The season is over, which is kind of hard to come to grips with at this point. No more trips to The Peake, no more white knuckle nights on the couch. But in a lot of ways, it just means a new fun begins.
The offseason is its own animal, where speculation and conjecture can rule all, as constant conversation of a spot-up shooter or some freshman power forward take over your hopes and dreams. For the first time in a couple years, the Thunder are headed for a fairly fascinating offseason, with some holes to fill and spots available. Here are five early thoughts on it:
1. What’s the money situation?
Big news came out in late April with the projected salary cap climbing up to $63.2 million, meaning the luxury tax threshold is expected to come in at $77.0 million. The Thunder have 10 players under guaranteed contracts for next season totaling about $68 million. But because of cap holds, it’s really about $78 million. (The Thunder can get most of that $10 million back though, by renouncing their rights to Thabo Sefolosha, Caron Butler and Derek Fisher. Here’s an explanation of how cap holds work. They two have two first round draft picks which are guaranteed contracts to add on to the bottom line, totaling about $2.5 million.)
By virtue of their deals, both Westbrook and Durant are due about a million dollar raise each, with all the guys on rookie scale deals getting ones too. So if the tax figure comes in where it should, the Thunder could have something like $5-7 million to use in free agency while still remaining under the tax. They have to fill three spots — again, they have two picks — but one of those could be Hasheem Thabeet (his deal is non-guaranteed), or Grant Jerrett. Or there’s the chance that either Tibor Pleiss or 2013 second round pick Alex Abrines could find their way on to the roster, but that’s pretty unlikely considering Pleiss signed a four-year deal in Spain in 2012, and Abrines is still a pretty raw 20-year-old. (Pleiss and Abrines both have NBA buyout clauses in their contracts, though.)
And there’s also this complication with spending money this offseason: For the 2015-16 season, the Thunder have $47 million committed to just Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka. They’re headed for the luxury tax eventually, and are trying to hold off on becoming repeaters to avoid the harsher penalty.
The Thunder could use their full mid-level exception on a player and likely remain under the tax, but the question is, who’s worth it? Making a quality restricted offer to Avery Bradley would be good, but the Celtics will surely match. Vince Carter? C.J. Miles? Shawn Marion? Evan Turner? Anthony Morrow? P.J. Tucker? Trevor Ariza? All are worth some consideration, but not for significant dollars.
2. What happens with Thabo Sefolosha? He sounded like a man fully aware he’s played his last game in a Thunder uniform. He’s an unrestricted free agent, and while just 30, the way his 2013-14 season went, it seems like his most effective days might be behind him. He shot just 31.6 percent from 3 on the season and hit only a total of 48 from deep, fewer than half he hit the year before. His defense appeared to slip some, and eventually he saw himself benched in two different playoff series. He was really effective in a couple games against the Clippers, but overall, he wasn’t near the 3-D impact player he has been.
Thabo signed a four-year, $14 million deal in 2009, which honestly was a pretty great contract. With the way his season went, it’s hard to imagine anyone giving him even that much per season, but if he was willing to take a severe paycut (something a little more than the veteran minimum), the Thunder could use him back. Shooting guard is an open position for the team right now, with now sure answer set to replace Sefolosha currently on the roster. Andre Roberson is clearly being groomed to be Thabo 2.0, but he can’t hit a corner 3, much less not hit the side of the backboard with it. Jeremy Lamb could potentially be starter material, but that would be quite the significant step. Starting Reggie Jackson is a decent plan, but now the Thunder’s second unit looks painfully weak, and over an 82-game schedule, you don’t want to be dragging around a bad bench.
3. What happens with Perk? The Thunder aren’t amnestying him this summer, so I’d go ahead and forget about that. I’ve gone over the reasons why the amnesty for Perk doesn’t make sense before, but now it especially doesn’t with his contract expiring next season. He has as much trade value as ever — consider: Emeka Okafor, who was out all of last season, was almost enough for the Suns to land Pau Gasol by virtue of his expiring deal plus a pick — and as long as he’s used the right way, isn’t bad to have on the team regardless.
Perk called this offseason the biggest of his career, noting that he’s headed for unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career, but along with that, he can see the same thing we all do. Steven Adams is coming for his spot and his minutes.
4. What’s the draft plan? On one hand, do the Thunder really need to bring in two more young players to develop? They took two in the first round last season, and have a stable of kids on the bench in Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Andre Roberson and Grant Jerrett. What good are two more?
Then again, there’s no better contract in the NBA than an effective player on a rookie scale deal. They’re cheap, and they have major trade value. The Thunder place a priority on maintaining youth and assets, so I wouldn’t expect them to deal their picks for a veteran player on draft night. Maybe to move up into the lottery? Yeah, I could see that. But Presti values his picks greatly. Remember: Reggie Jackson was the 24th overall pick. Serge Ibaka was as well. And Roberson, who might have a future in the rotation, was the 26th. Everybody wants veteran free agents, but the Thunder prefer to roster build through the draft.
5. What are the Thunder’s primary needs? Shooting guard. Power forward. Backup point guard (maybe).
With Thabo likely gone, the Thunder have an obvious hole that needs filling, and unless Lamb or Jackson is ready for it (Roberson isn’t), they’re going to need to sign a veteran to do it. They tried to trade for Iman Shumpert at the deadline last season — which would’ve been pretty perfect — so think of someone like him. Or him.
At power forward, Nick Collison will turn 34 next season and only has a year left on his deal. Jones could be power forward material possibly, but his natural fit seems to be as a stretch 4, or small forward. So there’s a depth issue here behind Ibaka.
And at point guard, Fisher is expected to retire, and Jackson will be a restricted free agent next summer, assuming the Thunder don’t reach a contract extension with him. He’s already said he wants to be a starter, and unless him and Westbrook figure out how to co-exist in the backcourt as starters, he’s not going to get that chance in OKC.
What the Thunder have ahead of this summer are big questions. But here’s the good news: They have plenty of options, and a good amount of flexibility. Obviously re-signing Harden would’ve been great, but the overlooked bonus to not is that the Thunder maintained both. They can shop the free agent market, move up in the draft, move out of the draft altogether or use both picks. They have a chance to improve the roster quite significantly this summer, and for the first time really ever, there’s an actual need to do it.