Where Thunder’s Roster Crunch Stands

At this time last week, the Thunder were carrying 20 players on standard contracts, meaning they needed to trade or waive five of those players before opening night in order to meet the NBA’s regular season roster requirements.

Oklahoma City is now two-fifths of the way there, having recently waived TyTy Washington Jr. and Usman Garuba, two players who were acquired in salary-dump trades last month. The Thunder signed Lindy Waters and Olivier Sarr to two-way contracts with their newly opened roster spots and now have 18 players on standard deals, with three on two-way pacts.

That leaves three more players for the Thunder to waive or trade before the season begins, and while they have plenty of time to make those decisions, they won’t necessarily be easy ones.

Victor Oladipo and Davis Bertans look like obvious release candidates. Oladipo tore his left knee patellar tendon in the spring and is on an expiring contract, so it seems unlikely that he has a place in the Thunder’s short- or long-term plans. Bertans averaged a career-low 10.9 minutes per game last season and was another salary-dump acquisition whose days in OKC are probably numbered.

However, Oladipo’s $9.45MM expiring salary and Bertans’ $17MM cap hit could be useful if the Thunder want to make a bigger trade before February’s 2024 deadline. Plus, Bertans is owed a partial guarantee of $5MM on his $16MM salary for 2024/25, so Oklahoma City would have to eat that dead money by waiving him now. The club may prefer to hang onto him to see if he can be used as a trade chip down the road.

Theoretically, Isaiah Joe, Aaron Wiggins, and Jack White make sense as release candidates. They’re the only three of the Thunder’s 18 players on standard contracts who don’t have guaranteed salaries for 2023/24. Joe and Wiggins have non-guaranteed minimum-salary deals, while White’s minimum salary is partially guaranteed for $600K.

But Joe was one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters in 2022/23, knocking down 40.9% of his outside attempts in a regular rotation role for OKC. Wiggins was a valuable rotation piece too, posting an impressive shooting line of .512/.393/.831 in 70 games (18.5 MPG).

And while White doesn’t have that same track record of success, the Thunder went out of their way to sign him away from the Nuggets this offseason after Denver issued him a two-way qualifying offer. He would be ineligible for a two-way deal with Oklahoma City if he’s cut, so it appears the club is serious about giving him a shot at a 15-man roster spot.

Among the Thunder’s other players with guaranteed salaries, Tre Mann, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Aleksej Pokusevski may not have roster spots locked up.

A 2021 first-round pick, Mann had a promising rookie year but took a step backward in 2022/23 as his three-point rate dipped from 36.0% to 31.5% and he saw his role reduced. He’s owed $3.2MM this season and Oklahoma City will have to decide by October 31 whether to exercise a $4.9MM team option for 2024/25.

Robinson-Earl, another 2021 draftee, has been relatively productive in two NBA seasons, averaging 7.2 PPG and 4.9 RPG on .427/.344/.781 shooting in 92 games (20.7 MPG). But his $1.9MM salary would be easy enough to move on from, especially since he’s not owed any guaranteed money beyond this season. Jaylin Williams has passed him on the frontcourt depth chart and Chet Holmgren will also be in the mix in 2023/24.

Pokusevksi, meanwhile, has flashed tantalizing upside since being drafted in the first round in 2020 and boosted his shooting percentages significantly in 2022/23, posting career highs of 43.4% from the floor and 36.5% on threes. However, he still hasn’t really put it all together for an extended period, and he’s on an expiring $5MM contract — it’s unclear if the Thunder envision keeping him beyond his current deal. If he remains on the roster, he’d be eligible for a rookie scale extension this offseason or restricted free agency next summer.

While no one else on the Thunder’s roster is a legitimate release candidate, it’s possible the team could consider trading someone else – perhaps Kenrich Williams – though a handful of players (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, etc.) are untouchable.

If I had to make a prediction today, I’d project Oladipo and Mann as the first two odd men out, with Bertans, White, or Robinson-Earl as the third roster casualty. It would surprise me if Joe, Wiggins, or Pokusevski is waived, though a trade involving one of those players certainly isn’t out of the question.

What do you think? Which three (or more) of the Thunder players currently on standard contracts won’t be on the team’s 15-man roster when the season begins in October? Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts.

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