Thunder Facing A Numbers Issue
OKLAHOMA CITY - Next Thursday's NBA Draft approaches with the Oklahoma City Thunder in a strange position. The Thunder have the No. 14 pick in the draft, the first time the team's assigned draft pick has been in the top-20 since 2009.
OKC had the No. 12 pick in 2013 and the No. 18 pick in 2010, but both of those were acquired in trades.
But while “Who?” is an important question to ask, a better one might be, “Where are they going?”
Oklahoma City has a numbers issue that will have to be resolved before the season begins. Granted, that's a ways away, but solving it may affect how the Thunder navigates the draft next week.
Currently, OKC has 13 players under contract for next year, with Kyle Singler and Enes Kanter entering restricted free agency. The Thunder have made it very clear they want to re-sign both Singler and Kanter, so if we assume both return next season, Oklahoma City doesn't have a roster spot for its two draftees.
Now, it's quite possible both of the Thunder's draft picks play across the street with the Blue all season, but it's rare the No. 14 pick isn't getting some playing time by the end of their rookie season. But it's equally rare the No. 14 pick comes in and makes an immediate impact. These are the players picked No. 14 every year going back to 2000.
T.J. Warren, Shabazz Muhammad, John Henson, Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson, Earl Clark, Anthony Randolph, Al Thornton, Ronnie Brewer, Rashad McCants, Kris Humphries, Luke Ridnour, Fred Jones, Troy Murphy, Mateen Cleaves.
That's not a very impressive list, but every situation is different, and a shooter or a strong defender could certainly find their way into the Thunder's rotation right away. After all, most (including myself) thought Steven Adams would spend a lot of time in Tulsa during his rookie season. Turns out, he didn't make the trip up the turnpike a single time.
The Thunder could very well stick their draft pick with the Blue for the 2015-16 season, but if OKC drafts, say, Cameron Payne and he's clearly ready for the bright lights of the NBA halfway through the season, why not bring him over? If that happens, OKC has to do something in order to make room for him and I don't think Perry Jones or Jeremy Lamb is going to take a trip across the street themselves.
So what should the Thunder do? Well, the easiest approach would be to wait until camp and just let the best 15 show themselves. However, Sam Presti has always tried to maximize every player exit from OKC, and if he can get something—maybe one of the draft picks he gave up in acquiring Dion Waiters and others last season— for Jones, Lamb or someone else, you better believe he's going to do it.
Again, this is a problem that may not be solved until October when training camp rolls around, but it bears mentioning now because it could affect the Thunder's plans next week. Right now, it seems more likely the Thunder would move back in the draft as opposed to up, but with some tradable assets and a likely need to shrink the roster, perhaps we could see that happen.
Don't expect to see the Thunder fielding the same roster they ended last season with when the new season begins. The numbers just won't allow that to happen.