Thunder 2023 offseason primer: Targets, outgoing free agents, trades, draft needs and more

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images) /

The Oklahoma City Thunder have an exceedingly bright future and plenty of flexibility to improve their roster through free agency, trades, and the NBA Draft. 

Don’t look now, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are back. Back from basketball purgatory, ready to stake their claim on the next decade of Western Conference contention. There are several young teams in the NBA, but OKC stands above the rest in terms of roster construction, cap flexibility, and draft capital.

Sam Presti has been remarkably patient and precise with his rebuild. No team has dominated the roster-building margins more than OKC.  Second-round picks, undrafted free agents — Presti is the master of extracting value from every move, big or small.

Last season, OKC swooped in to sign Isaiah Joe after he was waived by the Sixers to create an extra roster spot. He ended up being one of the league’s most prolific 3-point shooters and an essential part of OKC’s rotation.

In the draft, the Thunder unearthed second-place Rookie of the Year finisher Jalen Williams with the 12th pick. OKC also found their starting center, Jaylin Williams, in the second round. OKC also managed an upside swing with Ousmane Dieng in the No. 11 spot — oh, and they drafted Chet Holmgren with the No. 2 overall pick. He didn’t play last season because of injury and the Thunder were still knocking on the door of the playoffs.

Now, Presti and his rebuild approach a true inflection point. The Thunder have been patient this whole time and will likely remain patient moving forward. But, OKC has genuine star power in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Holmgren will fill holes and elevate the team’s defensive ceiling. Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey are both top-100 players and trending upward.

OKC was 40-42 and one win away from the playoffs with an average team age under 24. This is a team capable of competing sooner than later — and capable of sustaining that competitive level for the foreseeable future. Thus, we could be in store for a fascinating offseason from the Thunder.

Oklahoma City Thunder outgoing free agents

The Thunder have only a small contingent of players hitting the free-agent waters — either unrestricted or restricted.

  • Dario Saric, 29, C
  • Lindy Waters III, 25, SF (Club Option)
  • Jared Butler, 22, PG (RFA)
  • Olivier Sarr, 24, C (RFA)

Waters’ club option is for $3.1 million. The Oklahoma native struggled with his efficiency in 41 appearances for the Thunder last season (39.3 percent from the field), but he’s a good enough 3-point shooter to space the floor for OKC’s myriad playmakers. He also offers some size and toughness on the defensive end at 6-foot-6, 215 pounds.

Butler and Sarr are coin tosses to return after spending last season on two-way contracts. Butler is younger than Sarr and has some upside as a playmaker with the second unit, but the Thunder aren’t starved for guard play.

Dario Saric would be a reasonable player to bring back depending on the price tag. He doesn’t quite fit the core’s timeline but there are benefits to having veterans on a young team. An ACL injury set Saric back entering last season, but he showed flashes of his old passing creativity and 3-point shooting during the Thunder’s stretch run.

Oklahoma City Thunder trade targets

OKC has ample cap space and a glut of first-round picks to dangle in trade conversations. If the Thunder want to be players for the next disgruntled superstar, they can be.

Trae Young, for example, is a native Oklahoman and he played college ball down the street in Norman. How long will he last with the Hawks? Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are players the Thunder very much have the means to acquire. Even Deandre Ayton could be an intriguing target.

That said, Presti has been notoriously patient and, from the outside looking in, the Thunder appear determined to build a contender from within. A true home-grown team. So far the plan is working. SGA made first-team All-NBA, Williams and Giddey are future All-Stars, and Chet was the No. 2 pick for a reason. Maybe the Thunder don’t need to make trades.

Oklahoma City Thunder free agent targets

The Thunder are projected to have $32.2 million in cap space this summer. While we can safely rule out OKC for the heavy hitters like Kyrie Irving and James Harden, it’s probably time for OKC to start spending on win-now pieces.

One middle-tier star that could make sense for OKC is Brook Lopez. Milwaukee undoubtedly wants to keep Lopez around, but the Thunder could feasibly outbid the Bucks if they’re determined to do so. Lopez would give OKC much-needed size and physicality in the frontcourt. He’d also be a nice bridge between the present and the future while Chet Holmgren works on his frame and develops his skill set.

Cam Johnson is another name to watch. He’s the perfect 3-and-D complement to OKC’s current core of playmakers. Or, in a slightly less expensive tier, players like Grant Williams and Bruce Brown would be worthy targets for Presti and the front office (though the ramifications of signing another Williams could be dire).

OKC’s biggest needs are frontcourt size and wing depth.

Oklahoma City Thunder NBA Draft targets

Oklahoma City owns three picks in the upcoming NBA Draft: No. 12, No. 37, and No. 50.

Naturally, the primary focus will be on the No. 12 pick. OKC already has a fair amount of depth across the board — not to mention an unwieldy amount of young talent. Could OKC trade the 12th pick for a more experienced contributor? Absolutely.

If the Thunder keep the pick, there will be several solid options on the board. Cason Wallace, Nick Smith Jr., Gradey Dick, Keyonte George, and Kobe Bufkin are all guards who can credibly share the backcourt with Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey.

Potential options on the wing include Dariq Whitehead, Bilal Coulibaly, or Jett Howard.

If OKC is keener on frontcourt help, Leonard Miller, Dereck Lively II, and Noah Clowney feel like names worth monitoring.

For more information on this year’s NBA Draft class, check out our latest Mock Draft and Big Board.

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