OKC Thunder: Why free agency could be more of a slow burn in Oklahoma City
Buckle up, basketball fans. NBA free agency begins in less than a week, and it promises to be a crazy ride.
The league’s website lists 226 players who are free agents of one kind or another. A few of them have announced retirements, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade most notable among them. A few others are already off the market, having picked up a player option or having had their team pick up an option on them.
That still leaves a bunch of free agents out there.
The sheer volume alone would make for madness once the free-agency period opens at 5 p.m. Sunday. But with so many big names — KD. Kawhi. Klay. Kyrie. Kemba. — the early action will be even faster and fiercer. There will be teams scrambling for superstars, then lots of ripples once those rocks drop into place.
Just don’t expect the Thunder to be part of the early flurry.
Oklahoma City is unlike almost every other team in the association — no core players are free agents. Of the five Thunders who are — Nerlens Noel, Markieff Morris, Patrick Patterson (he’s already picked up his player option to remain a Thunder), Raymond Felton and Jawun Evans — none were regular starters this past season. Only Noel and Morris were even rotational reserves by the end of the year.
For the first time in a long time, the Thunder isn’t entering free agency wondering if a big-time player could move elsewhere. Last summer, Paul George and Jerami Grant were free agents. Two summers ago, Russell Westbrook had an extension that needed signing. Three summers ago, well, you probably don’t need me to remind you what happened that Fourth of July.
Now, the Thunder goes into free agency knowing its mainstays are staying.
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“We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us as a team because of the continuity that we do have,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said the other night after the draft. “When you look across the league right now, I don’t know what the percentage is of the league that are free agents, but it’s a large percentage. We’re returning our core players.
“I feel like that group of guys has a chance to be really good.”
And yet, everyone knows this group has been the core for some rotten stuff, namely back-to-back first-round playoff exits. It needs better shooting. More consistency. Deeper threats.
The Thunder didn’t get immediate help in that regard during the draft. Darius Bazley may well become a heck of a player, but it sure doesn’t sound like knock-down, dead-eye shooting will be his forte.
So, in addition to internal improvement, the Thunder will need to go find some help this summer. It could come via free agency. It could come via trade.
Just don’t expect it to come right away, Thunder fans.
Presti sure seemed to indicate as much last week.
“This,” he said of draft night, “is really the beginning of the offseason.”
He mentioned draft night a year ago. At that point, no one had linked Noel to Oklahoma City, but before the Fourth of July, he had agreed to sign with the Thunder. The trade bringing Dennis Schroder to OKC was even further in the future. It would be a month after the draft before the Thunder and Hawks would strike that deal.
Not everything happens right away.
“I look at the offseason as a longer period of time,” Presti said. “We’re going to try to balance out the team throughout the summer.”
As reasonable as that sounds, it will be hard for Thunder fans to watch the free-agent frenzy that’s sure to start next weekend. There’s going to be a flurry of activity around the league. But in OKC? There’s likely to be a whole lot of nothing.
Maybe we'll be surprised. Two years ago, no one saw the Thunder being involved with the Paul George Sweepstakes, but the quiet of late June was shattered by that news. But with the Thunder reportedly looking to lower their luxury tax bill, a blockbuster deal seems unlikely this time around.
Thunder fans can just loosen the straps a bit.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.