It is no secret that the Oklahoma City Thunder are planning for the future. All indications show that the rebuilding process is going well thus far. Sam Presti has diligently added talent to the roster year after year through the draft.
The Thunder have 38 draft picks through the 2029 NBA Draft, with half of those being first round picks. They have a plethora of young talent on their roster that should only get better. This includes the trio of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Chet Holmgren who should be exciting to watch over the next few years.
The one bright spot of Oklahoma City’s future that is not talked about is their looming increase in cap space. Currently, the team is hard capped due to the recent buyout of Kemba Walker, who had a $27 million salary. Oklahoma City have dead money on their books for this season and are restricted.
However in 2023-2024, the Thunder are projected to have $48 million in cap space according to Spotrac. Sam Presti will have plenty of space to work with.
who would be available for the Thunder?
Unrestricted Free Agents: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Andrew Wiggins, Myles Turner, Jerami Grant and Christian Wood.
Restricted Free Agents: Cam Johnson, Tyler Herro, Matisse Thybulle, Jordan Poole, De’Andre Hunter, Rui Hachimura and RJ Barrett.
PlayerOptions: James Harden, Khris Middleton, Kristaps Porzingis, Gary Trent Jr, Andre Drummond and Kyle Kuzma.
These are not all the marquee potential free agents but I would argue these are best possible fits for the Thunder.
Bigs like Drummond, Porzingis, Adams, Turner, Wood and Grant would immediately aid Oklahoma City’s front court. They would aid Holmgren on both sides of the court while he develops as a player.
While Westbrook has taken major criticism this offseason, he is still beloved by Thunder fans. Westbrook ending his career as a key role player for a competitive Thunder team would be a nice story.
Obviously, James and Irving are the biggest names on the list but getting them to a small market would be impressive even for general manager Sam Presti. A superstar free agent may not be what the Thunder ultimately needs. It is instant pressure for what may be short-term gain. The younger restricted players are more compelling.
Someone like Johnson would immediately become the best shooter on the Thunder’s roster if acquired. Thybulle would give the Thunder another elite perimeter defender to pair with Luguentz Dort.
With the amount of projected cap space and draft picks in 2023, Oklahoma City could acquire anyone. The question is how do the Thunder make themselves a desirable destination?
How Oklahoma City becomes a free agent destination?
The easiest answer to this question is winning. This is no easy task seeing how competitive the Western Conference is on a yearly basis.
But, we are not asking the Thunder to make the playoffs, we are asking them to not be one of the worst teams in the league.
Oklahoma City needs to show the potential of becoming a perennial playoff team again. The goal of the season should be to finish near the play-in tournament.
Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers finished 11th in the Western Conference and won 34 games. The Thunder won 24 games last year without Holmgren and with both Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey only playing about 50 games.
In order to attract free agents Oklahoma City needs to duplicate what is happening with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Show a culture change that is once again focused on winning. But, also show the NBA world that they are a young team that can be a force in the future.
Only difference is the Thunder may have more budding superstars which we know brings free agents to town.