The signing of Royal Ivey last week put the Thunder at 16 contract players, one more than NBA rules permit teams to carry into the regular season.
That means someone must go.
Mo Peterson will be 33 next month but can still contribute on the court and has earned a reputation in his 10 seasons of carrying a first-class attitude away from it. Don't expect Peterson to be waived.
Daequan Cook, 10 years younger than Peterson, provides much of the same assets and essentially is on a one-year trial run as a 3-point specialist in OKC. Cook figures to be on the opening-night roster as well.
Since the Thunder's coaching staff and front office is pleased with the returning nine-man rotation, and No. 11 overall pick Cole Aldrich is entrenched in the long-term plans, that leaves Byron Mullens, D.J. White and Kyle Weaver as the most likely candidates to be on the outside looking in.
Mullens has shown the most development of the trio and, as an athletic 7-foot center, is a rare commodity that the Thunder isn't likely to throw away after only one season. White is another big man who can provide rebounding and court spacing with his mid-range shooting ability. And so it appears Weaver could be the last man standing, possibly squeezed out of a fast-developing roster.
The question is how exactly will the Thunder proceed?
The easiest thing for the Thunder to do could be to waive Weaver or whomever it might be that is caught in the numbers game. But when have we known Thunder GM Sam Presti to take the easy route?
It's possible that Presti could turn an out-of-the rotation player into a future asset. While it sounds like a long shot, by now it's safe to believe the Thunder will explore every option. And if there is a logical trade to be made it will be done.
Even with 16 players signed, Oklahoma City sits more than $6 million below the $58.04 million salary cap. That kind of cap space is enough to afford the Thunder the opportunity to swap a 15th man for a future draft pick — maybe even a first-rounder if OKC is willing to take back a sizeable contract.
It's doubtful, however, that Presti would pull the trigger on any deal involving a player whose contract had more than one year remaining. But teams like Dallas, Denver, Houston, Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers are all far enough above the luxury tax that they might be willing partners in an attempt to cut costs.
And Presti has a track record of pulling off such deals.
He acquired Eric Maynor from Utah last season by having cap space and being willing to take on Matt Harpring's expiring, insurance-covered contract. Presti gave up only a 2002 draft pick named Peter Fehse who has never played an NBA game. And in 2007, Presti acquired two unprotected first-round draft picks from Phoenix as what amounted to compensation for taking on Kurt Thomas' expiring $8.1 million contract. Presti sent the Suns only a future second-round pick.
We'll soon find out whether Presti has another trick up his sleeve and is able to this time turn a bench player or two into an improbable bargain.