Analyzing the Thunder’s summer salary cap outlook

Analyzing the Thunder’s summer salary cap outlook

The Thunder gained extra flexibility in the offseason with its trade deadline deals. How OKC opened up more options to work the roster in the offseason by making deals at the deadline.

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

| Feb 9, 2024, 1:00pm CST

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

Feb 9, 2024, 1:00pm CST

The Thunder officially acquired Gordon Hayward from the Charlotte Hornets with a package of players and picks. OKC sent deep reserves Davis Bertans, Tre Mann, and Vasilije Micic to Charlotte along with a pair of second-round picks to complete the deal.

Here are three salary cap-related takeaways following the deal.

More cap space

The Thunder were on target to have cap space this summer. That’s notable because so few teams operate under the cap these days. It’s also noteworthy because the Thunder could operate under the cap while being one of the best teams in the league.

Thursday’s trade just gave them even more flexibility this summer.

Bertans’ contract is guaranteed for $5.25 million next season. Micic is owed $7.7 million. Mann will earn $4.9 million. That’s almost $18 million wiped from OKC’s books this summer.

The Thunder could generate well over $30 million in cap space next summer, and potentially $40 million or more depending on other factors. But don’t bother looking at potential free agent fits. That room is much more useful in other ways.

Summer options

OKC could potentially re-sign Hayward if both sides are amenable, albeit at a much lower number than his $31.5 million salary this season. 

The Thunder could also use that space to do what it did last summer: absorb unwanted deals in order to collect more draft picks and/or improve its draft position. OKC was able to move up and draft Cason Wallace last year because it was able to take on Bertans’ unwanted deal from Dallas.

OKC could also use that space to lock up role players like Isaiah Joe and Aaron Wiggins to long-term deals. Both have team options for next season, but the Thunder could negotiate with one or both to decline that option and sign new long-term deals.

There are lots of possibilities, which is just what the Thunder like. Just don’t expect the team to use that space on a splashy, expensive free-agent signing. 

2024 Draft

Prior to the season, the Thunder were projected to have as many as four first-round picks in the 2024 draft. 

The first problem is that OKC might not have the roster space — nor the development minutes — to accommodate that many young players at once. The second problem is that the draft class may be weak this year, per several draft experts.

To work around this, the Thunder has acted like a draft pick broker and repositioned some picks years in the future, where they might produce much better results.

The Thunder helped facilitate the James Harden trade from the Sixers to the Clippers back in November. OKC traded the least-favorable pick in the upcoming draft for a pick swap with LA in 2027.

OKC made a similar move at the deadline, trading the next-least favorable selection to Dallas in exchange for a pick swap with the Mavericks in 2028.

Both of those traded selections should be in the mid-to-low 20s. It’s likely OKC will end up with higher picks once those swaps convey down the road.

That leaves the Thunder with two potential 2024 first-round selections. OKC gets Utah’s pick unless it lands in the top 10. As of today, that is slotted as the 13th pick. The Jazz traded one starter (Simone Fontecchio) and two rotation players (Kelly Olynyk and Ochai Agbagi) at the deadline, with future draft compensation being the main return. Utah could sink over its final 29 games of the season and retain its pick.

Houston’s first-round pick will go to OKC unless it lands in the top four selections. The Rockets’ pick is projected to be 10th overall at the moment. It’s possible this is the lone selection OKC receives, which would add an additional bit of financial flexibility this summer.

 

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