Now that the 2021 NBA Draft is officially over, free agency will be the next big event across the league. After making three trades in a 24-hour period, the Thunder acquired more trade capital while also drafting four rookies and acquiring center Derrick Favors.
With that in mind, roster spots are going to be hard to come by in OKC next season. With only 15 full-time roster spots, the Thunder will have to get creative or make more moves to free up spots.
Either way, they’re projected to have upwards of $30 million in cap space after their recent trades.
Who could the Thunder target in free agency in the next few weeks?
While the Thunder just acquired Favors, he’s certainly not part of their long-term plans. With him still being the only center on the roster under contract, taking one of the best young bigs in free agency in a 24-year-old Wagner would be a good pickup.
The order brother of recent draftee Franz Wagner, he has bounced around the NBA quite a bit since being a first-round pick himself in 2018. Wagner played the best basketball of his NBA career at the end of the 2020-21 season, where he averaged 11.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game through 11 games to close the year. He’s also a solid 3-point shooter and floor spacer for his size at 6-foot-11.
Although he’s 27 years old, Hernangomez could provide cheap center depth for the Thunder next season. While he isn’t the high-volume 3-point shooter that NBA teams like in bigs, he’s proven to be effective in limited minutes.
Again, the Spanish center wouldn’t be a signing for the long-term vision, but he could fill a void on a team that likely won’t be winning many games next season anyways. It might be in the Thunder’s best interest to keep their cap flexibility with short-term free agent contracts. Hernangomez averaged 7.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in just 18.0 minutes per game last season in New Orleans.
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Lyles is a former Kentucky Wildcat who’s still only 25 years old. Last season he saw his minutes fall off quite a bit, meaning he may be looking for a situation where he can play a larger role.
An effective shooter from deep and capable floor-spacing forward, Lyles could provide affordable depth to the roster in OKC. This would be yet another Canadian player to become a member of the Thunder. In limited minutes last season, he averaged 5.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest on 35.0 percent from three.
After spending the second half of the season in Oklahoma City following a trade deadline deal, Mykhailiuk proved his worth. Standing at 6-foot-8, he fits the positionless style the Thunder are trying to move towards.
Growing into a player who’s much more than just a shooter, Mykhailiuk improved drastically on defense last season. A restricted free agent who the Thunder have contract control over, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him back in OKC. Mykhailiuk produced 10.3 points per game last season with the Thunder while shooting 33.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Of everyone in the free agent class this summer, the two players who might make the most sense for the Thunder to go all-in on are restricted. With quite a bit of money to spend, Oklahoma City could try to sign Ball to a huge offer sheet that other teams may not be willing to compete with.
Even after selecting Josh Giddey in Thursday’s draft, Ball still fits what the Thunder are trying to do. An elite playmaker and improving shooter, he would be a great addition the backcourt that includes Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Ball averaged 14.6 points, 5.4 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game while knocking down 32.9 percent of his 3-point attempts.
A cheaper option on the restricted free agent market could be Markkanen. While he’s still going to earn a large payday due to his age and upside, the forward from Finland could use a fresh start.
With the early part of his career somewhat flawed due to injury, he still has one of the highest ceilings of any young player Oklahoma City could target. Last season in Chicago, Markkanen averaged 13.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 40.2 percent from deep.
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