The Oklahoma City Thunder has agreed with former No. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet on a two-year contract.
The deal cannot officially be signed until the league's free agent moratorium period is lifted on July 11. Financial terms of the deal were not immediately known, but the contract, which will be fully guaranteed for both seasons, is believed to be a minimal salary, or roughly $880,000 in the first year of the contract.
Thabeet will join his fourth team in four seasons after being drafted by Memphis in 2009. He was taken one spot ahead of Thunder guard James Harden, but the 7-foot-3 center has had a disappointing start to his professional career after earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in his final two seasons at Connecticut.
In 135 games, Thabeet has averaged 2.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocked shots.
Oklahoma City has been enamored with Thabeet since his college days and was widely believed to be strongly considering selecting him, if available, with the third overall pick. Memphis plucked Thabeet second overall in part because the Grizzlies thought Oklahoma City would take him if they didn't.
In his best season, Thabeet averaged 3.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots in 13 minutes per game as a rookie with the Grizzlies. Memphis, however, traded Thabeet and a first-round pick to Houston midway through his second season in exchange for Shane Battier. After Thabeet appeared in just seven games for Houston, the Rockets sent Thabeet, Jonny Flynn and a second-round pick to Portland in March in exchange for Marcus Camby.
The addition of Thabeet all but guarantees veteran center Nazr Mohammed will not return to the Thunder. If not, that paves the way for third-year center Cole Aldrich to step into the primary backup role behind starter Kendrick Perkins. Thabeet is expected to be the third-string center.
Adding Thabeet also helps the Thunder preserve precious salary cap space, most of which will go toward paying its young players. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook already are locked into maximum-allowable contracts. Harden, Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor are all now eligible for extensions to their rookie deals.
What the Thunder is doing in bringing in Thabeet, 25, is taking a flyer on a one-time promising prospect without paying him much and hoping he can develop into the player he once was capable of being. If he does, the Thunder gets a steal. If not, the team will not have lost anything.
“Playing in that environment is positive,” said Thabeet's agent, Bill Duffy. “Sam Presti has done a great job of not only building a winning organization but a culture that's conditioned to developing and nurturing. So we think it's a really good fit. So now the onus is on Hasheem to buy into that and to develop and to reach his potential.”
When the Thunder officially signs Thabeet and No. 28 overall pick Perry Jones III, Oklahoma City will have 14 players under contract for the 2012-13 season, one shy of the maximum amount of players allowable under NBA rules.