The Next Step: Oklahoma City Thunder

Welcome to the Next Step. Your favorite team was eliminated in the first round and now you’re sitting on your palms. What’s next for them though? Can they improve in the offseason? This series is taking a look at all eight of the teams eliminated in the first round and looking forward past the playoffs to the offseason. Specifically, the following paragraphs will be looking at free agency, draft, and other possibilities for the team to improve.

In this article we’ll be looking at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offseason. They lost in five games to the Portland Trail Blazers. It was a disappointing result for a team that had high hopes (and Russel Westbrook/Paul George). They are not in a good spot entering the offseason and we’ll spend some time talking about that.

The Draft

The Oklahoma City Thunder only have one pick in the 2019 draft: the 21st overall pick. They sent their second rounder to Charlotte earlier this year. The Thunder haven’t drafted very well in the past three years and that is attributed mainly to the fact that they have been selecting in the 20s and above. Such is the life of a perennial playoff team. A good sign though is that they took Terrence Ferguson at 21 in the 2017 draft. Ferguson started all 74 games he played in this season for the Thunder. His stats haven’t been massive but he has shot the ball fairly well and was a plus 3.9 on the season. To get a viable starter at the same pick they have this year could bode well for this team. However, they may elect to trade the pick to get out of the salary hell they are in. Let’s look at that more deeply.

Free Agency

OKC has…no space. The Thunder have $146,822,878 on the books for next season and have no clear ways to opening space. To put it into perspective, if everything stands they will have over -$4o million in space. Even if Patrick Patterson and Nerlens Noel decline their player options (the latter is a possibility, the former not so much) they would still be way over the cap. The Thunder will not be major players in free agency and they will not even be lower players. Unless they can get some players on veteran minimums or the taxpayer mid-level exception they may not add any new players beyond the draft. But there are other options! Let’s take a look.

Other

The Thunder won’t stand pat. They followed up a good regular season with their second straight first-round exit in the Paul George era. The good news is PG is expected to fully recover from his shoulder injury and will hopefully re-establish himself as a top 8 player in this league. Sam Presti has never shied away from trades and they have typically (going to completely ignore James Harden here) worked out for the team. The easy answer would be trading Steven Adams. Adams is making over $24 million a year and is one of the only valuable trade pieces they have. Just how valuable is he, though?

The center market has become incredibly over saturated and you can see that with Clint Capela’s free agency last season. There aren’t many teams that would be willing to take on that kind of money to fill the least valuable (yeah I said it) position in the game. That’s where their pick comes into play. A team like Atlanta (should they miss out on Zion) may be willing to take a rock-solid center (who would create a devastating PNR duo with Trae Young) if they got a first rounder in return. Another option is trading Russel Westbrook.

Of course, they’ll never do this. They couldn’t lose the third of their Big Three from the KD/James Harden era. They’d be laughing stocks. He’s also 90% of why Paul George stayed in the city. Say what you will about Westbrook’s play, he is clearly respected by his teammates and it has made him a formidable recruiter. Westbrook is in decline though. He has the worst contract in the league (except the corpse of John Wall) and has been destroyed in the playoffs for the last two years. He will not be MVP Russ ever again.

If they could find a taker for that contract they should do it immediately. A team that has a disgruntled star but needs to stay competitive may take it to ensure a star on their roster for the next four years (did someone say New Orleans). You may say that would never but happen but it is exactly why San Antonio accepted Demar DeRozan basically straight up for Kawhi Leonard. Beyond that, the Thunder have a couple of trade exceptions to play with, including one over $10 million from the Carmelo Anthony trade. If nothing happens, expect them to be very aggressive in the coveted (super sarcasm) buyout market.

The future is, uh, lukewarm in Oklahoma

  
Agu is a Junior at Marquette University pursuing a Business Management Major with a Spanish Business Minor. He is a Milwaukee native and somehow survived 10 years of mediocrity from his hometown team, the Milwaukee Bucks, and is now writing about them in the midst of their best season. He is new on the scene with no credentials but hopes to have a light Wikipedia page in the future.

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