free throw line. For someone who shot 70% from the line in the regular season, here’s hoping that was just an anomaly.

7. Perry Jones was aggressive and attacking

The biggest knock on Jones coming into the 2012 NBA draft was his motor. His athletic tools made him better than most of his counterparts in high school and college, but he also had a tendency to disappear in games and not necessarily push the issue on offense. That, and a medical report on his knees (we’ll get to that later), scared teams from picking him in the first round until the Thunder took him at 28.

Jones hasn’t really done much in his 2 year career to alleviate those fears from draft day. He’s an athletic specimen, but seems content with just being there. Instead of attacking, he chooses to float around the perimeter and occasionally puts up shots. Last season, he showed the makings of a consistent 3-point shot and also showed the makings of a good defensive player. The job he did on LeBron James in January showed the type of potential Jones had.

In Summer League, Jones finally showed what he could do when he was aggressive and looking for his shot. He drove to the basket and shot the 3-point shot well (9-19). He kept on attacking even after missing a couple of shots. If he can translate into the regular season, the Thunder may have found themselves another dynamic weapon on the team.

Unfortunately, Jones had to have arthroscopic knee surgery after Summer League. He should be fine for training camp, but it is a bummer that he couldn’t continue to work on his game and improve upon his confidence in this offseason.

6. Steven Adams was a man among boys

Steven Adams was strong and played physical. Plus, he busted out a little jump hook. Nothing really different than what we saw in the regular season. Good enough for me.

5. Mitch McGary was a revelation

I know you are supposed to take Summer League performances with a grain of salt. But, oh man, was that grain tasty. I had no idea what to expect of McGary coming into Summer League. He was coming off back surgery and hadn’t played in an organized setting in over half a year. Hell, I didn’t even know whether he was going to suit up or not.

mcgary summer league thunder

But, play he did. And very well, at that. When names like Kevin Love and Bill Laimbeer are thrown around as comparisons, no matter how hyperbolic they may be, you know you have yourself a pretty good player. A more fitting comparison would be a more offensively apt Nick Collison. McGary averaged 14.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 4 games. He shot 50% from the field and showed range out to 15-17 feet, even attempting (and missing) two 3-point attempts.

His greatest quality might be his hustle. It appears that we’ve once again gotten a player that isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, much like we got from Steven Adams last season. He shows great role player potential and appears to be ready to contribute this season.

4. The signing of Anthony Morrow

The goal all along was to sign a shooter. That much was certain when the Thunder drafted another big man and another perimeter oriented defender. Yes, when presented with the opportunity, the Thunder flirted (actually, lusted) with the idea of signing Pau Gasol. But that would’ve been a luxurious want. A shooter was always the necessary need.

The Thunder, a team predicated on the greatness of two perimeter oriented, dribble drive players, had no one on the team that shot over 40% from 3-point territory. Without a floor spacer, teams packed the paint and dared the team to beat them from the perimeter. Durant and Westbrook still registered great regular seasons, but their stats, especially Durant’s, suffered a bit during the playoffs.

Anthony Morrow

Once the flirtation of Gasol ended with him signing with Chicago, their attention was immediately turned to finding a shooter. The only available options for the Thunder were Mike Miller and Anthony Morrow. Once James signed with Cleveland, Miller going to the Cavs became an inevitability. The Thunder immediately set their sights on Morrow and signed him to a 3 year deal worth $10 million dollars. Not only is Morrow is a top 4 three point shooter in the league, but he was also signed for below market value for a top 10 shooter. The top 10 3-point shooters from last season will make an average of $4.77 million dollars next season.

3. The Thunder still have money under the tax line

Even with 16 contracts on file, the Thunder are still around $500K under the luxury tax line. Hasheem Thabeet, Sebastian Telfair, and Grant Jerrett all have non-guaranteed contracts. With one of those three likely on the chopping block, the Thunder are actually around $1.5 million under the tax line. Where this will help the Thunder is at the trade deadline. With two expiring contracts in Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, the Thunder will be able to be a player at the deadline with the ability to absorb an extra $1.5 million in salary.

2. Most contending teams got worse.

Most of the teams that contended last season have gotten worse, some significantly.

  • Miami Heat – Lost LeBron James. ‘Nuff said.
  • Houston Rockets – Lost Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik. Signed Trevor Ariza, but lost a ton of depth. Plus, there are some rumblings that the two superstars on the team aren’t very well liked in the locker room.
  • San Antonio Spurs – Basically have the same squad, but they are a year older and recovering from surgery-necessitating injuries (Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili)
  • Brooklyn Nets – Lost Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston and still feature the oft-injured Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez.
  • Golden State Warriors – May have improved a bit with the Livingston signing, but may be embroiled for much of the season in the Kevin Love sweepstakes.

1. The Thunder still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson)

With the Miami Heat losing LeBron James, it’s always good to remember the Thunder still have a young, and still improving quartet that features the current MVP, possibly the top point guard in the league, the best two way PF in the league, and a dynamic 6th man/combo guard.

 

On Second Thought

durant westbrook adams thunder

When the free agency period first began, I thought it was finally time for the Thunder to open up their wallets a little and spend on some quality free agents. Maybe CJ Miles, maybe Vince Carter. Hell, maybe even Pau Gasol. But after seeing some of the contracts being dished out, I’m starting to have second thoughts. Not necessarily about the players I want, but about the amounts needed to bring them in. Just look at the numbers after Day 1 of free agency: Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons went a bit crazy on Day 1, bringing back visions of Joe Dumars. Jodie Meeks got 3 years and $19 million and Isaiah Thomas got 3 years and $24 million from them. Shaun Livingston got 3 years and $16 million from Golden State. Day 2, so far, has seen CJ Miles receive a 4 year, $18 million contract from Indiana.

Could the Thunder have offered something similar to these players? Yes. But here are three reasons why they aren’t.

Patience is a virtue

You see this all the time around tax time. People get their tax returns and immediately blow them on big screen TV’s, furniture purchases, or down payments for their new cars. While some of the purchases are necessary, most are done because people have some extra disposable income. And when people have disposable income, they feel obligated to spend it.

Well, apparently, NBA teams are no different than people. When the NBA announced there would be an increase in the salary cap and luxury tax line, you could already see the writing on the wall. Teams that had money were going to spend it at the first moment they could. Detroit, with Stan Van Gundy at the helm, is attempting to transform the Pistons into the Orlando Magic team that made it all the way to the NBA Finals with Dwight Howard in the middle. The Pistons have already doled out  $44 million on 3 players. The Pacers, coming off a strange trip to the Eastern Conference Finals that saw them go from being the best team in the league in December to being on the brink of disaster in April, shelled out $18 million for a player that will either be their starting SG or their 6th man off the bench.

sam presti

With every day that passes, more teams will continue to blow the money they have available on players that, in all honesty, probably aren’t worth it. It’s the well run teams that wait patiently until all the noise has run its course and pick up the pieces left behind by the poorly run teams. Miami knows they are basically competing against themselves for the services of the Big 3. It’s up to them to make the smart choices on who to put around James, Wade, and Bosh. San Antonio knows that the injury to Patty Mills probably puts them in the driver’s seat to keep his services.

Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti is more of a waiter than an attacker. While teams are pillaging the free agent market, Presti is content with just sitting back and watching as teams pile on mistake after mistake onto their rosters. He knows there really aren’t that many needs on a team that finished with the 2nd best record in the NBA in a tumultuous, injury-plagued season. The cupboards are loaded with superstars and young, cheap talent. Having that in mind, he knows that he doesn’t need a homerun to completely solidify this team as a championship contender. Sometimes, even when it comes to team building, you get as much out of a single, as you do out of a homerun.

Remember last season when the Nets (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirelenko, and Jason Terry), Clippers (JJ Redick, Jared Dudley, and Darren Collison) and Rockets (Dwight Howard) all won the offseason. Well, neither of those teams made it past the 2nd round of the playoffs. Remember that as we move forward in this offseason.

Young players need opportunities

With Thabo Sefolosha likely not getting extended by the Thunder, one of the needs the Thunder faced going into this offseason was a starting SG. Luckily, the Thunder got a taste of what life without Sefolosha would be like, as he missed 21 games in the regular season and was benched for several games throughout the playoffs. In his place, the Thunder started an array of young players throughout the season. Those players, Andre Roberson, Perry Jones, and Reggie Jackson, along with Jeremy Lamb and Josh Huestis, will all be vying for the starting SG position in training camp.

durant jones lamb thunder

Now the safe move would have been to sign a veteran SG like Miles or Meeks. But with 7 rookie contracts on the roster, the time to determine who is a part of the team’s future is now. If you sign a long term veteran to the SG position, that retards the growth of a couple young players. And on a team that values cap flexibility and sustainability, finding young, inexpensive players that can fill a role is of extreme importance.

Future Extensions

Don’t look now, but the Thunder’s top 5 players are all coming up for an extension within the next 3 seasons. First on the list is Reggie Jackson, who can sign an extension with the Thunder this offseason or go into restricted free agency next offseason. From the sounds of it, the Thunder are really trying to get Jackson extended this offseason in order to avoid having him go through restricted free agency where a team may be able to offer him a deal that would be too expensive for the Thunder to match.

In July 2016, Kevin Durant can be extended and Steven Adams can have his rookie contract extended, similar to what is happening to Jackson now. The year after that, both Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are up for extensions. The success of the team relies heavily on these players. Keeping salary cap flexibility is tantamount to keeping the core of the roster together.

Add all that up, and the idea of giving a player like Miles or Meeks a 3 to 4 year deal seems almost asinine when you are pressing up against the tax. This team is all about sustainability and internal development. Splurging, even when money is available, goes against the way the Thunder is run. But what do I know? With the rumors that Pau Gasol and Mike Miller are seriously considering the Thunder, this article could be a moot point by next week.

Free Agency and the Oklahoma City Thunder

presti thunder

This is the first free agency period in a while where the Thunder, not only seem like bit players, but also seem willing to participate. For years, the mantra for the Thunder around this time of year has been about internal development. Their recent free agent grabs have been an aging vet (Derek Fisher) and a reclamation project (Hasheem Thabeet). Everyone currently on a guaranteed deal on the Thunder roster has either been drafted by the Thunder or has been traded for by them. Only Thabeet has been obtained via free agency, and his deal is contingent on the Thunder opting into it.

Before we get into the discussion of free agency, we have see what the Thunder have to offer. As discussed before, the NBA salary cap and luxury tax line will all move up this season. While the Thunder are over the salary cap, they do currently fall under the luxury tax line, which will be set at about $77 million next season. If you include the newly drafted first round rookies, the Thunder sit at 12 guaranteed contracts. Those 12 contracts equal to about $69.6 million dollars. The Thunder will be in the market for a shooter, so it only makes sense for them to lock into Grant Jerrett’s deal at $816,000, bringing the total to $70.4 million. I’m keeping Thabeet off the roster at the moment because the selection of McGary kind of negates what he brings to the table. With that said, the Thunder are about $6.58 under the luxury tax line with 2 roster spots available to them.

Any deal the Thunder do will be in the form of an exception. With the Thunder being over the salary cap, they’ll have access to the full mid-level exception, which is about $5.15 million dollar per year for 4 seasons. The Thunder can divide that among multiple players or use it all on one player. The Thunder also have a $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception (TPE) obtained from the sign and trade deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves involving Kevin Martin. That exception has an expiration date of July 11, 2014. The Thunder can use the TPE to facilitate a sign and trade for any free agent.

So what are the Thunder’s needs? The Thunder have 3 needs that can be addressed via free agency. The first need, as everyone knows, is perimeter shooting. We saw what a team full of shooters can do in the Finals. The 2nd need for the Thunder is an offensive post presence. And the third need for the Thunder is a veteran 3rd string point guard. Here are 10 options that can meet those needs.

1. CJ Miles – SG/SF / 6’6″ / 231 lbs /27 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Cle) – 9.9 pts /2.0 rebs /1.0 asts /0.3 blks /0.9 stls / 39.3% 3-point FG / 16.03 PER

cj miles

If you don’t succeed, try, try again. The Thunder tried to sign Miles in the summer of 2008, but the Utah Jazz matched their offer sheet. Back then, the Thunder were a team in transition, moving from Seattle to Oklahoma City, and coming off a 20 win season. This time around, the Thunder are a championship contender with a need at shooting guard. Last time, we signed Miles to a 4 yrs/$15 million dollar offer sheet. I’d say look for something similar this time around.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs /$11 million

2. Mike Miller – SF /6’8″ / 218 lbs /34 years old

  • Stats last season (w/ Mem) – 7.1 pts /2.5 rebs /1.6 asts /0.1 blks /0.3 stls / 45.9% 3-point FG /12.50 PER

We were in contention last season for the Mike Miller sweepstakes after he was amnestied from the Miami Heat. Ultimately, though, he ended up choosing the Memphis Grizzlies, with whom he played for previously. Even though he has the stigma of having a bad back, he played all 89 games (82 + 7 playoffs) last season at 20 minutes per game. He would definitely supply the perimeter shooting the Thunder desperately need, but would not be a good candidate for the starting 2-guard position.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs /$6 million (team option on 2nd year)

 

3.  Pau Gasol – PF/C / 7’0″ /250 lbs /34 years old as of July 6th

  • Stats last season (w/LAL) – 17.4 pts /9.7 rebs /3.4 asts /1.5 blks /0.5 stls /19.34 PER

pau gasol

There has been talk that Gasol would be meeting with Oklahoma City once he is able to. It would be interesting to see what the team is willing to give Gasol, who is probably still worth at least $8 million a season. They can only offer the Mid-Level Exception ($5.15 million) or the Traded Player Exception ($6.6 million). Would Gasol be willing to give the Thunder a discount in order to contend for a title? If so, Serge Ibaka better start recruiting el Señor Gasol.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs / $19 million

4. Jameer Nelson – PG /6’0″ /190 lbs /32 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Orl) – 12.1 pts /3.4 rebs /7.0 asts /0.1 blks /0.8 stls /34.8% 3-point FG /13.89 PER

When the New York Knicks hired Derek Fisher to be their head coach, a position opened up within the Thunder organization. It’s the position of veteran point guard with leadership characteristics that can knockdown a 3-point shot from time to time. Nelson would be perfect for that position, but the question becomes does Nelson still see himself as a starting quality point guard, or is he ready to become a bench point guard?

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs / $7 million (team option on 2nd year)

5. Vince Carter – SG /6’6″ /220 lbs /37 years old

  • Stats last season (w/ Dal) – 11.9 pts /3.5 rebs /2.6 asts /0.4 blks /0.8 stls /39.4% 3-point FG /15.97 PER

Vince Carter

With the Thunder trying to develop their young wing talent in Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, and Andre Roberson, you would think that bringing in someone like Carter may have an adverse effect on their development, similar to what Caron Butler’s addition did to the psyche of Lamb and Jones last season. But, if the Thunder are able to convince Carter to sign for about $3 million for 2 years to be a scorer/shooter off the bench, I think they would go for it. But it would have to be once other players have turned the Thunder down.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs/$7.6 million

6. Anthony Morrow – SG /6’5″ /210 lbs /28 years old

  • Stats last season (w/NO) – 8.4 pts /1.8 rebs /0.8 asts /0.2 blks /0.5 stls /45.1% 3-point FG /13.96 PER

If the Thunder a looking specifically for a shooter off the bench, in the Daequan Cook mode, then Morrow is your man. Morrow is a good shooter, but can’t do much else. He’s a sieve defensively and averages about the same amount of turnovers as assists. But if you want someone to just sit in the corner and receive passes from a driving Russell Westbrook, then Morrow has to definitely be an option.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs/$3.5 million

7. Ed Davis – PF /6’10” /225 lbs /25 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Mem) – 5.7 pts /4.1 rebs /0.4 asts /0.7 blks /0.3 stls /15.99 PER

The Grizzlies decided to let Davis become an unrestricted free agent after deciding not to pick up his qualifying offer. With the selection of McGary, signing Davis would be a bit of overkill. But as a young big and as an asset, Davis may be worth talking to. He’s shown some flashes throughout his 5 year career, but has also been inconsistent. The glut of big men on the Thunder roster may prevent this from coming to fruition.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs/$12 million (team option on 3rd year)

8. Jodie Meeks – PG/SG /6’4″ /208 lbs /26 years old

  • Stats last season (w/LAL) – 15.7 pts /2.5 rebs /1.8 asts /0.1 blks /1.4 stls /40.1% 3-point FG /14.75 PER

Always beware of players that have had career years on bad teams. The green light that these players receive on bad teams can skew their statistics. Fortunately, the Thunder wouldn’t need Meeks to be alpha male No. 1. We’d need him to be a scorer and shooter off the bench. Meeks’ seaon last year may make him too expensive for the Thunder, though.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs /$11 million

9. Ray Allen – SG /6’5″ /205 lbs /39 years old as of July 20th

  • Stats last season (w/Mia) – 9.6 pts /2.8 rebs /2.0 asts /0.1 blks /0.7 blks /37.5% 3-point FG /12.83 PER

ray allen

Allen has seen it and done it. A lot like Fisher, he’s hit big shots in big moments and won multiple championships. I could definitely see the Thunder make a run at Allen as a shooter off the bench. He’s slowed a bit, but that didn’t stop the Thunder from signing Fisher 3 seasons in a row.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs /$5.5 million

10. Shawn Marion – SF /6’7″ /228 lbs /36 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Dal) – 10.4 pts /6.5 rebs /1.6 asts /0.5 blks /1.2 stls /35.8% 3-point FG /13.78 PER

Marion’s best work is behind him, but he would still be a valuable commodity off the bench. His versatility allows him to play and defend multiple positions. And even though his shot mechanics make newborn babies cry, he still sinks his 3’s at a pretty good rate. Marion would be a great mid-season addition and not necessarily a great off-season addition based on the what the Thunder need.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs /$7 million

The Thunder have a little bit more money under the tax line this offseason, but nothing to necessarily write home about. Something to look out for though: The Thunder may go over the tax line during this free agency period if they have a plan in place to trade Perkins or Collison at the trade deadline. Remember, a team has be under the tax line by June 30th. With the Thunder’s penchant for looking for bargain, look for them to sign Miles (as a starting SG) and sign a veteran shooter (either Allen or Carter). Also, as much as I would love it, the Gasol signing is a pipe dream. Unless Ibaka says something great in Spanish and convinces Gasol to sign with the Thunder for under market value, we will go into the season with Ibaka and Perkins as our starting front court. As I mentioned in the draft postscript, the Thunder have a lot of what they need already on the roster. They could possibly just sign a veteran shooter and go with Jackson, Jones, Roberson, or Lamb as the starting SG.