It has been an emotional month for Oklahoma City.
Exactly a month removed from the Kevin Durant departure, Russell Westbrook silenced the rumors of a possible exit next offseason by signing a three year/$85 million extension, first reported by the writers of WTLC.
Yesterday, championship parade-like crowds surrounded Chesapeake Energy Arena to celebrate the poster boy of Oklahoma basketball, and while this extension means more exciting basketball to come, it also means the Thunder have no choice but to build around Westbrook through free agency if they want to keep pace with the Golden State Warriors.
With Westbrook, the Thunder will most likely never be a non-playoff team, meaning OKC will be forced to pick outside the lottery. They can very well land a difference maker in the late first or even early second round, but the chances of finding a player that can help bring them to a championship contending level at that spot in the draft are not in their favor.
Kevin Pelton proposed an idea that can boost the Thunder to a contending spot as soon as next season...because remember...Westbrook’s extension is only three years, so time is of the essence.
If the Thunder turn down McGary's extension and don't guarantee any money to Price, they can likely create enough space to make a max-type offer to a player with less than 10 years of experience by trading Enes Kanter (who will have just two years and less than $36 million remaining on his contract by next summer) and trading Kyle Singler or waiving him using the stretch provision. Notably, free agents in that salary range include Oklahoma City native Blake Griffin, who can opt to become an unrestricted free agent. Danilo Gallinari, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap (who will be eligible for a higher maximum salary by virtue of 10-plus years of experience) are other unrestricted free agents the Thunder might target to upgrade their shooting and shot creation.
Former NBA executive Bobby Marks, who now writes at The Vertical, agrees:
The Thunder, known for building through the draft and trades, could clear $29 million in cap space with the following steps:
1. Do not pick up the rookie options of McGary and Huestis
2. Release the cap holds of Ilyasova, Morrow and Collison
3. Trade the contract of Kanter to a team with room
With the Ibaka trade to Orlando this past June and the development of rookie Domantas Sabonis, Oklahoma City could be a player in next summer’s free-agent class that includes All-Star Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap.
The challenge for Oklahoma City would be to sell free agents on a future past the 2017-18 season.
McGary’s future with the team is up in the air after he violated the anti-drug program, and with an opportunity to land Blake Griffin, Presti must cut all weak links in order to make enough room in the cap.
I also support the idea to explore trades for Enes Kanter. Kanter has provided valuable minutes alongside Steven Adams (and has certainly been a positive locker room presence), but his 4-year/$70 million contract eats up too much space. Also, Steven Adams has proved he can be the anchor in the post on both offense and defense and he will look to score a hefty extension.
Westbrook’s extension obviously comes with obstacles but the Thunder have avoided a complete rebuild. With a few necessary financial moves, the Thunder could land a major free agent as soon as next year.