So with half the season to go, the Thunder still have an open roster spot. Will Sam Presti use it?
Well … probably not. Grabbing a guy just to grab a guy isn’t exactly a very Presti move — although it’s worth pointing out that Presti signed Robert Vaden to an NBA contract very late last season, for no apparent reason other than to have an extra hard-working body at practice during the playoffs. Vaden looked sharp in his suit at the end of the bench though and probably had a lot of fun being with the team for a few weeks. He was last seen playing basketball in Slovakia, according to Wikipedia.
And if the Thunder do end up using the roster spot, it will probably be because of a trade of some kind. That’s definitely more Presti’s style. So perusing a list of available free agents is probably a waste of time.
But it’s still fun to do, especially facing a grueling week without basketball that matters. So let’s check out who is out there, and who might be a good fit for the Thunder.
(And first and foremost, everyone take a deep breath. Before you go all “You moron, what the hell does the Thunder need Earl Boykins for?!” on me, realize what we’re talking about here. This is a roster spot for a guy who will never play unless it’s the last game of the season and the Thunder are locked into their playoff seed, or someone who will be playing in an injury-caused emergency of some kind. We’re talking about a locker room presence and practice player, at most. It’s just something that’s fun to talk about.)
A good starting point is to take a look at needs. The most obvious place to start would be point guard, simply because the Thunder are down one point guard from the roster OKC started the season with. If you lose a player at a certain position, it can be an easy choice to fill the spot with a player at the same position.
But that doesn’t have to be the case, especially when Oklahoma City already has two guys on the roster who can back up Russell Westbrook in Reggie Jackson and Royal Ivey, and two other players who can run the offense in Kevin Durant and James Harden. OKC has only one true center backing up Kendrick Perkins in Nazr Mohammed, for example. Another big man could be a better fit.
Power forward and the wing seems a little unlikely, even if KD still doesn’t have a true backup on the roster. For one thing, the 13th man isn’t going to be a guy you’re counting on in the rotation like a serviceable backup to Durant would be. The Thunder already have two guys who can play power forward, but who never get off the bench, in Cole Aldrich and Ryan Reid (and Reid could also play the three as long as you’re just talking about defense), plus a small forward who also doesn’t see the court much in Lazar Hayward. And the Thunder already has three shooting guards (plus Ivey), all of whom can play plenty of minutes at the three in some lineups.
So I guess we’re back to point guards and centers, right? That seems to make the most sense. So here are the guys I think the Thunder would find most desirable, and why.
Earl Boykins. OK, really, I don’t think Boykins makes a whole lot of sense. But I love the guy and would like to have him on OKC’s bench. He’s just relentless on the court, mainly because he has to be. He’s so tiny. He weighs less than my wife, who is a very fit 28-year-old an inch shorter than Boykins’ (listed) height of 5 feet 5 inches. Nick Collison has said before that Boykins is his favorite player to watch in the NBA because of how he gets the job done despite his physical limitations. And he’s unemployed right now. So I want him. And that’s that.
Allen Iverson. Just kidding. More of a two anyway.
Mike James. Well, James isn’t a free agent right now. But he will be soon, unless the Bulls re-sign him when his short term contract runs out. But at least James has actually played in the NBA this season, unlike the other guys on this list. And not only played, but played reasonably well with a nearly 4:1 assist to turnover ratio while shooting 46 percent. I definitely would not be panicking if Jackson sprained an ankle and it was James who got a few minutes in each half for a few games while Westbrook gets his rest.
Luther Head. The most underwhelming name on the list so far. But he had moments (some of them brutal, I know) when he played for the Rockets. He doesn’t seem like the worst choice in the world if the Thunder needed someone to at least put some pressure on the defense in practice with some outside shooting capability.
Kyrylo Fesenko. Joel Przybilla would have been the best choice, but he’s signing with Portland. Fesenko, though he isn’t the only center on this list, is the only available five out there who could realistically play for a while in the NBA. It’s a little weird to me he’s not on a roster right now, really, especially because it seems like almost any 7-footer with a pulse can find a spot at the end of the bench in the NBA. I mean, we all remember the Robert Swift era in Oklahoma City, right? Johan Petro actually plays decent minutes right now. Fesenko would be an interesting choice and can talk to Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka about European stuff.
Dan Gadzuric. OK. This is a reach.
Geez. On second thought, the pickings are pretty darned slim right now. Maybe Thunder fans would be better off hoping that if that roster space gets filled, it’s by a trade or another team’s late-season buyout signing.