In all truth, the Thunder’s 2011-12 roster will look almost identical to the 2010-11 one that went to the Western Conference Finals. Most of the moving and shaking was decided at the trade deadline when Sam Presti dealt the big question mark in Jeff Green to Boston and then promptly signed Kendrick Perkins to an extension.
Still, there are a few things up in the air. For one, the draft. But we’ll get to that later. In terms of free agency, the Thunder likely won’t be all that active, despite having somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million in cap space. Of course that depends entirely on the new collective bargaining agreement.
(In fact, just let this be a disclaimer for this whole post: It all depends on the new CBA. You know, what the cap will look like, player salaries, if there’s even a season — that stuff.)
The Thunder have about $49.5 million committed in salary next season. (Here’s where Nick Collison’s extension starts looking so stinking beautiful. Just $3.2 million next year.) Twelve players are under contract for next season. Every important core piece is in place, so really for Presti, it’s about filling in the cracks a little.
Nazr Mohammed, unrestricted free agent: He wants to stay with the team. He’s made that pretty clear. He tweeted yesterday, “For all the OKC fans that keep asking me about my free agency… My goal is to come back to OKC next season. I hope everything works out.”
The organization was definitely happy with what Mohammed contributed. He’s one of Sam Presti’s favorite players and having a veteran presence like him is always good. Especially when it’s a veteran presence that contribute on the floor too.
What it comes down to how the organization views Cole Aldrich though. The Thunder don’t at all see Aldrich as a bust or anything. Yes, I think there’s some legit disappointment that he didn’t contribute more this season, but unlike a lot of other teams, the Thunder have absolutely no problem letting a guy develop for two or three years. But if Aldrich is seen as ready for 8-15 minutes a night, Mohammed would become expendable. Aldrich is already signed and is likely cheaper than Mohammed.
Mohammed’s situation is interesting because I think it’ll say something about Aldrich as well. Mohammed was a helpful addition to the team last season and will absolutely add good backup minutes again, but it’s about the numbers as well as Cole Aldrich’s progress. Wild percentage guess of his return: 60 percent.
Daequan Cook, qualifying offer: The Thunder can extend Cook a qualifying offer of $3.1 million and make him a restricted free agent or let that expire and let him become an unrestricted free agent. Either way, the Thunder can re-sign him. I would imagine the Thunder’s going to let the qualifying offer expire and if they want to pursue Cook, do it as an unrestricted free agent.
Cook though definitely impressed the front office and Scott Brooks with his play. He persevered after a really poor shooting start and then seized an opportunity when he found playing time again in February. And not only that, but he had some pretty good value to the team. He provided a spacer on the outside and in limited minutes where he fit in, was always a weapon from outside.
Now the ideal player in Cook’s role is probably a bit more versatile player, but it’s hard to ignore the value of having a specialist like Cook. He fits in the rotation and is a quality asset. I’m curious though about Robert Vaden and the plan with him. He’s also a specialist by design and with his late season signing, I kind of wonder if he’s auditioning for this role at a cheaper price next season. Wild percentage guess of his return: 75 percent.
Royal Ivey, non-guaranteed: Ivey filled the Kevin Ollie Memorial Position (sans mustache) as OKC’s third string point guard. Like Ollie before him, he’s a terrific locker room guy, a hard working practice player and a wonderful influence on younger players. In terms of unmeasured value, Ivey has a lot of it. Filling out your roster with players like him is always smart. He only made $1.2 million last season and that’s what his number will be for this year too, though it’s not guaranteed. Obviously the Thunder needs a third string point man and I’m not sure there’s a better fit out there than Ivey, so I don’t see him being waived. Wild percentage guess of his return: 90 percent.
Robert Vaden, non-guaranteed: I was as curious about his signing as anyone else. I’m assuming it was more of a reward type situation than anything else. Vaden really worked hard in Tulsa with the 66ers and shot around 50 percent from 3 in the D-League. He was a second-round pick by OKC in 2009 and there a ton of players in the league exactly like Vaden that pushed through and found a spot on a roster. I think Presit recognized that and wanted to have Vaden experience being part of the team. A roster spot was open and it wasn’t going to be filled, so it kind of seemed like a “why not?” thing.
I talked with Presti earlier in the year and we actually spent about 15 minutes discussing the D-League and I came away with the fact that Presti really respects guys battling in the D-League. He couldn’t have been more thrilled for Zabian Dowdell who had just been signed by the Suns. And then later he expressed the same thing for Larry Owens who found a 10-day contract with the Spurs. I kind of think Vaden was a product of that. Now will he be part of the roster next season? I truly have no idea. He’ll be evaluated and will almost assuredly be in training camp with the team. If he impresses, it’s possible. But often times having that 15th roster spot open is pretty valuable and OKC tends to like to be flexibile. Wild percentage guess of his return: 30 percent.
Russell Westbrook, eligible for an extension: This is the big offseason question. Westbrook has already made it clear that he wants to remain with the team. And every indication I have gotten from the team is that Westbrook is still very, very much part of the long-term plan. The organization cared not for all the criticism and chatter about Westbrook’s postseason.
The question is, where does the number fall? Is Westbrook truly a max player? Or better, is Westbrook a max player to the Thunder? There’s no doubt that at 22 years old and coming off an All-Star Game and second-team All-NBA season, Westbrook deserves to get paid. But I’m not sure that was exactly how he was supposed to fit into the Presti Plan. He may have played a little too well.
Still though, you win with your stars and Westbrook is absolutely going to sign long-term in Oklahoma City. There may be some complicated issues that need sorting, but it’ll get done.
Thing is, Presti has to be sure to leave a little room in the end. It’s funny, because he might’ve done too good of a job bringing in talent. The long-term core of this team is Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka with players like Kendrick Perkins, Eric Maynor and Nick Collison all factoring in as important pieces. But there has to be something left over next summer when Harden and Ibaka are eligible for extensions. So while Westbrook will likely be maxed out, it could be a bit of a tricky situation.