OKC Thunder 2014 NBA Free-Agency Big Board: Ranking Top Targets Post-Draft
The Oklahoma City Thunder enter the offseason trying to improve on a disappointing end to an underwhelming season.
After dropping in six games to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder keep most of their roster intact for next season with Derek Fisher, who has already signed up to coach the New York Knicks, Caron Butler and Thabo Sefolosha as the only free agents from last year's squad. Fifty-nine wins may seem like a bunch, but at this point, the standards are higher in Oklahoma City than a mere playoff exit.
Don't be surprised if you see some movement on the trade front from the Thunder over the course of this offseason. OKC currently has $68.8 million lined up for next season (including Hasheem Thabeet's $1.25 million non-guaranteed deal). Meanwhile, that doesn't even account for the rookie contracts of Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis, whom the Thunder selected in last week's NBA draft.
Oklahoma City is inching dangerously close to the luxury-tax line, an area in which it doesn't want to reside. That's why it shouldn't be all too shocking if the Thunder move Kendrick Perkins and his $9.4 million expiring contract and/or Nick Collison, who lost playing time as the postseason progressed.
With free agents hitting the market July 1, it'll soon be time for the Thunder to start thinking about who to sign on the open market. Possessing the mid-level and biannual exceptions, OKC has the ability to make some moves, and with holes on the wings, it will surely have some gaps to fill.
10. Jordan Hamilton, SF
Hamilton is another guy who could provide an offensive spark off the bench, though he's only 23 years old and is still coming into his own.
Hamilton was an offensive project coming out of college. He always had scoring talent, but his decision-making after he left Texas needed work.
During his sophomore and final season in Austin, he may have averaged 18.6 points per game, but he did it while indiscriminately chucking up shots. He honed little of the discipline it takes to be a legitimate NBA threat. Now, after spending time with the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets, an organization that doesn't allow its role players to chuck up contested, mid-range shots or off-the-dribble threes, that's starting to change.
Hamilton's shot selection has gotten better, and with that, he's becoming someone who could help OKC on the wings, especially in the corners, where the Thunder were the third-worst shooting team in the league this past season and where Hamilton shot 48.1 percent this past season.
9. Thabo Sefolosha, SG
Sefolosha had a down season in every sense during 2013-14.
Even when he was hitting shots (which didn't last for that long), opponents were happy to help off him because of his sloth release. That's part of why the Thunder had such issues with spacing this past season. It's hard to say if he fits with this team anymore, but he's not the worst wing to have on your Plan B side of the spectrum.
Sefolosha can still play defense and clearly, he knows the system. He's been with this team since 2008-09. On that front, bringing him back would be fine, but you can't have a repeat of last year's production at shooting guard.
Thunder shooting guards posted an 11.9 PER this past season, according to 82games.com, the worst output of any of their five positions, and Sefolosha had plenty to do with that. He hit just 31.6 percent of his threes, and the Thunder outscored opponents by only 3.9 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. That number went up to 8.6 when he sat on the bench.
He's not going to run off screens. He's not going to move much off the ball. He's a camper who sets up in the corner, and that's not the worst thing in the world to have when there are four offensive-minded players already on the court. But when you put a non-shooter in a lineup with Kendrick Perkins, the floor tends to clog up like a sink after a James Harden shave.
Sefolosha can come back. It'd just have to be in a highly limited role for a minimal salary. If he could accept that, then a return to OKC would be perfectly fair.
8. Caron Butler, SF
The Thunder acquired Butler midseason hoping he could help with floor spacing. Instead, he didn't end up doing all that much after supplanting Jeremy Lamb in the rotation.
Butler averaged 9.7 points per game in 27.2 minutes a night during 22 games in Oklahoma City. But really, on a team that couldn't space the floor properly with its non-ball-handlers, his job was to hit threes. And he ended the year making 44.1 percent of his shots from beyond the arc with the Thunder.
He may have helped spacing to a degree—we didn't really see defenders helping off Butler in the corner during the postseason—but that was about all he did. His defense left something to be desired, and his patented pump-fake-at-the-three-point-line, take-one-dribble-and-chuck-up-a-21-foot-two-pointer move became far too common a facet of the OKC offense.
If the Thunder wanted to bring Butler back on a limited contract, that'd be perfectly acceptable. The 34-year-old made just $1 million in his 22 games for OKC this past season, and he did provide some help as a shooter on the outside. But he would need to return on a low contract and in a lesser role.
You have to account for some regression with a guy Butler's age, especially considering how his athleticism has slightly deteriorated over the past few years. Just like with Sefolosha, Oklahoma City can invite him back to the party. Just don't make him a main attraction.
7. The Cheap Stretch 4
The Thunder's focus this offseason has to be about finding wings on the outside who can score and play defense and be complements to reigning MVP Kevin Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in the postseason.
That was the problem in this year's playoffs. "The others," as Shaquille O'Neal calls them, never stepped up. It got to the point that Sefolosha was getting DNPs at the end of the Thunder's postseason run. But even with Ibaka, Perkins, Collison, Steven Adams and the newly drafted Mitch McGary, OKC could use one more piece at power forward.
Perkins, Adams and Collison all contribute in their own ways, but not one of them is a scorer, and not one has range that goes outside a couple feet of the rim.
(Disclaimer: Collison can actually shoot, but he is so tentative to put up any jumpers that his hesitance almost negates his range.)
There are quality stretch 4s on the market: Josh McRoberts, Boris Diaw, Andray Blatche, Patrick Patterson, Mike Scott and Jason Smith. Even a Matt Bonner or Anthony Tolliver could fill a role as a shooter to stretch the floor.
If the Thunder can land one of these guys on the cheap end to add a little forward depth, it could help them against bigger defensive lineups that don't prefer to venture out to the three-point line.
6. Mike Miller, SF
Obviously, Miller helps with the Thunder's spacing issues.
Don't sleep on the corner-three issue in Oklahoma City from 2013-14. That was a massive problem for OKC, considering how much being able to knock in jumpers from the corners spreads the floor for an offense.
With Miller, health is always an issue. He played just 139 games during his three seasons with the Miami Heat from 2010 through 2013, but that seemed to change this past year in Memphis when he got into all 82 contests for the Grizzlies.
If Miller can stay healthy, he shouldn't command a much more expensive salary than the minimum deal he made in '13-14, when he shot 45.9 percent from long range. That means OKC doesn't have to use up its mid-level exception to sign him. If the Thunder can nab a shooter with championship experience for cheap, that might be an intuitive move to make.
5. Nick Young, SG
How much fun would it be to listen to the trolls if Nick Young and Westbrook were on the same team? They wouldn't even need to channel surf anymore. They could just set Thunder games to automatically record on their DVRs and let their tweets float away into the abyss of the Internet.
No, Young wouldn't be the first choice at shooting guard, but he shouldn't be written off altogether. Mainly, he can score, and that's something the Thunder desperately need.
He may have been coming off the bench for an awful Los Angeles Lakers team this past season, but Young actually had the best year of his career from pretty much any standpoint. His 22.8 points per 36 minutes showcased his best figure ever, and his respectable 56.4 percent true shooting was his highest ever, as well.
Young could basically come to OKC and play the same role.
Don't put him in a lineup with KD and Westbrook—that could spell trouble. But if you want to start Reggie Jackson at the 2 and stagger the minutes so he's also your backup 1, you could bring Young off the bench for some instant offense with the reserves.
There are other shooting guards out there who you could argue might help the Thunder more—Ray Allen, Rodney Stuckey, Alan Anderson, Anthony Morrow (a fantastic shooter who could help on a cheap contract like Miller) and two more guys we'll get to later—but if Young is left as your only option, you could use part of the mid-level to sign him.
You may regret it when he chucks up a contested, fadeaway three with 18 seconds left on the shot clock or when he makes plays like these, but every once in a while, "Swaggy P" will give you a performance that makes you forget about all of the craziness. Just ask Clippers fans about that.
4. Shaun Livingston, PG
Signing Livingston would give some insight into how the Thunder could operate systematically this season. Mainly, this could work if they plan on moving Jackson into the starting shooting guard role full-time, as they did in their final four playoff games against the Spurs.
If Jackson is going to be a 2-guard, he could still act as the backup point, a la James Harden in 2011-12. But still, OKC would need another guard in the mix if it felt like Jeremy Lamb wasn't ready to take on such a burden. Livingston could be that guy.
He gained plenty of experience off the ball this season with the Brooklyn Nets, starting 54 games and playing plenty of minutes alongside Deron Williams at the 2-guard. He's a long, 6'7" defender who could fit nicely next to Westbrook or Jackson, though his lack of three-point range wouldn't exactly help with the spacing issues the Thunder had this past season.
If Livingston were willing to sign with a contender for something on the cheaper end (surely, he will be highly sought-after this offseason), then this could be a nice signing. If not, the Thunder could still go a similar route while starting Jackson at the 2.
There are so many quality point guards who hit the free-agent market this summer that it's hard to keep track of all of them. And plenty of them fit the backup-who-can-play-off-the-ball role well.
Greivis Vasquez, Ramon Sessions and Devin Harris all see their contracts run out on July 1, though none of those guys really qualifies as a shooter, either. But that's fine, because again, there are so many solid free-agent point guards.
Patty Mills, Kirk Hinrich, Jerryd Bayless, Mario Chalmers, Darren Collison, Mo Williams, Jordan Farmar, D.J. Augustin, Steve Blake, Aaron Brooks, Luke Ridnour and Brian Roberts are all on that free-agent list, too. There are too many quality point guards out there without very many 2s.
With that in mind, maybe it'd be prudent for the Thunder to move Jackson and find a third point to play a more quarterback-like role than Derek Fisher did last year.
3. Vince Carter, SG
If Miller is old, I'm not quite sure what label we should give to Carter.
Wise? Experienced? Seasoned?
He may have three years on Miller, but Carter's certainly not done playing. Not even close.
He averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per 36 minutes this past season as a Dallas Maverick. At 37 years old, he's still going strong.
In a way, it's kind of amazing how Carter has been able to maintain this level of play for so long. For the first 10 years of his career, so much of his success had to do with his athleticism, and guys who predicate their moves on being able to do things other people can't tend to fade quickly once their superpowers go away.
Carter is still good for a surprisingly acrobatic dunk every once in a while, but he clearly isn't the athlete he was back in Toronto and New Jersey. How could he be? That was years ago. But he's still remarkably effective as a bench scorer.
Now, he's become an intelligent instant-offense guy. He's sunk exactly 40 percent of his three-pointers over the past two years and has had a 55.5 true shooting percentage over that time. Even if he slipped just a bit next year, he would still be a massive offensive upgrade over what the Thunder had at shooting guard this past season.
2. Jodie Meeks, SG
It's hard for a college basketball fan to look at Jodie Meeks and not think of his 54-point game at Kentucky. But that was a different Jodie Meeks.
This Jodie Meeks is the NBA one. It's the one who went in the second round of the 2009 NBA draft. It's the one who wasn't supposed to be a real, professional scorer, who couldn't get shots off on his own in the pros.
How wrong was all that?
Playing on a woeful Los Angeles Lakers squad that won just 27 games, Meeks became one of the sole bright spots. He finished the year averaging a career-high 17.0 points per 36 minutes, sinking 2.1 threes a game while knocking in 40.1 percent of his attempts from long range.
Now, he may be a remedy for the Thunder's scoring problems at 2-guard. We think of Meeks as a spot-up shooter, and that's absolutely a role he can play—he posted a 61.0 adjusted field-goal percentage on catch-and-shoot jumpers this past season, according to Synergy Sports—but he's learned to handle the ball a little more, as well.
In Oklahoma City though, all Meeks would have to do is run off screens and spot up. For 25 minutes a night, he could slot nicely into the shooting guard spot. As long as Lamb continues to develop, the two of them could team up to make a solid 2-guard combination.
1. P.J. Tucker, SF
Tucker doesn't exactly fill every need the Thunder have, but in some ways, he's the perfect match in OKC. As a role player, he sort of fits in everywhere.
He may play the same position as Durant, but he can help off the bench as a 6'5" defender, and he is versatile enough to play the 2 when Lamb isn't out there. Actually, a couple of years ago, he played the vast majority of his minutes as a shooting guard.
He's a versatile defender who can guard multiple types of wings and who intuitively knows how to rotate, which is highly important while playing in the Thunder defense with guys like Ibaka and Westbrook, who are more than capable defenders but who like to gamble.
Having a big-bodied, bullish defender and rebounder who can switch onto multiple different positions would be a huge asset for the Thunder D. That's essentially what made Sefolosha valuable for all those years in OKC.
Meanwhile, as a low-usage offensive player, Tucker could play as a 3 with the bench unit or as the 2 with the starters. He shot 40.7 percent on a high volume of corner threes this past year and is a solid off-ball cutter.
Plug him into the Oklahoma City roster, and he could provide immediate help. This is probably the best mutual fit out there for OKC. If the Thunder can lock down Tucker for part of the mid-level exception and add a few complementary moves, they should be able to consider their offseason a success.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.
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