By rule, an NBA team is allowed 15 roster spots of players signed and practicing, three of those being required inactive players. (You have to have 13 players with the team, one being out of uniform and inactive to be clear.) After the draft, Oklahoma City will have 15 players under contract, including new additions Morris Peterson, Cole Aldrich and Daequan Cook. Add Tibor Pleiss to the mix, who Sam Presti is expected to persuade to stay here instead of going back overseas, and that puts the Thunder at 16.
So, what’s the story with OKC’s new roster situation?
First, I think it’s fairly clear that OKC won’t be playing much, if at all in free agency this summer. Presti continues to follow his plan to build through the draft with a young team that can grow together. Some had pipe dreams of Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire, but all along we should’ve known that Presti would hold to form.
Second, both Kevin Ollie and Etan Thomas are coming off the books so don’t worry about them filling spots.
Third, if Pleiss stays here, he’s almost certainly destined for a full season in the D-League, and I’m sure Byron Mullens will spend a hefty amount of time there too. So that frees two “spots” in terms of the inactive issue, but those roster spots are still occupied by those players on the overall roster. So while they might be in the D-League, OKC still claims them as part of its roster. But if Pleiss chooses to stay in Europe another year, OKC can keep Peterson or sign Latavious Williams instead. But regardless of that, I think Peterson is getting bought out, just to have the roster flexibility. Presti likes that stuff.
And fourth, Kyle Weaver and D.J. White can’t be sent back down to Tulsa anyway. Rules state only first and second year players can be sent down. So they’ve got to find a spot on the active 15-man roster or find other work. D-League rules only allow two NBA contract players at a time to be in the D-League at a time, so Pleiss and Mullens would fill that. OKC can get around things by having the 66ers sign Latavious Williams and then if a call-up is necessary, sign him then. It’s all very complicated you see.
So what happens right now? The Thunder have too many people and not enough spots. The obvious thing is that both D.J. White and Kyle Weaver may be looking for work soon. With their time up for D-League action, they’re either going to have to prepare to wear a suit all year or hope for an injury to crack the active roster. Another option, which looks more likely, is Morris Peterson’s $6.2 million contract is bought out, which frees up a roster spot. At this point, there’s no room for him anyway which the addition of Daequan Cook. Obviously Cook could get the adios instead, but I think Presti wants to keep him.
The Roster Locks
Tibor Pleiss (assuming he stays here)
The Maybe Nots
Including the locks and the probably players, that’s 15 spots on the dot. Mullens could go to the D-League for the season along with Pleiss and Weaver and White could rotate between that 13th inactive man. But if Peterson isn’t bought out, then things would get complicated. Another player has to be cut and is that White or Weaver? That’s why I think it’s pretty clear that Peterson’s contract will get swallowed. Latavious Williams probably won’t get a deal from the Thunder but instead the 66ers, as will Reid, if he gets one at all (seriously, what sense did this pick make?).
This is why it made little sense for the Thunder to use all three first round pick, or even just two. What would the Thunder do with these guys? Other players would have to be cut or bought out and it would take a lot of shuffling to find room for everyone. Besides, the roster is pretty much stocked as it is. The Thunder doesn’t need more players. They just need players to develop.
Also, what about the depth chart? Here’s an early rough draft (inactive players in bold):
PG: Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor
SG: Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden, Daequan Cook, Kyle Weaver
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Jeff Green, Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, D.J. White
C: Nenad Krstic, Cole Aldrich, Byron Mullens, Tibor Pleiss
Obviously some players there are very interchangeable (Green to small forward, Ibaka to center and so on). The other obvious question is, where does Aldrich fit in? Scott Brooks has already said he prefers a nine-man rotation. Can Aldrich take time away from Nick Collison or Serge Ibaka? Obviously no, so either Brooks will have to cut minutes for someone, not play Aldrich much at all or expand to a 10-man rotation. And I assume Daequan Cook will at least see some time early on for a chance. So we might even see 11 players in a rotation at some point.
The thing people need to understand about picking Aldrich is that he’s truly the only candidate that helps the Thunder now. Unless Oklahoma City moved into the top five, the Thunder weren’t going to find anyone that could find minutes next year. Everything else was a project. And the thing about Aldrich is that he’s a different piece than anything OKC’s got inside. Yes, I preferred a big man that had back-to-the-basket ability, but Aldrich is a player that can specifically dedicate his existence to rebounding, setting picks, making sharp outlet passes, pushing on big bodies inside and protecting the rim. OKC doesn’t have a single great individual rebounder. Aldrich can be that.
The Thunder will have to make some kind of transaction before October to clear space on the roster. The question is, how does the organization view some of these guys? Are there still hopes for Kyle Weaver to turn into a player you want to keep? He’s a great practice player, but is he worth it? And what about Aldrich? Does he take minutes from Nenad Krstic? Does he eventually start over Krstic by the end of the season?
These are the questions will start to see answered by the time training camp rolls around next year. Heck, right now the trade isn’t even official yet. The Thunder’s definitely not done transacting, but I wouldn’t count on anything major the rest of the way. Except for when KD signs his extension. That’ll be a pretty big deal.