After a sixth place finish in the Western Conference and a first round exit off a demoralizing Dame Lillard dagger in the playoffs, it’s fair to say the Oklahoma City Thunder had their share of ups and downs last season.
These inconsistent seasons are now the standard in Oklahoma City as the Thunder have had three consecutive first round playoff exits. The question OKC fans everywhere are pondering is simple: “How will the Thunder break this mediocrity?” The answer to this question, however, is incredibly complex. With the offseason underway , let us take a look at what the Thunder have done to improve and what they should do in order to skyrocket into elite status.
To many fans, OKC’s offseason has been just as frustrating as the regular and postseason. They believe that the deals GM Sam Presti has made are lateral-movements-at-best.
Fans were disappointed on draft night. Prior to draft night, Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer reported that the Thunder was looking to move the 21st pick, Andre Roberson, Dennis Schroeder, and fan favorite Steven Adams. These are three good players with bad contracts for the team. These players will make a combined $52,083,438. Numbers like these are a large reason OKC has the highest payroll in the league for the 2019-20 season at $144,925,070.
Fans are well aware of these staggering salaries and wanted Presti to get rid of them in an attempt to free cap space and[AL13] improve the team for the upcoming season. Presti didn’t do that on draft night.
Instead, Presti traded the 21st pick to the Utah Jazz (a pick that would later go to the Grizzlies) in exchange for the 23rd pick and a 2024 Memphis Grizzlies second round pick. With the 23rd pick, the Thunder picked up Darius Bazely, a raw prospect out of Princeton High School in Ohio. Bazely didn’t play college basketball last year. Instead, he opted to do an internship with New Balance worth $1 million. He’s athletic and has a lot of potential, but doesn’t look quite ready to give quality NBA minutes yet.
Fast forward to today, and things are getting even more interesting.
Patrick Patterson, who had a very lackluster season, opted into his $5.7 million player option. This move was expected as Patterson averaged an abysmal 3.6 points per game and 2.3 rebounds per game last year. No team was going to offer the 30-year-old forward nearly as much money.
The most surprising move of the Thunder’s offseason came from Nerlens Noel.
At 6:25 p.m. on Sunday, Adrian Wojnarowski reported Noel had accepted a deal with OKC. Hours later, Woj tweeted: “Free agent Nerlens Noel has asked OKC for time to reevaluate their earlier commitment on a new deal, and sides are continuing discussions, league sources tell ESPN”.
Then on Monday, Woj tweeted “Nerlens Noel is agreed on a deal with OKC -- again, league source tells ESPN.”
So Noel, who according to Forbes’ Brett Knight should be making about $15 million, resigned, then decommitted, then re-signed again with the Thunder. All in a time-span of 1 day.
Other signings for the Thunder include Mike Muscala, who Sam Presti personally recruited at his house, and Alec Burks.
What OKC should do now
The signing of Muscala and Burks addresses the main issue for the Thunder: shooting. Both have 3-point shooting percentages greater than 35 percent in their careers, but Presti needs to do more in optimizing this team’s abilities from long range.
In a league that now has an extraordinary amount of parity, the Thunder don’t need, and can’t afford, a big-name player. They need to find players that will space the floor and allow for high percentage shots to go up.
Russell Westbrook and Paul George are two of the best players in the league. Surround these two superstars with players that will not only suit them well, but suit the team well. If this Thunder team has a shooting guard or center who can shoot, the floor spacing increases massively and everyone thrives.
Just a couple more moves makes this team an undeniable threat to win a title next season. Presti needs to make one of his signature “magic” trades. If giving up fan favorite Steven Adams gets you that much closer to an NBA championship, you need to do it as soon as possible. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri traded the face of the Raptors franchise last year and won a title. Sometimes the decisions that will benefit you the most will be the most difficult ones to make.