After last week’s NBA Draft left more to be desired, the Thunder’s next chance to make this offseason a success arrives Tuesday.
Free agency gets underway at midnight eastern time, and Oklahoma City is expected to use this period to finalize improvements to its 2014-15 roster.
The Thunder doesn’t have much money to spend or room on its roster for major additions. But OKC does need a starting shooting guard and a third point guard. When the team passed on both of those needs with its two first-round selections in last Thursday’s draft, it became clear that the plan was to target them in free agency.
Everyone has a favorite name, be it a realistic option or a fantasy.
The reality, however, is the Thunder has never been a big player in free agency and isn’t likely to start this year, regardless of how close it might be to a championship. The major pieces already are in place. The biggest improvements will be made through in-house development.
Being over the salary cap prohibits the Thunder from entering into bidding wars anyway. All that’s available to OKC to spend on free agents is a few exceptions, most notably the $5.3 million mid-level exception.
But even with a projected jump in next year’s tax threshold to $77 million, the Thunder’s payroll will be about $72 million just with the signing of 21st overall pick Mitch McGary. Contrary to popular belief, staying below the tax threshold once again will not be about counting pennies, but being prudent and avoiding the start of the “repeater” clock for as long as possible. Beginning in 2015-16, teams that are in the tax three out of four years are deemed repeat offenders and must then pay a heftier repeater rate that starts at $2.50 for every $1 it exceeds the threshold. The rate increases incrementally for each additional $5 million a team spends over the tax.
For the Thunder, the idea is to pay the tax when Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are on their second extensions and in the prime years of their careers rather than paying it now, triggering those stiffer tax penalties and running the risk of having to break up the team’s core when it is entering its best years.
Nevertheless, when free agency opens Oklahoma City has to hunt for some help.
Take a look at the top 25 free agents this summer has to offer, as well as five cheaper alternatives should the Thunder decide to go bargain shopping.