So here we are, crawling from our fallout shelters and surveying the landscape of the 2017 NBA draft, finding all of our prized thoughts, predictions, and flashy prospects bypassed by Presti’s curious choice --Terrance Ferguson.
Although I thought drafting a point guard at pick #21 could be a stretch, I expected Sam to get into the 2nd round and select a point guard or orchestrate a trade involving a proven guard that can excel in the backup role.
OKC had $3.5 M dollars to spend on a draft pick Thursday night, but usually it is the owner’s decision to buy into the draft.
Needless to say, it didn’t happen, and our talent level at that position is still as empty as it was a week prior. Where do we go from here?
The Thunder’s next order of business is free agency--which is a tenuous scenario for OKC’s roster enhancement prospects. Based on the the Thunder’s current cap situation, Sam Presti wasn’t kidding about internal development being his preferred route to improve this team-- and it is most likely the only significant option available.
Let's say Andre Roberson signs an offer sheet and OKC doesn’t match it, and they waive Jerami Grant’s option with no intent to sign him--the Thunder are still sitting at $106.3 M--well over the salary cap. Plus, they have to sign Terrance Ferguson and add his salary to the books--a projected $1.9 M.
So now, the Thunder are approximately $9.3M over the cap with only 11 roster spots accounted for and the league requirement is 13 roster spots.
If OKC still lets Dre walk, but picks up Jerami’s option, they are now $10.8 M over the cap and only have about $9 M of wiggle room before Presti breaks the tax line —but he is now up to 12 roster spots.
The cheapest contract the Thunder could sign a player to, in order to fill the remaining roster spot, would be $815 K for a rookie with no years played in the league. Minimum salaries in the NBA are based on years of experience, and are not the same for every player. In this scenario, OKC is sitting approximately $8 M from the tax line even without Roberson, Taj, or Nick Collision re-signed.
Now don’t forget ”the one who stayed” and our “King of the Prairie,” because Sam Presti is obviously going to offer him the Designated Player Extension right? This allows Russell to sign for up to 35% of the salary cap--which next season would be $34.6M.
Russell is currently slated to make $28.3 M next season, so offering this extension would grant him a raise of $6.3 M dollars next season. With that included, OKC is only $1.7 M beneath the tax line, and again, this figure includes letting Taj, Andre, and Collison walk… ugh.
So Thunder fans, please, please, please stop talking about Blake Griffin.
Since we are over the salary cap, the only tools we have to sign free agents are the Bi-Annual exception and the Mid-Level Exception. Anyone whose total contract would be worth more than $8 M, over a maximum 4-year contract length, would be impossible to acquire without going into the tax, and if they chose to sign/match Roberson and break the tax line, the $5.1 M smaller taxpayer exception is the only mid-level exception available.
Side Note* If OKC uses the larger Non taxpayer mid-level, they are hard capped at the Tax line and can not surpass it. Keep that in mind.
With all this being said, I’m just setting the stage to make sure everyone is clear that this offseason Presti will be shopping at the NBA’s version of Aldi, and does not have the resources to prance down the lanes at Whole Foods--whistling to himself the tune of “now I do what I want.”
Embrace this information.
In my mind, the biggest hole on this thunder roster is the backup point guard role, and it’s a pretty important one. So let’s address it. I think it’s important to get a guy that has experience, a high basketball IQ, and most importantly is available on the discount aisle.
My recommendation: Use the full mid-level to lure Sergio Rodriguez. I would love Presti to be able to use the smaller exception; therefore, not being hard capped, but I would be willing to use the full exception on Sergio if he would take it.
This is a possible free agent acquisition I’m really excited to discuss, and mostly because I spent a majority of last season imagining ways the Thunder could trade for Rodriguez.
I intended to begin by describing how soaked in ineptitude the Thunder’s second unit was throughout this season—especially in the playoffs—when Russell goes to the bench, but I think Thunder fans are fully aware, and no one is pining for another round of Semaj Christon. It’s clear to see the focal point of the Thunder’s second unit woes begin and mostly end at the backup point guard position—insert Sergio Rodriguez.
Sergio was drafted in 2006 by the Portland Trail Blazers, and after spending four years in the NBA, getting traded twice, he signed a 3-year deal to return to Spain to play for Real Madrid. Once there, he signed an extension, winning Euroleague MVP in 2014, and went on to play for a Real Madrid team that won the Spanish League Championship.
Last season, the Sixers brought in Sergio on a 1-year 8-million-dollar deal, and he didn’t necessarily set the league on fire--although playing for the Sixers is not exactly putting yourself in the best situation to succeed. He averaged 7.8 points, 5.1 assists, 2.3 rebounds, and shot 35% from beyond the arc with nearly 4 attempts per game--Semaj shot 19% just for perspective.
In addition, Rodriguez has a great feel for the game, and is good at pushing the ball down the floor and making quick decisions and setting guys up to make the correct basketball play. In just over 22 minutes, He averaged 5.1 assists per game. That ranks 30th in the league, but 22 of the players above him in that ranking played more than 30 minutes per contest.
Sergio’s per 36 assist number was 8.2--which, on a traditional scale would place him as the league’s number 7 assist-man, behind LeBron James. If there is one thing Sergio excels at, it’s finding openings in the defense while placing his teammates in optimal scoring position.
Brian Colangelo said, in regards to bringing in Sergio:
“has proven to be a great floor leader and decision maker while finding much team success throughout his career.”
The key words here are “floor leader” and “decision maker.” For the Thunder, the backup point guard role is in desperate need of someone who can facilitate the offense. I think this is much more a priority that ensuring the player can play beside Russell—which is what a lot of people continually use as a measuring stick for the backup point guard role.
The Thunder’s second unit is littered with shooters, but they cannot consistently create their own shot. One critique of Semaj is that even if he gets the rebound and pushes the offense down the floor, once he gets to the other side of the court, he often times doesn't know what to do and ends up having to stop the transition offense and run a half-court set.
Sergio is great at pushing the ball down the floor, passing ahead, and taking what the opposing defense gives him. He looks to play with speed, but if everything breaks down, he can also make the right decision in the half-court setting. He plays well in the flow of the game, and has a good understanding of when to look for his own shot and when to facilitate the offense.
Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott are fantastic three-point shooters that need a guard that has the vision to find them consistently for open looks--especially on the break iwhen the defense might lose one of them on the perimeter. Josh Wilson of Fansided wrote:
“One of the greatest things we’ve seen from Sergio this season is how good of a passer he is. Whether it’s a no-look back out to the 3-point line as he’s driving into the lane, or a behind the back dime to Embiid cutting into the key, Rodriguez has demonstrated a knack for knowing where the ball needs to be and knowing how to get it there.”
For a second unit made up of Abrines, McDermott, and Enes Kanter, I think this type of veteran player with court vision can really allow the second unit to come alive, and not only stay afloat when Russell is on the bench, but extend leads and have no problem putting the ball in the hoop—which was a major issue last season.
Another scenario that really intrigues me, is the idea of Billy Donovan including Steven Adams more with some of the second unit guys to stabilize their defense. Donovan began toying with that idea late in the season to help keep the second unit afloat, but Semaj couldn't utilize Adams offensively.
With Abrines, McDermott, and Sabonis spacing the floor, I think the floater/lob game could be very strong between Adams and Sergio. He has the instinct and experience to make the passes, and with the floor properly spaced, Adams will have more room than last season to operate in the paint and convert the sky walking lobs he was so good at two seasons ago.
That could be an interesting development to watch for if OKC was to move forward with Señor #2—Sergio.
With his playmaking laurels discussed, Sergio ins’t known as a lockdown defender, but honestly, was the Thunder’s bench playing defense last year?
With young shooters and a young Kanter, this second unit could really benefit from having a basketball IQ playmaker that can see the floor and get these guys the ball where they feel comfortable and most importantly take advantage of the mistakes an opposing second unit makes defensively.
Now the fun part, and the origin of my fascination with Sergio… The Thunder should put the keys to the second unit in the hands of the Spanish standouts. The Thunder organization is high on Alex Abrines—a 23 year old shooter they drafted back in 2013. Like Sergio, he too played basketball in the Euroleague--although for FC Barcelona. We, as Thunder fans, always talk about the Stache Bros in Kanter and Adams and how much fun they are, but what about the possibility of the Amigos de España? The two former Euroleague players have the ability to become the backcourt to transform the Thunder’s second unit, and create a spark when Russell hits the pine. I think they could inspire a more pass-friendly second unit. I know Domantas Sabonis would thrive in that situation.
Can’t you see the entire fan base in Chesapeake doing the double-sided beard rub celebration on a behind the back find from Sergio to Alex Abrines for three? Wouldn’t you love to see Sergio do the beard rub against the haggard beard that he currently has? Or imagine Steven Adams and Sergio comparing beards at media day, and trying to out grow one another? It would be a pure sight of joy. I think bringing in Sergio could be great for the development of Alex Abrines, and could really get the most out of our young Spaniard.
Concerning Sergio, the final question becomes, “Well, what is his price tag?”
Last year he signed a 1-year 8-million-dollar deal, but that was signed while he still commanded starter salary in the NBA. Now, as a definitive backup, the 31-year-old guard’s asking price should fall around the $3-4 M per year range. Could the Thunder use the full mid-level to sign him to a 2-year $8M deal? Is it possible that Sergio would accept the bi-annual exception to play in OKC?
Come July 1, Sam Presti may evaluate such options. Meanwhile, Sergio Rodriguez is a very realistic pickup for the Oklahoma City Thunder.