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Decision time for Darius Bazley

Bazley will hit restricted free agency next offseason

NBA: Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Presti had a strong offseason in which he added new talent to the roster and agreed extensions with existing contributors. Luguentz Dort and Kenrich Williams were both retained on mid-range contracts that respect the value of the player while also being quite team-friendly.

There are only three players on the current Thunder roster who will hit the open market in 2023. Derrick Favors’ contract expires but he is a veteran player who will be looking to join a winning, contending team. Ty Jerome did not really impress last season and the Thunder are well-stocked in the guard spots. Darius Bazley is the only player with a question mark over his head.

The entire summer has been and gone with no news on this front. There have been no rumblings of extension talks between Bazley’s agency, Klutch Sports and the Thunder. We know that Sam Presti typically keeps his cards close to the chest but the same cannot be said for Klutch.

Klutch Sports have previously been quite active in using the media and their influence to negotiate. Rich Paul famously employed this strategy with Tristan Thompson before the start of the 2015 season. Paul used the Cavs’ urgency when it comes to winning a title against them and got Thompson $82m over five years; a contract that far outweighed Tristan’s production.

We have heard nothing from Bazley’s agency despite other comparable players from the 2019 Draft Class agreeing lucrative deals. Keldon Johnson recently signed a four-year front-loaded $74m with the Spurs. Grant Williams is close to agreeing a $50m extension with the Celtics that will see him stay in Boston for the next five years.

If this was ever a time for Bazley’s agent to try and set a price, it would be now. And yet, there is complete radio silence when it comes to Darius’ contract extension. The silence is indicative of the Thunder’s strong negotiating position; Bazley simply does not have the juice to demand the sort of salary that his peers have received.

Sam Presti will want this matter resolved before the deadline in late October as it will provide the organisation with clarity when it comes to Bazley’s future. If a deal cannot be agreed, Presti can act decisively and deal Bazley for some sort of return. That will not happen if contract talks just drag all the way through the season.

In a way, moving Darius Bazley would be beneficial for the Thunder. Oklahoma City have a lot of young forwards on the roster who are all vying for minutes and shipping a player out would open up more space in the rotation.

Trading Darius would also improve the team’s rhythm on offense. Bazley has a tendency to be a ball-stopper and take one too many dribbles when he is slashing from the perimeter. The Thunder’s whole identity on offense is built around quick, one-touch passing and Bazley’s style of play does not fit neatly with that ideology.

On the other hand, Bazley vastly improved in his third season and finally showed why Coach Daigneault persevered with him through a difficult second season. Bazley’s tireless, versatile defense was very important in the Thunder being one of the best defensive teams in the half-court.

Darius often took on difficult assignments such as Anthony Davis and contested shots effectively without fouling. I thought his temperament fit Coach Daigeault’s system perfectly. Bazley was patient and did not get nervous during long, draining possessions.

He also made a lot of sense physically. Bazley’s length and stamina allowed the Thunder to squeeze the floor really well and force opposing teams into difficult shots. Darius’ mobility was valuable and it is unknown if JRE or J-Will could slot into that ‘roamer’ role seamlessly.

The question is whether Bazley’s value on defense outweighs his faults on offense? After considering this question, I am not sure if that is true or even if the Thunder will need such a player next season. Coach Daigneault could bring Kenrich Williams into the starting lineup and change how the Thunder’s power forward defends.

Bazley’s patient, energy-sapping defense was attritional and somewhat of a safety valve for the Thunder. He played well but OKC did not get the sort of transitional, easy scoring opportunities that all teams want.

Moving Williams into the starting lineup would allow the Thunder to play a high-pressing style in which they seek to turn teams over and force mistakes. Williams is very good at sitting in the pocket and picking off errant passes.

Offensively, Bazley’s value is quite poor. He is not a good shooter and I do not ever expect him to be league average from the perimeter. He is a good dunker but would have to play in the dunker’s spot to get more of these opportunities. This would mean that JRE would be stuck out on the perimeter.

Darius is an adequate passer but nothing all that special compared to his teammates. Jaylin Williams and Kenrich Williams are both very good passing forwards.

After weighing up the pros and cons, I think it is time to move Bazley on. Darius is a good player but I have my concerns about how he fits in the Thunder’s system. It is quite telling that three years later we still do not know his best role on the Thunder. It is time for Presti to cut his losses and find Bazley’s replacement.