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No contract extension agreed between Darius Bazley and the Oklahoma City Thunder

Darius hits restricted free agency in 2023

NBA: Preseason-Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Today was an important for all players who were drafted in the 2019 Draft, it was the final day that they could agree a contract extension with their current teams and secure their future for the long-term. For Darius Bazley, his contract situation has loomed over the Thunder for the last three months.

Bazley’s play in the second half of the season warranted a contract that reflected his value. It is not a stretch to say that Bazley’s tireless work on the defensive end of the floor and improved shot selection made him a positive contributor for the Thunder when the team lacked depth.

However, at the time of writing, Bazley has not agreed an extension with the Thunder and will enter restricted free agency in 2023. He will be able to test the market and sign offer sheets but the Thunder will reserve the right to match any offers made towards Darius.

Restricted free agency can allow a player to achieve the sort of high-value contract that their team may be unwilling to pay. DeAndre Ayton benefitted hugely from restricted status when he forced the Suns’ hand and earned himself a max deal by leveraging the Indiana Pacers.

It is a different story for Darius and there are no guarantees of good offers sitting in the market for him. Bazley’s motor and length make him a valuable proposition on defense for prospective suitors but he requires accommodation in order to maximise those skills.

Darius is not an efficient shooter and his scoring game is largely limited to finishing plays around the rim. Teams who may want to acquire Bazley would have to pair him with a stretch-5 to ensure that their floor-spacing is good.

A year down the line, Oklahoma City may end up being in the same boat. The Thunder have length at the forward spot in abundance with players like Aleksej Pokusevski and Ousmane Dieng. Oklahoma City also boast legitimate two-way players like Kenrich Williams or Aaron Wiggins who can create their own shot at that position.

Perhaps the Thunder look at keeping Bazley and playing him at the 5 but it is difficult to see regular minutes for him once Chet Holmgren returns from injury. A center rotation of Holmgren, JRE and Muscala is solid enough as it is. When you consider the long-term outlook of the team, Bazley increasingly looks like the odd man out.

In the past, Sam Presti has dealt players on the last year of their rookie deal in order to get some sort of value for them. Allowing players to walk for nothing simply cannot happen for a small market team that needs every single asset to compete for championships.

Presti dealt Hamidou Diallo to the Pistons last year to get a draft pick in return and to get off the obligation to pay Hami. Sam may be able to swing a similar sort of deal with Bazley. A trade with the Lakers would make sense for all parties involved.

Los Angeles Lakers lack any sort of reliable forward depth and Bazley would fill a need as a rotation forward who can guard two positions effectively. It would give their bench unit some size and allow Coach Ham to move away from small three-guard lineups.

Bazley is also represented by Rich Paul and Klutch Sports Management; a sports agency who have placed a lot of clients with the Lakers over the last few years. Paul is regularly consulted by GM Rob Pelinka and Jeannie Buss when it comes to roster-related matters.

I could see Paul agreeing to a trade which brings Bazley to LA as it would kill two birds with one stone. The Lakers would get a cheap, useful reinforcement for one year and Bazley would get the opportunity to improve his own value while playing for a team on national television.

For the Thunder, trading Bazley could be an opportunity to bring in two second round picks of decent value. Los Angeles have two seconds in the 2023 NBA Draft, their own pick and a top-36 protected pick from Chicago, which may be useful in allowing Presti to add talent around the margins in a year’s time. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins are two examples of Presti finding value deep in the Draft,

It is a trade that the Thunder should consider but the trade is somewhat indicative of where Bazley’s status within the team currently is. Darius is on the trade block and may not be on the Thunder for much longer.