OKC Thunder: 3 restricted free agents worth splurging on
OKC Thunder Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
The OKC Thunder could be one of the busiest and most buzzed-about teams in the entire association this coming offseason.
Not only will they be on the board twice in the first round during this upcoming NBA Draft, with their own pick having the fourth-best odds of landing at first overall, but they also will likely be active participants on the trade market in an effort to find a new home for Al Horford and, on top of everything, will hold the most spending power in free agency of all teams in the league.
With a potential total of $55 million at their disposal, the OKC Thunder will have the ability to afford virtually any player they so choose on the open market.
Of course, they’re rarely a hot destination for the biggest names in free agency, which means that, should they wish to be participants, they may wish to cough up some big paydays.
In regard to restricted free agents, there are quite a few who could be viewed as great targets for the franchise to pursue.
Though for some of these players, it may take some splurging from Sam Presti and co. to simply be able to pry them away from their current ball clubs, we at TI believe 3, in specific, are worth shelling out ample money for:
Restricted free-agent target for OKC Thunder No. 1) Gary Trent Jr.
Gary Trent Jr. is a name often linked as a potential target for the OKC Thunder this offseason and, just recently, was listed by Bleacher Report as being an ‘ambitious’ player for the franchise to pursue.
Citing his impressive play from this past campaign, coupled with the fact that Toronto looks poised to try and retain him, writer Dan Favale believes the only way Oklahoma City would likely have a chance at him is by out-bidding all other buyers.
We at TI believe doing so could be well worth the Thunder’s while.
Still just 23-years-old, Trent Jr. fits the timeline that the team’s current core is on while his two-way playstyle could fit in rather nicely alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the backcourt.
During his time with the Toronto Raptors this year, the wing posted impressive per-game averages of 16.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.1 steals on 40 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent shooting from deep.
A solid contributor on both ends of the ball, Gary Trent Jr. could prove to be a solid addition to this ball club moving forward.
Next: Lonzo Ball
Ranking the Top Five Free Agent Signings in OKC Thunder History
Oklahoma City’s history in free agency has been rocky.
Often without tons of money to spend, the Thunder’s small market limitations have led the franchise to target mainly role players via free agency.
The few times they’ve gone big game hunting, they’ve come up short with Pau Gasol famously picked Chicago over OKC for the “culture”, and missing out on Al Horford after the big man waited out Kevin Durant to see where he would land.
It’s not been completely fruitless, however. When the Thunder were in the midst of contending for an NBA Championship, they did have limited success in the buyout market, as well as nabbing a few great additions who outplayed their initial roles.
Here are the top five free agent signings in Thunder history:
(Note: for the purposes of this article only players who initially signed with OKC through free agency were counted, for instance, disqualifying Paul George who played a year with the Thunder before signing again)
5. Caron Butler
Already a veteran, Caron Butler was a buyout target of the Thunder in 2014. After things didn’t work out for Butler in Milwaukee, he joined Oklahoma City for the last 22 games of the regular season, providing an immediate scoring spark. Knocking down 44.1 percent of his attempts from 3, Butler averaged 9.7 points per game for the Thunder leading into their deep playoff run. Butler continued his hot shooting into OKC’s first round series agains the Memphis Grizzlies. Shooting 40.7 percent from deep and 34.0 percent from the field overall, Butler added 7.9 points per game over his 28 minutes of playing time per contest to help OKC survive against Memphis in seven games. His shooting numbers, especially from deep, fell off as the playoffs went on, and the Thunder ultimately fell to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
4. Patrick Patterson
Signing in the summer of 2017, Patrick Patterson was regarded as perhaps the best free agent the Thunder had ever landed while the ink was still drying on his contract. Considered a great stretch big, especially coming off of his stint in Toronto, Patterson had an up-and-down couple of years in Oklahoma City. Though his shooting numbers kept pace with the rest of his career percentages, Patterson often struggled to make an impact in the flow of the OKC offense. Playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George opened the floor for Patterson, but it also afforded him fewer chances to make plays with the ball in his hands. As a result, he only averaged 3.9 and 3.6 points per game in his two years as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
3. Nenad Krstic
Dating all the way back to the early days fo the Thunder franchise, few free agent additions made as big an impact as Nenad Krstic. Brought in during the franchise’s historically bad start in their inaugural season, Oklahoma City turned their fortunes around and finished 20-30 the rest of the year. The 7-foot-0 center gave OKC 9.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, adding much needed toughness to the low block to help Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook develop through the early stages of their career. The next season, Krstic again helped bring grit and toughness the the OKC front lines, averaging 8.4 points per game as the Thunder arrived to the playoffs well ahead of schedule, giving the Los Angeles Lakers all they could handle in the first round.
2. Derek Fisher
Derek Fisher added championship pedigree to the franchise when Sam Presti was able to land him out of the buyout market in 2012. Ahead of the move, backup point guard Eric Maynor had just sustained a season-ending ACL injury, leaving just rookie Reggie Jackson behind to run the Thunder second unit. Thankfully for Presti, the 37-year-old opted to chase a title in OKC, imparting his years of experience to the young Thunder core in the process. Fisher wouldn’t have to wait long to exact revenge on the Lakers either. In the second round of the playoffs, Fisher and the Thunder tossed Los Angeles out of the playoffs in five games, punching their ticket to the Western Conference Finals in style. Despite a rocky shooting performance, Fisher gave the Thunder 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game in 21.9 minutes of action against the Spurs, playing a role in Oklahoma City’s trip to the Finals. Though Oklahoma City fell short to LeBron James’ Miami Heat, Fisher was credited for the veteran presence he brought to the locker room during OKC’s lone trip to the NBA Finals.
1. Nerlens Noel
After turning down nearly $70 million in Dallas, Nerlens Noel signed with Oklahoma City in July of 2018 looking for a career refresh. Playing in relief of Steven Adams, Noel had two great seasons in Oklahoma City. Never a massive offensive threat, Noel brought a relentless energy to the defensive end of the floor, igniting the then-Chesapeake Energy Arena with explosive blocks on help-side rotations. The addition of Chris Paul in 2019 added another element to Noel’s game in OKC — towering alley-oops. A great rim-runner, Paul would lob passes to the rim that seemed to hang in the air for entire minutes before Noel would leap to meet the ball and slam it home. Noel’s offensive output grew from 4.9 points per game to 7.4 points per contest with the addition of Paul, proving he was more than just an athletic defender to be called upon when Adams was either gassed or struggling with a more nimble center. Unable to entice the center to rejoin ahead of the 2020-21 season, Noel signed instead with the New York Knicks for a reported $5 million, the biggest single-year payday of his career.
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OKC Thunder Free Agency Targets
Now that the 2021 NBA Draft is officially over, free agency will be the next big event across the league. After making three trades in a 24-hour period, the Thunder acquired more trade capital while also drafting four rookies and acquiring center Derrick Favors.
With that in mind, roster spots are going to be hard to come by in OKC next season. With only 15 full-time roster spots, the Thunder will have to get creative or make more moves to free up spots.
Either way, they’re projected to have upwards of $30 million in cap space after their recent trades.
Who could the Thunder target in free agency in the next few weeks?
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While the Thunder just acquired Favors, he’s certainly not part of their long-term plans. With him still being the only center on the roster under contract, taking one of the best young bigs in free agency in a 24-year-old Wagner would be a good pickup.
The order brother of recent draftee Franz Wagner, he has bounced around the NBA quite a bit since being a first-round pick himself in 2018. Wagner played the best basketball of his NBA career at the end of the 2020-21 season, where he averaged 11.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game through 11 games to close the year. He’s also a solid 3-point shooter and floor spacer for his size at 6-foot-11.
Although he’s 27 years old, Hernangomez could provide cheap center depth for the Thunder next season. While he isn’t the high-volume 3-point shooter that NBA teams like in bigs, he’s proven to be effective in limited minutes.
Again, the Spanish center wouldn’t be a signing for the long-term vision, but he could fill a void on a team that likely won’t be winning many games next season anyways. It might be in the Thunder’s best interest to keep their cap flexibility with short-term free agent contracts. Hernangomez averaged 7.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in just 18.0 minutes per game last season in New Orleans.
Lyles is a former Kentucky Wildcat who’s still only 25 years old. Last season he saw his minutes fall off quite a bit, meaning he may be looking for a situation where he can play a larger role.
An effective shooter from deep and capable floor-spacing forward, Lyles could provide affordable depth to the roster in OKC. This would be yet another Canadian player to become a member of the Thunder. In limited minutes last season, he averaged 5.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest on 35.0 percent from three.
After spending the second half of the season in Oklahoma City following a trade deadline deal, Mykhailiuk proved his worth. Standing at 6-foot-8, he fits the positionless style the Thunder are trying to move towards.
Growing into a player who’s much more than just a shooter, Mykhailiuk improved drastically on defense last season. A restricted free agent who the Thunder have contract control over, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him back in OKC. Mykhailiuk produced 10.3 points per game last season with the Thunder while shooting 33.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Of everyone in the free agent class this summer, the two players who might make the most sense for the Thunder to go all-in on are restricted. With quite a bit of money to spend, Oklahoma City could try to sign Ball to a huge offer sheet that other teams may not be willing to compete with.
Even after selecting Josh Giddey in Thursday’s draft, Ball still fits what the Thunder are trying to do. An elite playmaker and improving shooter, he would be a great addition the backcourt that includes Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Ball averaged 14.6 points, 5.4 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game while knocking down 32.9 percent of his 3-point attempts.
A cheaper option on the restricted free agent market could be Markkanen. While he’s still going to earn a large payday due to his age and upside, the forward from Finland could use a fresh start.
With the early part of his career somewhat flawed due to injury, he still has one of the highest ceilings of any young player Oklahoma City could target. Last season in Chicago, Markkanen averaged 13.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 40.2 percent from deep.
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With NBA Draft over, here is how the Thunder's roster looks entering free agency
Now that the NBA Draft has passed, the Thunder and the rest of the league will turn their attention to free agency. Teams can begin negotiating with players at 5 p.m. Monday, but most signings can’t be finalized until the moratorium lifts on Friday.
Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry are the biggest names on the market, but the Thunder won’t be shopping in that tier. As the general manager of a small-market team, Sam Presti has little choice but to build through the draft. Free agents aren’t lining up to play in Oklahoma City.
It remains to be seen how the Thunder will navigate free agency, but as the roster stands, there isn’t a ton of room to operate. Due to its trade exceptions, the Thunder is above the salary cap.
Of course things can change quickly given the Thunder’s flexibility.
The Thunder has 15 players under contract, including two first-round rookies, four players on non-guaranteed deals and Aaron Wiggins on a two-way contract. Teams can carry as many as 20 players in the offseason, including two players on two-way contracts.
Rosters are reduced to 17 players, including two two-ways, before the season starts.
As free agency opens, here’s a breakdown of the Thunder’s roster:
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Kemba Walker ($36 million): Walker is by far the Thunder’s highest-paid player. He’ll make $36 million this season, and he has a player option for $37.7 million in 2022-23. The 31-year-old point guard could still be dealt before the season. If not, the Thunder’s backcourt will be quite crowded.
Derrick Favors ($9.72 million): The Thunder received a first-round pick from the Jazz for taking on Favors’ contract. He has two years left on his deal, with the second being a player option for $10.2 million. If he sticks around, Favors might be the Thunder’s starting center on opening night.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ($5.5 million): Gilgeous-Alexander, entering the last year of his rookie contract, is in line for a big payday this summer. It’s likely to be a five-year, $168 million max extension for the 23-year-old star point guard. Signing Gilgeous-Alexander to an extension should be priority No. 1 now that the draft has passed.
Aleksej Pokusevski ($3.1 million): The 17th pick in the 2020 draft still has three years left on his rookie contract. Pokusevski started 28 games last season, and he’ll likely hold his spot in the starting five this season.
Darius Bazley ($2.5 million): This will be an important season for Bazley’s future. The 21-year-old forward had a rocky sophomore campaign as the Thunder’s full time starting power forward. He has a $4.2 million team option for 2022-23.
Ty Jerome ($2.4 million): Jerome increased his stock last season. The 24-year-old point guard shot 42% from 3-point range on 5.1 attempts per game. It will be interesting to see what role he has with rookies Josh Giddey and Tre Mann now in the guard mix.
Theo Maledon ($2 million): Maledon has already proven to be a solid second-round pick. He led the team in minutes last season as a rookie. Maledon was OKC’s primary point guard after Gilgeous-Alexander’s injury.
Luguentz Dort ($1.8 million): Dort received one first-team vote and 15 second-team votes for the All-Defensive team. He also increased his 3-point percentage from 30% as a rookie to 34% as a sophomore. He has two seasons left on a bargain contract before a big raise awaits.
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Josh Giddey ($5 million): Giddey is set to make around $5 million this season as the No. 6 pick in the draft. The Australian guard was the Thunder’s highest pick since it drafted James Harden third overall in 2009.
Tre Mann ($2.4 million): Mann, the 18th pick in the draft, will also receive a guaranteed contract for two years with a team option for two more years after that. The 6-foot-5 combo guard shot 40% from 3-point range as a sophomore at Florida.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (N/A): The Thunder traded picks Nos. 34 and 36 to the Knicks to draft Robinson-Earl at No. 32. It’s not yet known what kind of contract Robinson-Earl will sign.
Aaron Wiggins (Two-way): Wiggins will sign a two-way contract. The Thunder drafted the Maryland wing with the 55th pick. Teams can sign two players using a two-way contract, in addition to the 15 players on a standard contract. Robinson-Earl is also a two-way candidate, as are Jaylen Hoard and Josh Hall — the Thunder’s two-way players last season.
Gabriel Deck ($3.7 million): Deck is in Tokyo competing for Argentina. The 26-year-old forward was a late arrival to Oklahoma City last season, appearing in just 10 games. With nothing but non-guaranteed years on his contract, Deck’s future with the team is tenuous.
Kenrich Williams ($2 million): The Thunder acquired Williams in a sign-and-trade with New Orleans to make the money work in the Steven Adams deal. He was an afterthought at the time, but Williams emerged as a legitimate NBA player with the Thunder. He played just about every position and shot a team-high 44% from 3-point range. Williams has another non-guaranteed year for $2 million in 2022-23.
Isaiah Roby ($1.8 million): Roby flashed his versatility last season, playing big minutes at power forward and center. His contract for this season isn’t guaranteed, but Roby is likely to stick around. Beyond this season, Roby has a $1.9 million team option for 2022-23.
Charlie Brown Jr. ($1.7 million): Brown signed a pair of 10-day contracts with the Thunder near the end of the season, and the Thunder signed him to a multi-year contract one day before the final game. He made one start in nine games. It will be hard for Brown to keep his roster spot.
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Restricted free agents
Svi Mykhailiuk ($2.1 million qualifying offer): The Thunder extended Mykhailiuk a qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent. That gives the Thunder the chance to match an offer sheet Mykhailiuk signs with another team. The 24-year-old wing was acquired midseason in a trade that sent Hamidou Diallo to Detroit. ESPN’s Bobby Marks projects Mykhailiuk to make between $4-6 million.
Unrestricted free agents
Tony Bradley: The Thunder will not extend Bradley a qualifying offer, thus making him an unrestricted free agent. The 23-year-old center averaged 8.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in 22 games for the Thunder.
Mike Muscala: There’s a decent chance Muscala re-signs with the Thunder. In his exit interview, Muscala got emotional when asked why he wanted to stay with the Thunder past the trade deadline, even as he fell out of the rotation. Muscala would bring a veteran presence to a young group.
Free agents okc
Over the last year or so, there has been a crystallisation of classes within the NBA’s ecosystem. There are teams such as the Rockets, Thunder and Magic who are rebuilding for a competitive window in the future. There are teams such as the Lakers, Bucks and Nets who are desperately trying to win now.
The middle class is arguably the most difficult to define; there are some teams trying to catapult into that contending teams and some teams working out where they stand. The Portland Trailblazers are possibly the best example of a team in this class.
Portland have one of the best point guards in the sport and a decent supporting cast around Damian Lillard. However, the Blazers have not been able to make it to the NBA Finals over the course of the last five years and it is entirely possible that the Blazers have missed their window.
Free agency can be a magical time for an NBA team. It is an opportunity to add players to a team who can feasibly aid the team’s goal of winning a championship. There is very little opportunity cost attached to free agency signings; cap space is the only resource sacrificed.
Next year's free agency will be quiet compared to previous years. Kyrie Irving and James Harden are expected to re-sign with the Brooklyn Nets. Kawhi Leonard signed an extension as has Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
2022 was expected to be a star laden class that would again change the landscape of the NBA. At this moment in time, Bradley Beal is the best player who can hit the market as an unrestricted free agent.
Zach LaVine can hit free agency in 2022 but I struggle to see him leaving Chicago now they have added DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Lonzo Ball. It is clear that Billy’s Bulls are trying to win now.
There are other interesting restricted free agent options available but signing restricted free agents can be difficult to negotiate. The Collective Bargaining Agreement outlines that the player’s original team can match any offer sheet.
Free agency will not be easy next year for any teams who are planning on making material improvements to their squad. The only method of talent acquisition available to them would be trade.
I would argue that the Thunder are well positioned to make moves in this current market. Oklahoma City has liquid assets that can be used to sweeten the pot and the Thunder also have productive, experienced veterans that might be appealing for the right team.
Derrick Favors will provide strong interior defense and efficient inside scoring for any team that acquires him. I am aware that Favors had a torrid series against the Clippers but those issues arose due to the Jazz defending the point of attack pretty poorly. He is not the same player that he was three years ago but Favors is a fine backup center.
The likes of Favors, Williams and Roby are interesting enough assets that a team with designs on improving their playoff performance may choose to take a swing. In those situations, the Thunder can add talent to their roster that makes sense for the long-term.
The James Harden trade is the perfect example of a team using their cap space to acquire that sort of player. The Harden trade was complex for the fact that the Nets did not have exactly what the Rockets wanted. Brooklyn had the picks to swing the deal but they did not necessarily have an All-Star talent who Houston could build around.
To get a player like Victor Oladipo to Houston, the deal ended up involving four different teams and I would argue that the teams on the margin achieved the strongest returns. The Cleveland Cavaliers got Jarrett Allen for the cap relief that they would provide when acquiring Prince.
Indiana played their hand adeptly as they dealt the injury-prone Oladipo for Caris LeVert, a scoring forward who could complement Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon. Indiana only had to send a second round pick to Houston to sweeten the deal.
When someone like Lillard eventually hits the market, money will have to be re-directed to a team with plenty of cap space. There will also be a requirement for picks as these liquid assets are easily transferrable and allow a team to select a young player on a cost-controlled contract in the Draft.
The weakness of free agency next summer means that the trade market has only grown stronger. These conditions mean the Thunder, a team with an abundance of picks, veterans and interesting young players are well-placed to make moves within the market. There is no other team that can facilitate a trade quite like the Thunder can.
Oklahoma City Thunder 2021 NBA free agency grades for every signing
After another productive NBA offseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder are looking as though they’re finally ready to start building toward playoff contention.
In an always crowded Western Conference, the Thunder will undoubtedly have their work cut out for them next season, but with young studs Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort leading the way, things are starting to look up for them.
Coming off an active draft night where they selected Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, and Aaron Wiggins, the Thunder are now looking to build a team that’s ready to make a deeper playoff push during the 2021-22 NBA season. Especially after adding some quality depth during the 2021 NBA Free Agency period. Having said all this, let’s take a look at the grades for each of Oklahoma City’s free agency signings from this offseason.
Power Forward/Center Derrick Favors: A
Looking to add more veteran leadership and quality depth to their frontcourt, the addition of Derrick Favors was a solid move for the Thunder. His ability to rebound, block shots, and thrive in the pick-and-roll game will do wonders for this young Thunder squad. He would also provide Oklahoma City with a sound locker room presence and seasoned professional that could serve as a mentor to young stars Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort.
In their quest to return to postseason relevance, the Thunder have added a quality veteran with a ton of playoff experience who can help them build something special in Oklahoma City. Favors also provides the Thunder with a multi-skilled big which is something they were sorely lacking in their frontcourt.
Power Forward/Center Mike Muscala: A
Bringing back Mike Muscala was another great move for the Thunder, especially with his inside-out style of play that creates mismatches for opposing defenses and allows him to create more scoring opportunities for his teammates. Muscala also gives them more frontcourt depth in addition to the signing of Derrick Favors.
On a Thunder team that’s loaded with scoring, athleticism, and speed on the wing and in their backcourt, the re-signing of Muscala gives them another quality big man to help space the floor and improve their ball movement. Looking to power through a tough and gritty Western Conference next season, the addition of Muscala will definitely help them as they’ll need all the manpower they can get and with his multi-faceted scoring touch and rebounding, the Thunder will be in a good spot heading into next season.
Now that the Thunder have put together a nice young core consisting of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, Theo Maledon, and Moses Brown, both of these free agent signings have definitely been huge for them. This offseason has definitely been a huge success for the Thunder, especially after drafting Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, and Aaron Wiggins.
All of whom could be vital to their playoff push next season while adding even more youth and athleticism to this upstart Thunder squad. With all this in mind, Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala give Oklahoma City a stronger frontcourt with more size, scoring, and rebounding and will provide with them much-needed depth and leadership all throughout the 2021-22 NBA season.
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