Offseason Rumblings - Who the Oklahoma City Thunder should target during Free Agency

After not addressing the problems the team has during the NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder will look to free agency and possible trades to allow the team to fix the current holes across the roster.

With the conclusion of the 2017 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder walked away with one new member in project Terrance Ferguson, a lanky shooting guard that played one season overseas after skipping out on college. While Ferguson in time will be a solid player for the Thunder, the team still has major questions to address across the board to return to Western Conference Contenders status.

The biggest problems that plagued the Oklahoma City Thunder last season were three point shooting, where they ranked dead last in the league last season, bench production, where they ranked 26th according to Hoops Stats, lack of production at the small forward position, and a lack of a true backup point guard even when they had Cameron Payne. With the team failing to address any of these problems during the draft, the team will turn to free agency and trades before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have the following upcoming free agents:

  • Taj Gibson - UFA
  • Norris Cole - UFA
  • Nick Collison - UFA
  • Andre Roberson - RFA
  • Jerami Grant - RFA

Out of the four players mentioned above, Gibson and Roberson are most likely to be playing for the Thunder next season. If they are able to retain both players they will still have to address a few key issues the team faces for next season. The Thunder are currently committed to roughly $110 million in contracts for next season which easily puts them over the salary cap but the team is allowed to go over the cap to re-sign Gibson, Roberson or CollisonThunder general manager Sam Presti will have to make trades to shed salary or find cheap but serviceable veterans to help address the problems the Thunder face.

The first task the Thunder face is shedding salaries to help give them more money to work with in free agency. The two salaries that could be removed from Oklahoma City's payroll are Kyle Singler's ($4,837,500) a player who is literally useless for the Thunder and Enes Kanter ($17,145,838) a cement footed center that while offensively gifted, is a huge defensive liability for Oklahoma City. With Singler, the Thunder should target second round picks to shed the contract. While with Kanter, the team could use that contract and offensive ability to possibly target a player to fix the holes the team has. One possible trade could be for disgruntled Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony; if Kanter were packaged with guard Alex Abrines and Anthony would wave his no trade clause the deal works perfectly for both sides. Even if the Thunder are not able to able to get a star player to play alongside Russell Westbrook by trading Kanter their priority should remain to shed Singler, which would give the Thunder around $2 million in cap space to play with.

Obviously, they are set with MVP-candidate Russell Westbrook leading the squad in the starting unit but as soon as Westbrook sits the team suffers as there was not a solid option for the Thunder at the backup point position. Thankfully for Oklahoma City the free agency market is saturated with good backup points and the team should seriously take a look at players like Clippers guard Raymond Felton, Kings guard Ty Lawson or Jazz guard Shelvin Mack, all unrestricted free agents that would sign affordable contracts with Oklahoma City. All three players would be immediate upgrades over Norris Cole and Cameron Payne in terms of bench production in both playmaking and scoring and would be readily available as Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Utah all have added younger point guards to their rotations after the 2017 NBA Draft. Ideally, this writer's pick would be for Shelvin Mack to come off the bench for Oklahoma City next season as Russell Westbrook's primary backup.

Another major problem for the team last season was the lack of three-point shooting and production from the small forward position. If the Thunder were able to pull off the trade to secure Carmelo Anthony for Enes Kanter and Alex Abrines, they would be set at reserve with Doug McDermott coming off the bench and providing serviceable minutes for the team. The power forward position will instead be an area of concern for the Thunder heading into free agency. The team will more than likely bring back Taj Gibson next season and will be actively looking to fill in players behind him. Key players that Oklahoma City should take a hard look at are Anthony Tolliver from Sacramento, Derrick Williams from Cleveland or possibly Dante Cunningham from New Orleans. All three players would be amazing off the bench for Oklahoma City and the team would probably be able to get Tolliver or Williams on the cheap, keeping them closer to the salary cap threshold. Out of the three, the best candidate would be Tolliver, who was solid off the bench for Sacramento last season with averages of 6.1 points and 3.0 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game, all while shooting 31.6% from beyond the arc as well. The other bonus to signing Tolliver is that it would allow Domantas Sabonis to slide back to his natural center position and be Steven Adam's primary backup.

If the Thunder were not able to entice the Knicks into trading Carmelo for Enes Kanter but still were able to ship Kanter along with Abrines for future draft picks and expirings, the team would still have a major hole at the small forward position. With all the sudden cap space from the loss of Kanter, the team should look towards their division rival and sign a deal with Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari. According to Altri Sport while in Barcelona for an event, Gallinari was quoted as saying, '“Nuggets are not my first choice but they are exactly at the same level of the other teams. Denver’s advantage is that they can offer me a five-year contract while other franchises can offer me a four-year deal. Nuggets are at the same level of the others”'. With Denver still trying to rebuild and retool through their sudden youth movement and the draft, Gallinari should head down to Oklahoma City and play along superstar Russell Westbrook. Gallinari would be huge for Oklahoma City as he averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 63 games. A solid three-point shooter as well, Gallinari would be an instant hit with the Thunder.

In one scenario the Oklahoma City Thunder would execute the before mentioned Kyle Singler and Enes Kanter trades and sign Mack and Tolliver in free agency. Along with the addition of Carmelo Anthony from the Knicks, the team would look something like this for next season:

Projected Depth Chart for 2017-18 Season I:

  • PG: Russell Westbrook/Shelvin Mack/Semaj Christon
  • SG: Victor Oladipo/Andre Roberson/Terrance Ferguson
  • SF: Carmelo Anthony/Doug McDermott/Josh Huestis
  • PF: Taj Gibson/Anthony Tolliver/Chris Wright*
  • C: Steven Adams/Domantas Sabonis/Dakari Johnson*
  • * = Oklahoma City Blue Player

In a second scenario the team was able to execute both trades again but instead of landing Carmelo Anthony the team had an influx of cash and were able to sign Gallinari along with Mack and Tolliver the team would look like this next season:

Projected Depth Chart for 2017-18 Season II:

  • PG: Russell Westbrook/Shelvin Mack/Semaj Christon
  • SG: Victor Oladipo/Andre Roberson/Terrance Ferguson
  • SF: Danilo Gallinari/Doug McDermott/Josh Huestis
  • PF: Taj Gibson/Anthon Tolliver/Chris Wright*
  • C: Steven Adams/Domantas Sabonis/Dakari Johnson*
  • * = Oklahoma City Blue Player

In either scenario, the team would carry thirteen active players at all times and have no shortage of depth at any position with Johnson and Wright being able to be called up from the Thunder's G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.

This depth chart would instantly vault Oklahoma City to the tops of the Western Conference rankings and allow them to keep pace with division rival Minnesota Timberwolves, who made a power move of their own during the NBA Draft in acquiring Jimmy Butler in a fleecing of the Chicago Bulls. The team is currently too top heavy in contracts for players that have either overstayed their welcome in Singler or a detriment to the team in Kanter. If Oklahoma City were able to shed both contracts they would be able to make moves to help bolster the bench and patch the problems that hamstrung the team last season. After failing to do so in the 2017 NBA draft.

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