Expect trades, not free agents
Major signing would jeopardize team's long-term structure

By Darnell Mayberry Published: July 7, 2008
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NBA teams can begin signing free agents Wednesday, but don't expect much activity from Oklahoma City's new NBA team this summer.

While teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Wizards already have agreed to major deals with Baron Davis and Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, respectively, the team formerly known as the Sonics likely will not be players in free agency.

The old Sonics already have 14 players under contract for next season. They'll have the league maximum of 15 once they sign second-round pick DeVon Hardin, who could finalize his deal today before the team tips off its five-game summer league schedule in Orlando this afternoon.

If restricted free-agent center Robert Swift receives a more lucrative offer sheet than the $3.5 million he's due next season and the old Sonics decline to match, his departure would reduce the number back to 14. Veteran journeyman Adrian Griffin could also be bought out of his partially guaranteed $1.7 million contract for next season, which could reduce the roster to 13 players.

Those two scenarios could save the old Sonics more than $5 million and put them in a better position to sign a free agent.

But teams are increasingly looking to start the season under the 15-player maximum, and Oklahoma City is set up to do just that assuming the team buys out Griffin. Leaving an open roster spot or two whenever possible allows GMs more roster flexibility to add a player in midseason in the event of injuries and preserves space to later take on additional players in trades.

Team general manager Sam Presti has been diligent in his desire to maintain salary cap flexibility for both the short term and the long term. A major free-agent signing would only jeopardize the team's currently sound, long-term salary structure.

Add to that, few players in this year's crop of free agents align with the team's goals.