Following the draft, there was a decent amount of harrumphing about what the Thunder came away with versus what they should’ve come away with. But it seemed to me the idea was clear: With Nick Collison in place but aging, the Thunder brought in a young player for the future through the draft, along with another crack at a future 3-and-D guy. And then they’ll fill the immediate need on the wing with a more proven veteran player through free agency.
At least they better.
Unless there’s a plan to re-sign Thabo Sefolosha (very doubtful) or there’s an internal confidence in Jeremy Lamb or Andre Roberson being ready to start that I’m not aware of, the Thunder are in the market for a player, or maybe even players, this July. This should be the most eventful July since Sam Presti left a max contract on Kevin Durant’s doorstep at midnight in 2010.
What’s the salary situation?
I already gave a brief rundown of it all a month ago here, with the luxury tax expected to climb to around $77 million. In adding the 21st ($1.16 million) and 29th ($918,000) picks, the Thunder have 12 players under guaranteed contracts for next season totaling $69,677,141. Add Hasheem Thabeet’s non-guaranteed contract, that puts OKC at the required 13 players at $70,927,141. (Note: I’m not including cap holds, because we’re operating under the assumption the Thunder renounce the rights to Sefolosha and Caron Butler.)
So, on the surface you’re thinking the Thunder can spend some $6 million this summer. But keep in mind, both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have escalating contracts which result in about a million a year raise, as well as the typical rookie scale incremental raises for Lamb, Adams, Roberson, Jones and the other two new guys. However, the Thunder will get $9.4 million back next summer by virtue of Perk’s expiring deal. However however, if they intend to re-sign Reggie Jackson — which they do — there will have to be some money set aside for that.
So, what kind of money could the Thunder spend?
Veteran bargain deals are ideal. The Thunder have their mid-level exception to use, as well as the $6.5 million trade exception created in the Kevin Martin trade. They have their bi-annual exception of $3 million a year. And of course, veteran minimum deals.
I keep repeating this because too many continue to ignore it, but the Thunder aren’t morally opposed to making luxury tax payments. Because that day is probably coming eventually, likely when (if!) they re-sign Westbrook and Durant to their third contracts and they enter their primes. They’re just trying to delay it for as long as possible, because that repeater tax is scary. You may think the Thunder are being cheap, but virtually every team in the league is going to avoid the repeater as much as possible.
And the Thunder are in a unique situation of operating in a small market while being profitable, which has had them paying IN to revenue sharing the past couple years. The system that was supposed to support them financially has turned against them. So the operating budget isn’t as robust as you may think.
It’s the Thunder’s last chance to do it. And guess what? Not. Gonna. Happen.
The explanation why, again: Because it makes very little sense to do so. Since the Thunder are above the salary cap, they aren’t going to be able to clear that $9.4 million and then re-add it with a new and improved player. The NBA operates under a “soft” cap meaning you can only break over it in certain situations (mid-level, bi-annual, vet minimums, etc).
Plus, Perk is now on an expiring deal, giving him the most trade value he’s had since 2011. Consider: The Suns were almost able to pull off a deal acquiring Pau Gasol last season offering up only a first rounder and Emeka Okafor, who was out for all of last season with an injury. But Okafor’s contract was worth $14.5 million, and that coming off your books is pretty juicy for a team looking for future cap space. Perk is a serviceable big man that would clear $9.4 million next summer, meaning that he has some value on the market, and he also has value to the Thunder for that exact same reason.
Who could the Thunder sign?
Let me break this down into tiers:
Gordon Hayward — Hayward wanted a max from the Jazz last fall and didn’t get it. He then expected to play out the season as the best player on a bad team, hopefully packing some big stats and earning himself a payday. Instead, he struggled a bit as a featured player, shooting a career low from the field and just 30.2 percent from 3. He averaged career highs in points, rebound and assists and was one of five players to average at least 15-5-5 last season (LeBron, KD, Westbrook and Michael Carter-Williams). He’s almost assuredly out of OKC’s price range, but as a restricted free agent, it seems the Jazz may not be all that keen on matching after drafting Dante Exum. Optimistic, but let’s say Hayward was willing to go for a four-year, $26 million deal (that fits him in to the Kevin Martin exception for a sign-and-trade). If the Thunder let Thabeet go and the Thunder are right at $76.1 million with 13 players under contract.
Trevor Ariza — Basically the same situation. But a little different because Ariza is 29 while Hayward is 24. Ariza has been on a title team and may prioritize winning over getting another big payday. He’s coming off a deal that paid him $7.7 million last season. He had one of his best pro seasons with the Wizards last season, shooting a career-high from 3. Would he be willing to sign for the mid-level to start at shooting guard for a contending team? Doubt it, but maybe?
Avery Bradley — A backcourt duo of him and Russell Westbrook would just terrorize people defensively. They’d lack size (Bradley’s just 6-2) but would certainly possess some tenacity to them. One of Sam Presti’s tenants is size at each position, so I’d place the interest in Bradley as low to start with, plus as a restricted free agent it would take a nice offer to convince the Celtics to pass on matching. They did just draft another guard in Marcus Smart, but it seems that Rajon Rondo is the one they’re shopping, not Bradley.
Evan Turner — OK, he had a terrible stint with the Pacers. But he did average 17.4 points in 54 games with the 76ers. If anything, his turn with the Pacers killed his market value, making him a candidate for a mid-level. There are some personality concerns, but that Indy locker room wasn’t exactly the most mature place in the world.
Vince Carter — Carter will turn 38 next January. But he’s been surprisingly durable the past two seasons (only missed two games) and actually shot better from 3 those last two than he had since 2004-05. Hard to see Carter holding up as the starting 2-guard over the 82-game schedule but for around 20 minutes a game, maybe he’d be willing to latch on with a vet minimum for a shot at a title.
Ray Allen — If he’s coming back, it’s almost assuredly with the Heat. But who knows, maybe he gets the itch and the Heat want to go a different direction. His next best option has to be OKC, right?
Shawn Marion — His best days are well behind him, but Marion can still play defense and has a few offensive moves left. He’s obviously not a shooting guard, but with the Thunder trending with smallball more and more, allowing him to take the best forward while letting KD relax a bit is intriguing.
Mike Miller — He picked Memphis over OKC last summer. Maybe he tries it the other way this time?
Alan Anderson — I’d classify him as a poverty stricken Arron Afflalo. He doesn’t have near the defensive chops, nor the offensive skill. He had a few games scoring 20+ last season for the Nets, and shot just 34 percent from 3. And here’s a funny thing: Sefolosha is 30, Anderson is 31.
C.J. Miles — Presti tried to sign him once in 2008. The Jazz matched and Miles had a few more decent seasons in both Utah and Cleveland. He’s a pretty solid shooter, but that’s pretty much it offensively. He has some defensive ability, but it’s a tad inconsistent.
Jimmer Fredette — Another chance at Jimmer. Do it, Presti. Do it.
Xavier Henry — A local kid that was on his way to a breakout-ish season with the Lakers before an injury slowed him down. He’s like the worst version of James Harden you can imagine. He’s an average defender and his offensive ability is most in slashing and using his athleticism. He took 1.9 3s a game last season and hit 34.9 percent. He’s just 23 and does seem to have some talent and potential. But is he better than Jeremy Lamb? Eh.
Wesley Johnson — Johnson’s value is really in his versatility. He started a few games as Mike D’Antoni’s stretch 4, and some at shooting guard. He’s got good size and athleticism, but he never has been able to really get good at one thing. He’s average defensively, an average shooting and an average finisher. He did shoot a career-high 37 percent from 3 last season.
Brandon Rush — Did you know Brandon Rush is only 28 years old? I could’ve sworn he was like 35. He’s dealt with major injuries the past few seasons only playing in 40 games the past two years combined. But he can shoot and he’s always been a savvy defender.
Jodie Meeks and Anthony Morrow — The Thunder have been looking for a knockdown shooter the past few years. They don’t like one-way guys, but as a weapon to have for Durant and Westbrook to look to for spacing, these guys are probably the best on the market.
Kirk Hinrich — The Thunder need a new Derek Fisher/Royal Ivey/Kevin Ollie. The third string point guard has historically been a veteran with so many intangibles that you can only measure him by making something up. Hinrich still has some good years left, but he’s probably headed for contracts close to the minimum for the rest of his career. He’ll turn 34 next season and would make a nice third string point guard. Plus, he’s buddies with Nick Collison.
Luke Ridnour — Also will turn 34 next season, and also is buddies with Nick Collison.
Royal Ivey — He ain’t retired yet, you know.