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Thunder Roster: Candidates for the Crunch

Who will fall victim to the inevitable roster crunch when OKC trims its active roster from 18 to 15 players?

It’s the calm before the storm. One might say you can hear thunder. Okay, that one is on me. But it is one of the slowest parts of the year in terms of reporting big happenings within the Thunder organization. Sure, you will hear about how the team is serving communities around the Tulsa area, but there haven’t been any major developments in terms of the roster since the fanbase learned about Chet Holmgren’s disappointing Lisfranc injury.

But amidst the calm is the looming and inevitable fact that the Thunder are already experiencing a roster crunch heading into year three – or four depending on how you look at it – of their rebuild.

Oklahoma City will have to make some tough decisions soon with regard to the active roster. Teams are allowed to carry up to 20 players, two-way contracts included, in the offseason but must whittle that number down to 15 prior to the start of the 2022-23 regular season. This presents a problem for the Thunder who currently have 18 players signed to the active roster. The front office will have to decide how to subtract three players – candidates for the crunch – to either waive or trade.

Looking at the current team and their respective contracts, it is quite obvious that several players won’t even come into consideration in terms of who to keep. And as you scratch off some of the more obvious locks to make the roster such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, and the recently drafted, a few names start to come into question. These are the true candidates and the players that are at risk of either being waived or traded away.

Derrick Favors, Oklahoma City Thunder

Perhaps the most obvious member of this group is Derrick Favors, who was acquired from the Utah Jazz resulted in the Thunder turning a second-round pick and cash into a future first-rounder. The veteran big man just turned 31 in July and probably doesn’t fit the Thunder’s timeline though one could argue there is a small chance that he is kept due to the value his expiring $10.8M contract could provide in potential trade talks. General Manager Sam Presti might just decide that he could use such an asset to further bolster the team’s draft capital.

Next up, you have point guards Theo Maledon and Ty Jerome. Maledon, the former second-round pick from France, finished last season averaging 7.1 points and 2.2 assists in just 17.8 minutes per game over the course of 51 games and really struggled to shoot the rock. Jerome, who was acquired in the Paul-to-Phoenix deal, turned 25 in July and provided some excellent shooting in stretches for the Thunder last year but is on an expiring $4.22M deal. Both guards are under a lot of pressure with Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander having a virtual lock on the position going forward.

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Ty Jerome

After playing in just their first year with the Thunder, Vit Krejci and Aaron Wiggins’ futures seem unclear at this point in time. Both players worked the wing position for the majority of the time they were on the court last season but didn’t really leave their stamp on a game, so to speak.

Wiggins started with the organization on a two-way contract after being selected with the 55th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft but was recently signed to a four-year, $6.4M deal back in February with the first three years non-guaranteed. The former Maryland Terrapin started off with a bang in Summer League, drawing excitement from the fanbase, and rounded out the 2021-22 season shooting 40.9% from beyond the arc and showing skill in other areas as well.

As for Krejci, he’s more of a mystery. After being picked up with the 37th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the 6-foot-8 wing was sidelined while rehabbing an existing ACL tear for all of 2020-21 and played for the Oklahoma City Blue upon his return in 2021-22 before suiting up for just 30 games with the Thunder where he showed promise as a floor spacer and playmaker. The Czech talent’s potential mix of size, skill, and versatility could be enough to keep him in a Thunder jersey next season.

And last, but certainly not least, former New Balance intern Darius Bazley makes the list due to his shooting struggles and overall inconsistent play. The mobile 6-foot-9 forward remains intriguing due to his unique tools and overall defensive upside but finished last season recording a disappointing true shooting percentage of 51.5 as he struggled to put the ball in the basket from beyond the arc and at the charity stripe. Given that he is heading into what will be the final year of his rookie contract and the fact that the team just drafted Ousmane Dieng this year and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl the year before, Bazley might be in line to be waived or traded prior to the start of the season.

Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Theo Maldeon

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