Things are pretty simple for the Oklahoma City Thunder this summer. They don’t have any hope of cap space and are already well above the tax line. The Thunder have six players who make in excess of $9 million per season, with Russell Westbrook and Paul George on maximum contracts. Add it all up, and you’re looking at a team that is likely to look pretty similar to last season.
Given that Westbrook and George aren’t going anywhere, the best hope for changing the roster could come from trading either Steven Adams or Dennis Schroder. Adams is on the books for $25.8 million and Schroder for $15.5 million. Both of those amounts are enough to get Oklahoma City involved in swinging a deal for an impact player. The challenge becomes: is either player really that tradable?
Beyond this season, Adams is owed $27.5 million for 20-21. That’s a lot of money for a very traditional NBA center. Adams doesn’t have range beyond the paint, and while he’s a fantastic screen-setter, he’s not a great passer. That limits him to doing his action around the rim. On defense, he’s starting to slow just enough that teams are now targeting him in pick and roll actions. He remains a terrific rebounder and arguably the league’s preeminent banger inside, but that isn’t something teams pay $20 million plus for anymore. Finding a trade for Adams is going to take finding the exact right team at the exact right time, and that doesn’t seem to exist this summer.
In any normal offseason, Schroder would be easily moved. The $15.5 million for this season and next is something any team in the league can do. But being a point guard actually limits Schroder’s market considerably this summer. This is a loaded class for free agent lead guards. Teams with cap space will go pretty far down the list of free agents before they’d consider trading for Schroder. Even Schroder’s most-ardent supporters recognize his upward potential is around the top-20 point guards at best. That’s not someone teams are looking to trade for in the summer.
The relative immovability of both Adams and Schroder leaves it that Oklahoma City is probably keeping both players. Maybe a need for a center or a point guard arises during the preseason or in-season, and the Thunder can find a deal at the trade deadline. That’s probably their best hope.
Without moving on from either of those players, it’s very likely the roster looks a lot like it does currently. Patrick Patterson has already exercised his player option for the coming season. That leaves the team with just three real free agent decisions. The easiest one is probably Raymond Felton. He’s an ideal third guard because he’s a veteran who stays ready and is solid when called upon to play. And, most important to the Thunder and their tax concerns, he’s willing to play for the veteran minimum.
After Felton, the futures of the frontcourt free agents are more uncertain, as Markieff Morris and Nerlens Noel could easily sign elsewhere this offseason. Morris is the most likely to leave as he joined the Thunder during buyout season to help with their playoff push as a veteran off the bench. He’s been a starter for the entirety of his career and would like to find that role again somewhere else. Morris is also not going to play for the minimum again. That alone may price him out of Oklahoma City.
Noel has a player option for the minimum for the coming season, and his camp is surveying the landscape to see what other opportunities might be out there. The hope was that he would fit in behind Adams as a more athletic, slightly younger option. That never quite panned out though. If Noel gets an indication that more money and/or a bigger role is available with another team, he’ll opt out and pursue it.
Once again, this leaves Oklahoma City looking remarkably similar to previous years. The hope is that Andre Roberson can get back healthy after missing the entirety of the 18-19 season. If so, he’ll team with George to give the Thunder arguably the best pair of wing defenders in the game. In a way, Roberson is kind of a no-cost free agent addition.
Beyond Roberson’s return, the improvement of younger players like Terrance Ferguson, who started most of the year in Roberson’s place, and Hamidou Diallo will go a long way towards helping solidify a fairly thin rotation. The Thunder will need to find a backup to Adams if Noel leaves, but there are always serviceable backup centers available on the cheap. At the draft, the team will target the best player available, but a big with some range would be most helpful, as that’s a spot that is severely lacking. There is also a chance OKC will use their draft pick as part of a cost-cutting measure. They could package that pick with one of their less-desirable contracts to save some money towards the tax.
Overall, Oklahoma City's biggest need is something they can only somewhat control. They need to hit the postseason with both Westbrook and George healthy. Both players were clearly limited in their first round loss. This is where a return to health for Roberson and development of the younger wings can really help Oklahoma City as far as limiting wear and tear on their stars. In a wide-open Western Conference, simply having better health could go a long way towards the Thunder making a deep playoff run.
Guaranteed Contracts (9): Steven Adams, Hamidou Diallo, Terrance Ferguson, Paul George, Jerami Grant, Donte Grantham (Two-Day), Patrick Patterson, Andre Roberson, Dennis Schroder, Russell Westbrook
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts (2): Deonte Burton, Abdel Nader
Potential Free Agents (4): Jawun Evans (RFA – Two-Way), Raymond Felton (UFA), Markieff Morris (UFA), Nerlens Noel (UFA – Player Option)
“Dead” Money on Cap ($999,200): Kyle Singler
First Round Draft Pick(s): #21
Maximum Cap Space: None. $38.2 million over
Projected Cap Space: None. $49.9 million over