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Sounds of Thunder: The Thunder’s Long Road back to Contention, Part 3

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Sometimes you have to step back before you can move forward.

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In Part 2 of this series we looked at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s salary cap situation. Simply put, it’s not good.

Guaranteed contracts alone put the Thunder $9 M over the projected 2017/18 cap with two of last season’t major pieces, Taj Gibson and Andre Roberson, yet unsigned. Russell Westbrook is sure to be named the team’s designated player and offered a max deal which only muddies the salary picture even further down the road. Thus, there is no way around it; this Thunder iteration, as constructed, are not worth the luxury tax that would be required to keep it together.

Therefore, how does Presti shed salary to avoid said tax-penalty? Eliminating Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler’s combined $22.5 M from the books are the least painful options. Kanter is an offensive player with a specific skill set that brings nothing on the defensive end, and Singler never transitioned from Detroit to Oklahoma City. Assuming Kanter and Singler’s salaries are absolved, Oklahoma City would go from $9 M over the cap to $13.5 M under — or Taj Gibson’s projected open-market value.

What Roberson may be offered this summer is anyone’s guess. Estimates as low as $5M per yr to upwards of $13 M are bandied about when his name comes up. Though, at this point what the defensive-specialist commands is a wait and see game.

Following a season in which Roberson’s FT% and 3-pt % declined, it is hard to say whether GM Sam Presti is now relieved Robes didn’t accept the Thunder’s preseason tender.

Moving Forward

By Urbanative - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

With minimal cap room either now or in the near future, the Thunder’s best option moving ahead is simple: the upcoming NBA draft. The good news for Thunder fans is that draft night is a Presti strong point. Last season, Oklahoma City’s sly GM worked his magic minus a first-round selection.

The Thunder’s primary 2017 draft need is obvious. Playing in a league trending from the traditional big line-up to a more versatile small-ball attack, and according to having finishing dead last in 3-pt shooting percentage, the Thunder’s June 22 focus should center around acquiring defensively-responsible long-range shooters.

Presti has already started that process with the additions of Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, and Alex Abrines, but the Thunder need more if they wish to regain the scoring margins they once enjoyed before Kevin Durant bolted.

Currently, the Thunder are sitting with the #21 pick in the upcoming draft which is considered one of the deepest in recent memory. The internet provides an abundance of mock draft predictions from ESPN to the obscure click bait sites with almost as many names linked to the Thunder as their are prognosticators.

But the man I trust is the NBA draft guru himself, Adrian Wojnarowski, and his site, The Vertical. Woj trusts Jonothan Givony at DraftExpress. So who am I to question the man ESPN hates more than any other on draft night (in fact, they hate him so much they’re hiring him)?

Givony had the Thunder drafting 19 year old Rodions Kurucs.

NurPhoto / Contributor @ Getty Images

21. Oklahoma City: SF Rodions Kurucs, International, Age: 19Ht./Wt.: 6-8/190 lbs, Barcelona II (Spanish-LEB Gold)Oklahoma City struggled to make shots consistently this season and didn’t get enough out of its forwards offensively. Kurucs may not offer an immediate solution to what ails the Thunder, but he has great size for the small-forward position to go along with outstanding scoring instincts.

Givony is being generous when he says the Thunder struggled making shots, especially from beyond the arc, and Kurucs would be an excellent addition to the young sharp-shooting core Presti is assembling. Kurucs could eventually plug a glaring hole left by #35 at the small forward spot.

As with most rookies, Kurucs needs to put on some tonnage for the more physical NBA: but at 6’8” he has the framework to handle the load.

(Pay particular attention to the 1:23 portion of this video and tell us in the comments if it reminds you of anyone)

Kurucs’ offensive arsenal is impressive, but he needs to work at going to the left. According to, Kuruc, like Harry Giles, has sustained injury setbacks that have decreased his draft stock. And after the Perry Jones failure, Presti may take a powder on both.

However, if Kuruc can remain healthy and add the needed weight to succeed in the NBA, he could be an answer to many Thunder fan’s prayers while becoming a big part of the road back to contention.