As the calendar turns over to August, the NBA offseason is officially in full swing. The Thunder have made their moves — including a somewhat surprising one for Ryan Gomes — and appear to have their roster set.
With the rest of the conference positioning and improving, have the Thunder failed this offseason? Or was it just a necessary step sideways in the greater plan? What about that trade exception? And who gets cut with 16 players on the roster now?
1. Scale of 1-10 (10 being great): Grade the Thunder’s offseason.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: 6. Perception isn’t always reality. The perception is that the Thunder did nothing, so therefore, as teams around them improved they must have regressed. But that’s not entirely true, because you have to look at the Thunder’s offseason in a vacuum. Their core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all improve over one more summer and most importantly, Westbrook will be back. They lost Kevin Martin — who was never more popular in OKC than the moment he signed with the Wolves — and will have to rely on young players to pick up the slack. But really, when has that never not worked for the Thunder? Young players playing well is kind of their thing. Transactions are fun, they’re exciting and they give a little boost of morale because it feels like something happened. But they don’t always mean you’re better. And with the Thunder’s options on the open market, there wasn’t a lot that would’ve made them that much better. I really don’t think signing Carlos Delfino was the last necessary move to win a title. The draft was mildly disappointing, but I’m willing to wait and see with Steven Adams. So I give the Thunder a passing six. Not great, not bad, and better than down the middle.
Michael Kimball, Daily Thunder: 5. I don’t know what the Thunder could have done to make me rate it a 10, or a 1 for that matter. But a quiet offseason was what I expected, and what has happened, so an average grade is what’s merited here. I’m in the camp that firmly believes the Thunder can still be a contender as currently constituted with a healthy Russell Westbrook. But the real grade in this offseason comes later when we see what happens once the Thunder starts paying the luxury tax. If the extra year before going into the tax pays dividends in future offseasons, then this offseason could be great. If delaying the tax payments a year means the Thunder are better able to re-sign the current core and show the staying power that would entice other free agents to take pay cuts to come to OKC, then it’s great. If it’s simply a sign that the Thunder are going to pinch pennies to the point that it prevents OKC from remaining an contender and/or re-signing core players, then it’s a disaster.
Tyler Parker, BallerBall: 5. The draft, I think, in time will wind up being somewhat of a success, but right now it’s just project city with regard to Adams and Roberson, despite Roberson’s apparent otherworldly ability to rebound the ball. The off-season signing of Gomes feels a little like kissing your sister, and the re-signing of Fisher feels like how I’d feel if I was Loki and Sam Presti was Hulk. Just smash after smash, tear after tear, every time I see Fisher launch some ill fated rainbow of a 23 footer. When the zombies come and take over the world and I wander the earth for so long that I forget my own name, I’ll still remember Derek Fisher clanging corner threes off the front of the rim.
2. True or false: The Thunder will actually use their new $7 million trade exception.
Young: False. It really pains me to say that, because a $7 million trade exception is a great asset to have in improving a team. And there’s a lot of opportunity for the Thunder at the deadline, with their young talent and assets, to make a move. Problem is, bringing on more salary at the deadline via trade means the Thunder break into the tax, which seems to be something they’re avoiding like the plague right now. The exception extends a year from the day they got it so maybe next summer in free agency it could be used in a sign-and-trade, but as far as a deadline move, I doubt it. Unless other salary is moving off the books (cough Perk cough).
Kimball: True. It may not be for a full $7 million. And it’s at least possible the Thunder doesn’t use it all — see previous comments about staying under the luxury tax for one more year. But I doubt Sam Presti would have done the work to obtain it if he didn’t have a plan for using it. If it was simply a face-saving move (“gotta show we got SOMETHING for Kevin Martin”), then that’s a pretty dumb way to try to save face. No one cares about a trade exception if it isn’t used. It’s not like trading for a fringe player who never plays — you can’t blame a trade exception for not living up to its potential or working hard enough or whatever. So there has to be a plan for the exception.
Parker: False. Royce detailed the finer points of how Presti will probably deal with this exception and it’s hard to disagree with him. It would seem that the current iteration of the roster, save an injury, is what the roster will be. The Thunder are determined to not go into the tax this season, or so it would appear, and I don’t really see that changing. Although Presti has some sneak to him. Maybe he pulls off something close to the deadline that nobody sees coming. I doubt it, though.
3. Cut one: Ryan Gomes, Hasheem Thabeet, DeAndre Liggins or Daniel Orton.
Young: Liggins. It’s a tough call, because I really like Liggins. His energy, his effort and his potential as a 3-and-D guy are there. But when you break it out, how much can he really help this season? Unless he has the future of being Thabo Sefolosha’s replacement, what’s his value? I believe in Daniel Orton. I think he can be a really solid NBA big. But he’s no sure thing, and nor is Steven Adams at this point. Kendrick Perkins is Kendrick Perkins, so I don’t think the Thunder can axe Hasheem Thabeet quite yet without having a real feel for that position. There’s really no good reason to carry five centers on your roster (counting Nick Collison), but with so many uncertainties at the position, it’s probably necessary.
Kimball: Gomes. Until we see how he fits within the Thunder’s plans, it’s hard to pick one of the other guys. Gomes is a player who didn’t even play in one of the elite European leagues last year, so it’s hard to see what potential he really has without seeing him play for OKC. Thabeet and Orton are serviceable big men, and there’s always a spot for those guys on the fringe of your rotation or even in a suit at the end of the bench. And Liggins showed true value in spot duty during the playoffs last season, particularly against Houston. Maybe this answer will change once we see how everyone looks during the preseason, but for now you’ve got three youngish guys with rotation potential and a guy on the wrong side of 30 who couldn’t find work in the NBA last year. One of these things is not like the others.
Parker: Orton. DeAndre Liggins plays hard. The pace and spirit he plays with is infectious and, if it were up to me, he’d be be occupying that 15th roster slot from now till the end of days. Consider me #TeamDeAndre. Thabeet has shown he can play with great energy and can have a positive affect on the game when the matchups allow for it. With, essentially, every good big in the league playing the West now, I think Hash’s value is high. We just signed Gomes and, although it’s completely inconsequential and only for one year and he’s a tweener who’s done a whole lot of nothing in the league, I can’t imagine they’d boot him so soon. Orton, despite his hometown favorite status, would seem like the one to go. Just doesn’t seem like he’s made as many strides with the 66er’s as the front office would’ve liked. Nothing would surprise me, though.