Complementing that group is Steven Adams, a center with gobs of potential, Perry Jones III, a world-class athlete with multiple skills, Andre Roberson, a lanky defender, rebounder and hustler, and Nick Collison, a wily veteran. All were drafted by the Thunder or acquired via trade on draft night. Grant Jerrett, also acquired via trade on draft night last year, has the potential to develop into a sharpshooting power forward, skills that are becoming more pivotal at that position in today’s game.
The latter five combined to earn about $7 million this past season. Each of their relatively inexpensive contracts is what allows the Thunder to pay, and ultimately retain, its high-priced stars. Three of the five — Collison and Jerrett being the exceptions — still are on rookie contracts. That guarantees the Thunder four years of a player, as well as the first chance to re-sign him before his contract is up. And the goal is for them to get better and contribute more and more even while playing on those relatively inexpensive deals.
With the 21st and 29th selections Thursday night, the Thunder has an opportunity to continue the critical cycle. Under the NBA’s rookie scale salary guidelines, those two draft picks combined are slotted to make slightly more than $2 million.
For a franchise dedicated toward sustaining an elite roster while juggling the challenges of playing in the league’s third smallest market, it’s the only way to guarantee continuity.
It all makes Thursday the most important date on the NBA calendar.