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.
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.
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.
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.