At the conclusion of the 2019-2020 NBA Season, the Oklahoma City Thunder had a record of 44-28 which placed them at 5th in the Western Conference and 9th in the league. This season, the Thunder emerged as one of the best stories in the league. Last offseason, Sam Presti went into full rebuild mode, trading their two stars in Westbrook and George, while acquiring young talent and several picks in return. Somehow, the Thunder still managed to improve their record from the past season and take the rockets to a game 7 in the first round of the playoffs. The Thunder are now very clearly a team of the future and expect to move on from Chris Paul and Steven Adams in the near future as they look to continue adding young prospects and draft picks to their collection. Among their many feel-good stories this season was the ageing Chris Paul who earned his first all-star appearance since 2016 in his age 34 season and elevated his underrated side in a surprising season. This has caused him to gain a lot of interest from opposing teams who are looking to take advantage of Presti’s willingness to rebuild and add Paul to their line-up. This offseason, the Thunder are expected to lean even further into a rebuild by trading their older pieces and adding draft stock.
Currently, the Oklahoma City Thunder have eight players with guaranteed contracts for the 2020-2021 NBA season. Mike Muscala has a $2.2 million player option which I expect him to opt into. Muscala has been a consistent bench player for his whole career thus far and has been bouncing around the league the past few years. With the current situation within the league, I expect Muscala to opt for security rather than risking being out of the league next season and therefore he should be staying in OKC next season. There are several players with team options for next season. Abdel Nader, Deonte Burton and Hamidou Diallo all have team options worth $1.7 million, $1.6 million, and $1.6 million, respectively. I expect all three of these options to be accepted by OKC with all three young players worth the minimum contracts and providing solid minutes of the bench. Two-way player, Kevin Hervey, is the Thunder’s only restricted free agent. OKC have several unrestricted free agents in Danilo Gallinari, Andre Roberson, and Nerlens Noel. The Thunder project to have both the $9.2 million mid-level exception and $3.6 million bi-annual exception available as well as several trade exceptions in the total amount of approximately $20 million.
Depth Chart –
The Oklahoma City Thunder will most likely enter free agency as an over the cap team which shouldn’t affect them too badly as their main focus should be shifting into a rebuilding phase. The Thunder also have most of their roster already signed for next season, so they do not expect to be big fish in the 2020 free agency period. Danilo Gallinari will be the Thunder’s highest-profile free agent and they will have bird right on him. Unfortunately, by all accounts, it seems as though both parties will be parting ways and Gallinari looks destined to play elsewhere in the 2020-2021 season. Andre Roberson is another free agent that I do not expect to return to the Thunder. Roberson has struggled to make any impact on the team due to injury and with the Thunder already over the cap, it is unlikely they will take the risk and bring him back. Nerlens Noel is the only free agent I expect Thunder to retain as he fits their rebuilding timeline and has shown development over the past season. He also provides backup at the center position in the event that the Thunder decide to trade Steven Adams sometime before the trade deadline. They should be able to retain Noel without having to use the full mid-level exception as I doubt there will be much interest from other teams with cap space. The Thunder are in the market for a for a young defensive forward who can provide some energy for what projects to be a young team and that player could be Derrick Jones Jr. It is rumoured that Miami are not interested in retaining Jones after he failed to make an appearance deep in their playoff run. Jones would be able to be signed on the mid-level exception and would fit the timeline of OKC perfectly.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will have the 25th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The Thunder are expected to draft with this pick in order to add to their youth as they enter a rebuild. The Thunder are in need of shooting, playmaking, backup point guard should they trade Chris Paul prior to the trade deadline. With the 25th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder should look to select Nico Mannion, a 6’3” point guard out of Arizona. Mannion is a young, combo guard with the ability to play both on and off the ball. He is a comfortable shooter and playmaker who has shown strong development over the course of his first and only season at the college level. He does struggle on the defensive end of the ball, but this can be improved with good coaching and in-game development.
At the end of the 2020 NBA season, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Billy Donovan agreed to mutually part ways after there was disagreement in regard to the future direction of the organisation. Donovan has since joining the Chicago bulls as their head coach and OKC are the only team yet to make a decision on their next head coach. There have been very few rumours about the role and there are a number of strong candidates who could fill the position. The Thunder need a coach who is willing to lead a young, rebuilding team that is focussed on development. Kenny Atkinson is my pick to earn the Thunder’s top job next season due to his success in developing players during his time in Brooklyn. Atkinson is willing to coach on a rebuilding team and has had assistant coaching experience under Mike D’Antoni and Mike Budenholzer. If he can develop players like SGA into quality starters for the Thunder, then he may be the coach they are looking for during this rebuild.
The Oklahoma City Thunder may have just experienced their last successful season for a while with the team clearly moving towards a rebuilding phase. While they won’t be major players in free agency, the Thunder will have some key decisions to make with regards to the draft, trading their aging players and hiring their next head coach. If they can continue to grow their collection of young assets, they will stand in good stead to become a strong contender in the next 5 years. Ultimately, with a stacked western conference, I do not expect the Thunder to appear in the playoffs in 2021.
Projected Depth Chart 2020/21 Season –
Players IN: Derrick Jones Jr, Nico Mannion
Players OUT: Danilo Gallinari, Andre Roberson
Trade Potential: Chris Paul, Steven Adams