I wrote a thing for ESPN.com about the Thunder and their free agent approach.
One thing I didn’t stress a lot in it that I do want to rehash here: The free agent market is extremely volatile. Which makes it difficult for a team like the Thunder, who are operating within a specific confine, to compete. Jodie Meeks got $19 million over three years. Ben Gordon just got $9 million over two. Gordon Hayward might get a max deal. Teams are all out on the market hunting for players to give their money to and when you’re a team like the Thunder that already has about 70 percent of it committed to three guys, it makes it tough.
And just because the Thunder aren’t splashing about for big name players, looking to drop a full mid-level on someone, it doesn’t mean they aren’t shopping. They’ve indeed reached out to Pau Gasol and Mike Miller, as Marc Stein reported. They went after C.J. Miles already, but he picked Indiana. They’re going to talk with Vince Carter and a couple other players. They’re not just sitting on their hands with a plan to start Andre Roberson.
But they’re also not going to overextend. What the Thunder have given themselves the option to do, unlike so many other teams that are shelling out contracts they’re likely to regret in a couple years (Marcin Gortat got $60 million over five years?!), Presti can remain extremely selective and patient. He doesn’t have much leverage, but what he does have is the ability to say no thanks. He doesn’t have to play financial hardball and compete out in the open market for a signature. If a player wants to join the Thunder, and proves it with the money and years he’s willing to take, Presti’s ready. If not, he’s not chasing contracts.
I realize that can be a frustrating approach for fans that have an insatiable hunger to win now. And the appearance is “patient” means you’re not trying. I get that, and sympathize. I feel it too. The Thunder have an opportunity to improve upon an already tremendous team with the hopes to get to another level. But if they do nothing, they’re still trotting out a team with a chance to compete for a championship next season. Don’t forget that part.
It’s all about patching up the little things. The Thunder have already taken care of the big stuff. They have a Kevin Durant. They have a Russell Westbrook. They have a Serge Ibaka. They have bench stud in Reggie Jackson. If they didn’t have those things, they’d be looking for them. It’s the specialists and exterior pieces like shooters and wing defenders that they’re looking for. And when you’re shopping in that market, you can remain selective. And disciplined.
Presti of course wants to win now, but he’s not as concerned as 2016 as you are. He can’t operate under the assumption Durant will leave him if they don’t win a title. Because if he gambles to try and win KD’s affection in the present and compromises the team the Thunder will have in 2017, 2018 or 2019, Durant’s no dummy. The best way to keep Durant is to make sure that all the ducks are in a row come 2016 and Presti can put the best possible contender on the floor then.
One way that starts is in keeping a player like Reggie Jackson. It’s complicated there, because of Jackson’s apparent desire to start. And with the market bearing out big deals for good-not-great players, it doesn’t look so promising for Jackson’s restricted free agency. There’s a strong likelihood some GM with cap space is going to get a bit too amped and drop a max offer sheet on him. It might sound crazy, but Gordon Hayward is looking at a monster payday.
I’m pretty confident the Thunder are going to sign someone. But then again, they tried real hard to last summer but couldn’t get Dorell Wright or Miller to comply with their financial constraints then. Maybe things will change this July, maybe Pau Gasol would be happy to take a bi-annual deal of two years, $6 million. If not, the Thunder can walk away feeling fine about the place they’re still sitting. They’re not nearly as desperate as you might feel.