The Thunder is reportedly close to finalizing an agreement with 7-foot center Nenad Krstic, according to multiple reports. The deal, which was first reported by DraftExpress.com, is worth nearly $16 million over three seasons.
Thunder GM Sam Presti today declined to comment on the report or provide any specifics about Kristic’s possible signing. Krstic’s agent, Marc Cornstein, has not returned multiple phone messages.
But Krstic, who is currently playing in Russia after leaving the NBA this summer, is a restricted free agent who last played with New Jersey. The Nets will have the right to match the Thunder’s offer within seven days of receiving it. But it’s unlikely the Nets will since they have 15 guaranteed contracts, a stable of quality young big men and are trying to clear the books for the long awaited free agent class of 2010.
Krstic, who was selected 24th overall in the 2002 draft, has career averages of 11.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 0.7 blocks in four NBA seasons, all with the Nets. Krstic didn’t begin his NBA career until 2004, and he was emerging as one of the league’s best centers in 2005-06 when he averaged 13.5 points and 6.4 rebounds. A knee injury in December of the 2006-07 season derailed his career, limiting him to 26 games that season. But he averaged 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds, showing just how much potential he possessed.
The Thunder is now taking a chance on Krstic’s health and hoping the 25-year-old can restore what was once on track to be a promising career. Krstic is averaging 10.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in 22 minutes per game in Russia. He would immediately bolster what’s been a disappointing frontline for the Thunder, which includes the habitually injured Robert Swift, an ineffective Johan Petro and a not quite ready Mo Sene.
Here’s what Krstic’s potential arrival will mean for the Thunder:
* The end of the road for Swift, Petro and Sene. All three have expiring contracts. Swift was brought back to play on the one year qualifying offer to see if he could stay healthy and live up to his No. 12 overall selection. He hasn’t done either this season, and his time has clearly run out.
The team declined the fourth-year option on Sene and chose not to offer Petro an extension before the Oct. 31 deadline, making both free agents next summer. Petro will be restricted. Sene will be unrestricted. But with Krstic potentially in the mix, Nick Collison under contract for one more season and rookie D.J. White expected to be fully healthy next season after undergoing jaw surgery, the Thunder will enough frontline pieces without Swift, Petro or Sene. And don’t forget about Serge Ibaka and DeVon Hardin, post players selected in the 2008 draft who the Thunder could sign before next season as well.
The Thunder is also on pace to have no worse than the fourth selection in this year’s draft. Three of the top five early prospects are bigs, including projected No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin, UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet and Ohio State’s B.J. Mullens.
OKC also has enough cap room — upwards of $25 million even after the Krstic signing — to make a run at a big man this summer in free agency. Utah’s Carlos Boozer, the most attractive big in next year’s class, has recently said he will opt out of the final year of his deal.
* The end of the road for Steven Hill. The 15th man likely will be waived to make room for Krstic. No big deal since Hill played in only one game.
* More low-post offense. The Thunder is a jump-shooting team with only a handful of players who can get to the rim or score inside. Collison is a hustle guy who is much more of a mid-range shooter than low-post scorer. Ditto for Joe Smith. And Chris Wilcox is a player who is best in transition and needs to get hot to be a threat offensively.
But Krstic would immediately step in and be the team’s best back-to-the-basket scorer, a guy who teams must respect offensively and has enough passing skills and a high enough basketball IQ to find the open man once doubles come. His presence would ease the load off Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, and give coach Scott Brooks a solid second option when shots aren’t falling.