With cap flexibility limited to the Mid-Level Exception, the Oklahoma City Thunder kicked off the free agency period by exploring some minor free agent options to shore up their bench. Less than an hour after the 12:00am ET start time, the Thunder were reported as having or being expected to have interest in Rashard Lewis and Sebastian Telfair:
Heat free agent forward Rashard Lewis is expecting interest from Miami, Indiana, Oklahoma City, Toronto and San Antonio, a source said.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 1, 2014
Why this move makes sense for the Thunder
The Thunder have two needs this offseason: three-point shooting and veteran depth. The losses of Thabo Sefolosha, Derek Fisher and Caron Butler may not hurt a whole lot in net talent, but they played big minutes and were three of the Thunder's better three-point specialists over the last few seasons. Lewis and Telfair aren't flashy names, but they should come cheap and not take too much of a bite out of the MLE.
Lewis experienced a bit of a career revival in last season's playoffs, stepping in as the starter midway through the Miami Heat's Eastern Conference Finals series against the Indiana Pacers. He shot 37.3% from three in the playoffs, including one memorable performance against the Pacers where he made six triples for 18 points. If the Thunder want a three-point specialist with greater size than typical shooters, Lewis is an intriguing option to allow for creative lineups.
Telfair spent last season in China where he played for Tianjin Ronggang. He tied for ninth in points per game (26.1) and second in assists per game (6.0) in the Chinese Basketball Association. Telfair is capable of moving the ball around the floor and using his speed to penetrate into the paint, a very different player from Fisher but likely a candidate to take over his old role.
Why this move does NOT make sense for the Thunder
Lewis makes plenty of sense if you conceptualize him as a 6'10" three-point sniper that can stretch an opposing big man out to the three-point line, but that's not quite the reality. This Lewis is old, about five years removed from the Lewis that was the league leader in three-pointers made and attempted in 2008-09 season. Since leaving the Orlando Magic midway through the 2010-11 season, this Lewis has shot 34.6% from three. The San Antonio Spurs eventually decided in this year's NBA Finals that they'd rather leave him open from there instead of contort their defense. If Lewis can't command defensive attention, he's not the shooter the Thunder need to space the floor aside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
As for Telfair, he put up some gaudy numbers in the CBA, but those numbers probably won't translate over to the NBA too well. Maybe he could take over Fisher's old role, but he's a player that generally needs the ball in his hands to operate and there may not be too many touches to be had from playing on this team with its stars. Telfair's outside shooting is shaky, and he's a career 32.0% shooter from three. The Thunder may prefer a player who can shoot and score more efficiently.
What is the likelihood of this happening?
Both players appear to have enough league-wide interest that the Thunder are just another option for now. The Thunder were interested in Telfair last offseason too, and for what little it's worth, Lewis seems exactly like the kind of fading vet the Thunder would sign (it'll be Caron Butler all over again). For now, I'll say they're just giving both players a look and nothing more, but they could definitely end up joining the Thunder.
/obligatory Rashard Lewis 'returning' to the Thunder joke
You can never have enough old guys, or something. I'm not really a fan of nabbing either, but both would be (hopefully) bit-role guys anyway. The greatest damage signing them would do is maybe holding the Thunder back from signing better options in the roles these guys would fill. This gets a: