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Offseason In Review: Oklahoma City Thunder

Over the next several weeks, Hoops Rumors will be breaking down the 2016 offseason for all 30 NBA teams, revisiting the summer’s free agent signings, trades, draft picks, departures, and more. We’ll evaluate each team’s moves from the last several months and look ahead to what the 2016/17 season holds for all 30 franchises. Today, we’re focusing on the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Free agent signings:

Draft-and-stash signings:

  • Alex Abrines: Three years, $17.175MM.
  • Semaj Christon: Three years, minimum salary. First year partially guaranteed. Second and third years non-guaranteed.

Camp invitees:

Contract extensions:

  • Russell Westbrook: Three years, $85.741MM. Third year player option. Extension gave him a raise to the maximum salary for 2016/17, added an extra guaranteed season to his contract, and pushed his player option back by one year.


Draft picks:

Departing players:

Other offseason news:

Check out our salary cap snapshot for the Oklahoma City Thunder right here.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City ThunderIt is difficult to argue that any team in the NBA had a worse start to its offseason that the Thunder, who lost future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Durant to a conference rival via free agency. While KD’s defection to the Warriors is likely to sting for a number of years, things are not as bleak as they may seem for fans of the team. A number of moves by GM Sam Presti over the summer have made the team younger and set up the franchise for a solid future and interesting campaign ahead.

The biggest external move by the Thunder this offseason was made with the intent to make OKC’s roster more desirable for Durant to re-sign with the team. I’m referring to the draft day trade that shipped out power forward Serge Ibaka to Orlando in exchange for combo guard Victor Oladipo, big man Ersan Ilyasova and the draft rights to No. 11 overall pick Domantas Sabonis. Despite not having the desired effect of keeping Durant in the fold, the swap should pay strong dividends for the franchise.

In Oladipo, the Thunder may have finally found a long-term answer for who they will pair in the backcourt alongside superstar Russell Westbrook. Since the ill-advised trade of James Harden back in 2012, one which I believe cost the franchise an NBA title, the team has struggled to find a suitable partner for Westbrook. The 24-year-old Oladipo, whose three-and-D game appears to be a perfect fit with the Thunder’s roster, has the opportunity to blossom into a star with Oklahoma City. His solid perimeter defense will be a boon with the plethora of mad-bombers out West, and his outside shooting should take pressure off of Westbrook and the team’s up-and-coming big men.

I won’t pretend that Ibaka won’t be missed, but the team should be able to weather his loss in aggregate with the solid depth it has in the frontcourt. The addition of Ilyasova will help, though he’s not close to being the defender that Ibaka is/was. Ilyasova can provide an offensive spark from deep, with the 29-year-old owning a 37% mark from beyond the three-point arc for his career. He’s in the last year of his current deal, so his addition is a low-risk, high-reward prospect for the Thunder. The Turkish big man will likely open the season as the starter at the four spot for OKC. The other benefit of shipping out Ibaka, who is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, is that it will make the task of retaining Oladipo and center Steven Adams, both of whom are headed for restricted free agency next summer, a much easier task.

Landing Sabonis in the trade is icing on the cake for Presti. The rookie out of Gonzaga is one of the more polished players in this year’s draft class and while he may not make a noticeable impact on the court this season, Sabonis is a solid building block for the franchise moving forward. The 20-year-old averaged 17.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 61.1% from the field, including a mark of 35.7% from three-point range during the 2015/16 campaign. He is also an excellent passer, a strong rebounder and looks to be a prototypical stretch-four in the NBA. His defense will need work before he is to log significant minutes, but he’s a smart player who should figure it out sooner rather than later.

The Thunder obviously have an enormous hole to fill at small forward, and while Kyle Singler or Andre Roberson, are certainly not the long-term answers, draft-and-stash signee Alex Abrines, who inked a three-year, $17.175MM pact this summer, just might be. The 2013 second-rounder is off to a solid start to the preseason, connecting on four of his five three-point attempts. If he can continue to provide a scoring punch from deep, the Spaniard could become a vital player for the team, who badly need to step up their outside shooting from a season ago. Like any young player, he’ll be a liability on defense, which is another reason why the addition of Oladipo, not to mention the continued development of Adams, is vital to any potential success OKC hopes to have in 2016/17.

The most important move that the Thunder made over the summer was in signing Westbrook to a contract extension. The point guard would have been able to opt out of his deal after the 2016/17 campaign, but he’ll now be in the fold for at least through 2017/18. After the departure of Durant, losing Westbrook would have been beyond devastating for the franchise and its fanbase. Not only does it signal Westbrook’s commitment to the team, it also removes the potential season-long distraction that always accompanies a superstar headed for free agency from the locker room. The 27-year-old should be at the top of the MVP candidate list now that Durant is elsewhere and he’ll likely play this season with an enormous chip on his shoulder as he attempts to demonstrate that he, and the franchise, don’t need Durant around in order to be successful. Western Conference guards had better watch out for Russell this season! Another benefit to extending Westbrook is that the team will have a clearer picture of what it has to work with next offseason, which will help shape the front office’s plans more definitively.

While it would be rash not to classify 2016/17 as a rebuilding/transition season for the franchise, Oklahoma City should be a dangerous team to play on most nights. Health will play a major factor in determining whether or not the Thunder make the playoffs. The loss of Cameron Payne for an extended period of time doesn’t help matters, but as long as Westbrook and Oladipo can remain out of street clothes during games and produce, the team should give its fans plenty to root for. It will take some time to get over the loss of Durant, not just for the fans, but for the franchise as a whole. While I don’t necessarily expect OKC to contend for an NBA title this season, the franchise’s offseason re-tooling has it headed in the right direction.

Salary information from Basketball Insiders used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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