The Oklahoma City Thunder have been the model NBA franchise when it comes to building from the bottom and constructing a long-term winner. OKC looked like it had a dynasty on its hands, but for right now they have zero championships and only one NBA Finals appearance.
While injuries have certainly played a significant role in the early playoff exits, the pressure is on general manager Sam Presti to make the right moves to capitalize on the primes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
This article breaks down key points for Presti to consider as he formulates his long-term plan for the Thunder. It all starts this season with possible free agents who could improve OKC’s chances of a championship in 2014-15.
Furthermore, OKC needs to keep focusing on upgrading the roster via the draft and free agency for the long run. Kevin Durant hits the market in 2016, and the entire league is freeing up cap room to make a run at the reigning MVP. Convincing him that OKC is his best chance at a title would go a long way to keeping him in a Thunder jersey.
Lastly, Presti faces a fork in the road with regards to Reggie Jackson and whether to extend his deal, trade him or just let him hit the market after next season.
Free Agent of Interest for This Season: Ray Allen
There’s really only one free agent left on the market who would move the needle significantly for OKC, and that’s Ray Allen. The Thunder suffered from a lack of two-way players last season. By now, they are all off the market, receiving big paydays for their services (even average two-way players such as Avery Bradley and Jodie Meeks cashed in this summer).
Arron Afflalo’s price tag (Evan Fournier and the 56th overall pick) was so low for the Nuggets that he looks like one of the steals of the offseason, but that doesn’t help OKC right now.
The Thunder have just under $3 million in cap room (assuming they won’t go over the luxury-tax line), so there isn’t much space to make any major additions.
With no solid all-around wing players on the market, acquiring some perimeter shooting would be a big help. Allen won’t be playing 30 minutes per game anymore, and he is a liability defensively. But the Thunder—like the Heat of 2013—are athletic enough that they should be able to compensate for that.
More importantly, Allen is still a game-changing force who can shift entire defenses around his movement. Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote a terrific article on Kyle Korver and how he is “an offense unto himself” because of his constant motion and how team defenses need to game-plan for the sharpshooter.
The same can be said of Allen, who is still in terrific shape and will give defenses a lose-lose choice of not doubling Durant or Westbrook, or leaving Allen open behind the three-point line.
Rumors have swirled that Allen is planning to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers to stay with LeBron James, but Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk reports that isn’t accurate:
Allen may not even play in the NBA next year, but OKC should definitely be talking to his representatives. The veteran leadership and “clutchness” that he brings to the table are added bonuses, but Allen’s shooting could push OKC over the hump.
Possible Free Agents for the Future
There aren’t many free-agent options for OKC this season, but there are a number of intriguing players who will be unrestricted free agents next summer that could fill the “three-and-D” role on the wings for the Thunder.
For example, Danny Green has proven his proficiency as a long-range shooter, and he has the length and defensive tenacity to guard 1 through 3 on the court.
Wesley Matthews isn’t as strong defensively, but he’s a more versatile offensive threat with a surprisingly devastating low-post game.
DeMarre Carroll would probably be the cheapest option as a physical defender who can also provide the floor-spacing OKC needs.
The Reggie Jackson Situation
OKC has until Oct. 31 to reach a contract extension with Reggie Jackson. If an agreement is not reached, Jackson will be a restricted free agent next summer. The Thunder would still have some control over the promising young point guard, but the ideal outcome would, of course, be to lock him up for the long run.
Presti talked to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman about his goals with Jackson:
Reggie obviously is a guy we think highly of. He’s come through the program. He’s been given a myriad of opportunities, some by design and some out of necessity. I think he’s worked his way through all those admirably.
Generally, these things don’t happen in July. The trend now is they don’t even happen by the Oct. 31 deadline. But we are going to make a concerted effort to try to work something out with him that works for everybody. If that doesn’t happen, then we’ll pick the conversations up the following summer and see where that leads us.
Two case studies from this offseason give conflicting evidence of what Jackson can expect next summer.
The first is the number of large contracts handed out that were widely considered to be overpays. Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hawyard, Bradley and Meeks all received a ton of money this offseason, and those large paydays are being attributed to the expected jump in the salary cap once the league signs its new television deal.
With more revenue coming in, those contracts won’t look so bad moving forward. That means that Jackson might get a massive offer from another team.
On the contrary, the closest free-agent comparison to Jackson is Eric Bledsoe. Both are athletic young point guards who have shown promise but have yet to truly lead their teams for extended periods of time.
This has happened for two reasons: the limits of restricted free agency and the depth of the point guard position. Since OKC can match any offer extended to Jackson (and since any suitors could have their cap tied up for 72 hours while the Thunder make that decision, costing them opportunities to sign other free agents), it may not be worth it for other teams to even make an offer.
Additionally, there aren’t many teams that are desperately in need of a point guard because there are so many solid options around the league.
It’s hard to predict how the Jackson situation will play out, but it looks unlikely that the sides will reach an agreement before the Halloween deadline.