OKC Thunder Can't Afford to Play It Safe with Roster Any Longer

Fred KatzFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2014

New Orleans Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow celebrates after a 3-point basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in New Orleans, Wednesday, March 26, 2014. The Pelicans won 98-96. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

The Oklahoma City Thunder have holes on the roster, but they may not end up actually filling them.

The Thunder aren't exactly big spenders on the free-agent market. The addition of Anthony Morrow changes that, who signed with Oklahoma City on Saturday, as first reported by Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman. Well, kind of.

Three years and $10 million for Morrow is hardly a world-shattering signing. It's probably safe to say he won't be stealing headlines from LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony anytime soon. But in the realm of the Thunder, that's actually a pretty big deal.

Nenad Krstic! Good to hear from you.

Oklahoma City isn't aggressive on the free-agent market. That just isn't in the organization's personality. 

Some of it is money reasons with an ownership group who doesn't prefer to pay the luxury tax. Some of it is roster flexibility, as well. When you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on max contracts with Serge Ibaka earning $12.4 million a year, it's going to be hard to afford bigger-name guys under the cap.

That's why general manager Sam Presti trades instead of looking for other big names. He has, after all, bartered for some big deals in the NBA bazaar before.

There was the Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins trade. The James Harden deal. The Ray Allen trade many moons ago when the Thunder were back in the Northwest.

Now, though, the trade market is starting to shrivel up along with the free-agent one, and the Thunder don't have many options left. And realistically, there probably aren't any big moves on the horizon.

EDMOND, OK - MARCH 31:  Sam Presti general manager joins Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at his annual Why Not Foundation fundraiser to benefit the Boys and Girls Club at AMC Boulevard Bowl in Edmond, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER:  User expres
Richard Rowe/Getty Images

OKC still needs help defending the wings. Thabo Sefolosha is off to Atlanta, and Caron Butler is still swimming in free agency's waters. The Thunder, meanwhile, haven't found anyone to fill the defensive void that Sefolosha's departure creates.

Josh Huestis is raw and probably not ready to step into that role. Neither is Andre Roberson.

Morrow will probably slot into a piece of the mid-level exception, where the Thunder can still have a couple of million more dollars to operate after his official addition. They'll also still have the bi-annual exception. But really, what are the chances OKC uses either of those exceptions to bring in more assets?

Krstic. That's the huge, all-time signing in OKC. Would it be so shocking if the Thunder just brought in a few guys for the minimum to fill out the roster and left the team at that?

As Royce Young chronicled at ESPN.com in early July, it's not that the Thunder don't spend at all. They just don't spend on the outside:

Trusting internal development isn’t splashy. It doesn’t make any July headlines. And it certainly frustrates fans and confuses observers as opposing teams try to load up each summer. They think the Thunder are being too conservative, unwilling to take advantage of a clear window of opportunity presented by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s general awesomeness. Kind of hard to argue with that. 

Though in some ways, Presti does acquire new players every summer. It’s just that you can’t restage news conferences for players you already have under contract. The idea within the Thunder is pretty simple: Build a young roster and expect its members to come back better in October.

The Thunder may spend internally but they still refuse to grace the luxury tax, which goes all the way up to $76.8 million next season, and this is a team that still has flaws.

The Thunder don't have corner-three shooters. They don't have a top-notch perimeter defender who isn't their best player. Durant can't check the opposing team's go-to scorer every night. 

So, the Thunder are in a quandary: spend now to improve or hold back the dough. Judging from past moves, we might not see them dish out many more dollars this offseason.


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.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of July 12 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.