The Oklahoma City Thunder are loaded with young talent. With the youngest team in the NBA at 23 years, 231 days old, and a current roster wielding 11 players on rookie-scale contracts for next season, Thunder GM Sam Presti will have a bevy of decisions leading into training camp. Alongside three first-round picks, Presti has two major cogs to make calls on, Lu Dort and Darius Bazley.
While Dort, who was discussed earlier this week as a candidate, is expected to obtain a heap of interest given his unrestricted status. Bazley also may fetch some attention, making him deserving of further inspection in regards to how Presti may approach re-upping his deal.
As a former first-round pick, Bazley will make $4.3 million in the upcoming 2022-23 season before entering the 2023 offseason as a restricted free agent. If an extension is not reached prior to the deadline, the Thunder may extend a Qualifying Offer of $6.2 million.
Oklahoma City had their crosshairs locked onto Bazley in the 2019 NBA Draft, trading out of Pick No. 21 to draft the former New Balance intern at Pick No. 23. Bazley flashed potential as a slasher throughout his rookie year, making soundwaves in the Orlando bubble with his dashes of three-level play. Since then, the forward has battled with inconsistencies on both ends of the floor, however, he did cap his third-year campaign strong.
Bazley, just like Dort, had his contract extension plans discussed by Presti in his two-hour presser last month. In talking about the future plans of the 21-year-old, he noted that the forward “looked different” at the end of the season, but that league-wide salary implications also hold some weight.
“That stuff [contract negotiations] is like ground cover compared to the things that -- when you're at the stage where we are, like you said, going into our second draft, we reposition the team financially on and off the floor, but the thing that really shapes everything in every sport is what are the rules that are governing the CBA essentially,” said Presti. “The CBA, and obviously that could change in 2023, revenue sharing is tied to that, digital media deal could be a factor. Those are things that -- they really drive so much of the league.”
Recommended for You
Bazley is coming off of averaging 10.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in a primary starting gig for the Thunder. He shook off the majority of his shooting spells to cap the season, making him one of Oklahoma City’s stronger members post-All-Star break. Though, his long-term role is still in the developing stage.
Outside of Bazley, the Thunder have multiple potential pieces at the four, notably Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who they've tested at the four. Additionally, Oklahoma City’s two lottery picks may churn another figure at the four. That would undoubtedly produce another ripple in the signing of Bazley.
Over the last three seasons, Bazley has shown a knack for attacking the basket and providing solid defensive ability against frontcourt defenders. His price tag is difficult to pinpoint, though, Washington’s recent three-year, $39 million deal with Kyle Kuzma gives a solid ballpark range. It should be noted that the 2022-23 salary cap has taken a major uptick from Kuzma’s inking, now sitting at a $122 million. Due to this, Bazley’s agents pushing towards another million-or-so is in the cards.
Based on the Thunder’s current outlook, it makes more sense for them to secure Lu Dort on a long-term deal before Darius Bazley. Dort’s risk of hitting unrestricted free agency should make him a marquee target. For Bazley’s situation, Presti scouring the draft board for power forwards and centers is most definitely in the equation, so an offseason signing seems unlikely.