Thunder thoughts on Mike Muscala, Nerlens Noel and OKC in free agency
Happy Free Agency. Here are some Thunder thoughts and reminders:
-The Thunder doesn’t have any money, but you knew that, right? If you didn’t and you’re seeing all of these free agency deals being consummated, there’s probably a wave of panic washing over you. But the Thunder has a $146 million payroll as of Monday morning and isn’t (as of now) planning on spending the mid-level exception of $5.7 million, so that means it has minimum contracts to work with in free agency. The roster shifting move you’re waiting for may take a little longer than the first day of free agency or may not happen at all (Berry Tramel thinks the status quo might be the answer).
-There’s no guarantee the Thunder pulls off a monster swap, although it sure would be a waste of a $10.8 million trade exception which expires on July 25, and the Thunder would be putting a lot of trust in its core players – Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder, Andre Roberson, Terrance Ferguson – to improve and be healthy. The Thunder likes Hamidou Diallo, Abdel Nader and Deonte Burton, and each had their contributions last season, but the organization says that about all its young players.
-The Thunder’s priority list entering free agency was retaining Nerlens Noel and getting someone resembling a shooter/shot creator either at the minimum, via trade or internal improvement. The Noel deal appeared done Sunday, until it wasn’t, and almost instantly the Mike Muscala report materialized. Noel's cryptic "??" Instagram story can be interpreted as you please, but the Thunder's move for Muscala (and Sam Presti's targeted pursuit of him) and Noel's free agency can be mutually exclusive. Or not. Until it's known, hold judgement. If the Thunder gets Noel and Muscala, it's a coup. If its pursuit of Muscala meant losing Noel, it's questionable, because either Jerami Grant is going to be playing a lot of small-ball five (which he may be anyway), the Thunder is going to have to go sign another backup rim protector to replace Noel, or they'll have to trade for a rim protector.
- Related to this story
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- Article: Is DeMarcus Cousins the next-best free agent available past Kawhi?
Muscala – a career 36.5 3-point shooter at 6-foot-11 who brings an element of floor spacing the other Thunder centers do not – could be looked a couple of different ways.
- The red flag immediately went up when the Muscala deal was reported because of his position, and since the Thunder needs improved shooting and can’t spend a ton of money. But Muscala can play both center and power forward, so there shouldn’t be a correlation (yet) between the Thunder agreeing to terms with him and not wanting to keep Noel, Steven Adams or both. Now, can Muscala play effectively against smaller lineups and as a defender in space? Is Billy Donovan going to have the patience to play him?
- Muscala could be cover for or an outright replacement for Patrick Patterson. Muscala is younger (27 to Patterson’s 30), presumably less expensive than Patterson’s $5.7 million salary, and has been more productive across 36 minutes the last two seasons.
Muscala’s last two seasons Per 36 minutes: 13 points, 7.2 rebounds, 35.7 3-point percentage on 6.4 attempts, 57.9 True Shooting Percentage
Patterson’s last two seasons Per 36 minutes: 9.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 36.4 3-point percentage on 5.2 attempts, 52.8 True Shooting Percentage
Here's a video of Muscala's beautiful jump shot on a night he scored a career-best 24 points in 25 minutes (on 10 shots!) against Minnesota.
(Note: There was another career high that night: Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns gave Muscala and Dewayne Dedmon 56 points, so there's that).
-With Philadelphia last season, of Muscala’s top five lineups in terms of minutes played, the two best were with him at center. Each lineup posted outstanding defensive ratings (98.9 and 94) across a respective 22 and 24 games. That’s enough of a sample to say Muscala can hold up defensively at center when surrounded by good defenders (Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons flanked Muscala in those lineups), something the Thunder could do with Grant and Paul George. Muscala’s defensive metrics looked worse after he was traded to the Clippers then finished the season with the Lakers. In 17 games with the Lakers, Muscala played scattershot minutes (15.7 per game) for a team reeling from the drama surrounding the Anthony Davis trade saga.
Muscala’s defensive rating with Philadelphia (47 games, 22.2 minutes per game): 105.7
Muscala’s defensive rating with Los Angeles Lakers (17 games, 15.7 mpg): 109.7
-Free agency has so far been a mix of deals ranging from eyebrow-raising to about right. Among the surprising: Ricky Rubio received $51 million over three years from Phoenix. Bobby Portis received $30 million over two seasons from the Knicks. Among the reasonable: Danuel House to Houston at $11.1 million for three seasons. Mike Scott for two years and $9.8 million. A pure shooter, Seth Curry, got $32 million for four years from Dallas. The Lakers got Troy Daniels, a 40-percent 3-point shooter, on a one-year, $2.1 million deal. So, it’s not out of the question that the Thunder could get a quality player on the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.7 million) or even the minimum based on years of service. It depends on who wants to play in OKC on that number, and if the Thunder can cut costs somewhere else on the roster to justify it, which means trading salary to a team with cap space and not taking back players. Fire up the trade machines yourself and dream.