For the past couple of seasons, Thunder fans have been obsessed with the buyout market. With OKC recently strapped for cash, the buyout market had been the way to acquire additional pieces to help fuel a championship run. In 2018 they added Corey Brewer, and in 2019, Markieff Morris. With this season’s Thunder in a similar position to the last few in the standings, will players be willing to sign with Oklahoma City given the fact they don’t have the star power of a player like Russell Westbrook or Paul George on the team anymore? Will the Thunder even want to sign a player?
There are a few questions to ask yourself before thinking that the Thunder should go after each and every player who is bought out.
Do the Thunder value building experience for younger players like Darius Bazley and Lu Dort over giving playing time to more seasoned veterans like a Dion Waiters or Kent Bazemore? Will the Thunder even attract buyout players without a real “star” player in their prime?
Important caveat: It’s rare that a truly good player ever gets bought out. Even if OKC was to sign a player off the buyout market, you should temper your expectations. A lot of these players are bad. But would they hurt the team less than some of the other players coming off the bench for the Thunder?
With those things in mind, let’s take a look at a few players who could become available during the upcoming weeks.
After appearing in only three games all season, Dion Waiters was recently traded at the deadline to the Memphis Grizzlies, who have already released him. This leaves the door open for a possible return to Oklahoma City, where he played a significant role on the 2015-2016 team. Waiters is shooting 37% from three on his past 650+ attempts dating back to the 2016-17 season, and could provide the bench with some additional perimeter shooting.
Many thought that the Warriors got a steal with Jordan Bell at pick 42 in the 2017 draft (myself included). After a stellar rookie season where he posted a 3.7 DBPM and 1.28 D-PIPM1, he looked to be a key cog of Golden State’s bench going forward. However, Bell’s game started to regress. His defense got worse, his efficiency fell off a cliff, and he went from a +6.8 on/off rating his rookie year to a -12.9 during his sophomore campaign. Bell was recently traded to the Rockets, and then the Grizzlies, where he is stuck behind multiple big men. Still only 25 years old, would Sam Presti be willing to give Bell a chance to rectify his NBA career?
This offseason Bullock signed with the New York Knicks, and let’s just say he’s been a disappointment thus far. Before this season, Bullock was a 39% shooter from beyond the arc. This year, he’s shooting a horrible 30% from three. His catch-and-shoot percentages from distance have dropped nearly nine percentage points from this past season. That could be because of the lack of playmakers outside of Elfrid Payton on the Knicks roster. Maybe a change of scenery and a superior supporting cast, who can help create open looks for Bullock, could put his career back on track.
If Reggie Bullock doesn’t get bought out, there’s a possibility that fellow Knicks shooting guard Wayne Ellington is the one to go. Averaging the second-lowest minutes in his career, Ellington could become expendable for a team with a multitude of other guards including Damyean Dotson and the aforementioned Bullock. Almost all of Ellington’s shots come from three, where he’s shooting a mediocre 33.3% this year. But he’s a career 41% shooter from behind the arc, so again, maybe the increased playmaking ability of the Thunder guards can generate better looks.
After being acquired by Minnesota in the expansive four-team deal that sent Clint Capela to Atlanta, Robert Covington to Houston, and Malik Beasley to Minnesota, Evan Turner is said to headed to a buyout in the coming days. Turner’s defense is average-to-good but, his game on the offensive end is one of the worst in the league. He is averaging 3.3 points per game on 42.4% TS this season.
This one is probably the least likely to happen simply because of the Pistons’ lack of available big men on the roster, but Henson would be a solid add for a playoff team seeking a defensive big. Henson’s 3.26 D-PIPM would rank 4th in the NBA, and his +5.4 DEF on RAPTOR2 would rank third in the NBA for players with 400+ minutes. Although I don’t think he’s as good on defense as these metrics say, he plays solid defense and has been great at finishing in the restricted area this season (75.4%).
Already waived by the Sixers, Trey Burke would be an interesting–and entertaining–addition to the Thunder roster. I know OKC already has three point guards on the roster, but when Burke is on, he’s fun to watch. Over the past three years, he’s averaging 1.30 PPP on spot-up opportunities, which would rank in the top twenty in the NBA this season. He’s graded out positively on offense over that same time and could be a microwave off the bench for the team. Who knows: the Thunder actually agreed to a deal with him in the 2017 offseason before Burke backed out.
The second former Thunder player on this list, Taj Gibson is playing the lowest minutes of his career this season. Although he’s not the defender he once was, Gibson still plays with a ton of energy and is a capable finisher and rebounder at his age.