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In budget crunch, Thunder bank on potential

Associated Press Modified: July 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm •  Published: July 11, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — While the NBA's other top teams load up on high-priced talent through free agency and trades, the Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to improve while facing a budget crunch.

The Thunder announced the signings of former No. 2 overall draft pick Hasheem Thabeet and undrafted free agent Hollis Thompson on Wednesday, the first day after the league's moratorium on additions.

Thabeet, a 7-foot-3 center from Tanzania, was the second pick in the 2009 draft but has averaged only 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in limited playing time over his first three seasons with Memphis, Houston and Portland.

Thompson left Georgetown after his junior season but was not taken in the draft. He will be getting his first shot at the NBA, while Thabeet is seeking a fresh start in another new situation.

"Young players, as we've seen, they all develop at different rates in different situations. I wouldn't make any judgments based on two or three years," general manager Sam Presti said in a phone interview. "I think we have to allow that process to take its course and allow him to continue his development and see where things lead after his time with the Thunder."

The moves are a sign of where the Thunder stand, with All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook already locked into expensive, long-term contracts and with Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and NBA blocks leader Serge Ibaka eligible for their own high-priced deals.

Instead of chasing after the likes of Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, the Thunder are trying to build on a budget and limit the damage the luxury tax may present to their payroll.

For now, that means taking a chance on players like Thabeet and Thompson. Those additions, plus the signing of first-round draft pick Perry Jones III, make even less likely the return of veteran free agents Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey.

Presti said Oklahoma City sees "more growth left" in Thabeet, who fits the franchise's defense-first mold.

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