OKC Thunder hits moratorium: 2019 NBA Free Agency frenzy begins

Kawhi Leonard Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the NBA Finals on June 10, 2019 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kawhi Leonard Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the NBA Finals on June 10, 2019 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The NBA Free Agency Moratorium is hours away and while the OKC Thunder aren’t expected to be among the heavy hitters, moves are still necessary to reformulate the club.

After three successive empty promise seasons arguably OKC Thunder, General Manager, Sam Presti has his most difficult NBA Free Agency ahead. The man heading the Thunder brain trust is famous for pulling magical rabbits from hats, but has he used up all his tricks?

This offseason presents the most challenging of Presti’s tenure with the Thunder because he’s not only tasked with improving the club but more importantly the very real need to cut costs.

With two of the most awe inspiring talents in the NBA already signed there is also the very real expectation to succeed. Paul George owned this day one year ago when he defied all the critics who suggested he was only a one season rental and would bolt for a return back to his native LA. Instead, OKC Thunder fans were elated to be treated to videos of Russell Westbrook hosting a party to announce George was re-signing with the OKC Thunder.

Flash forward to a year later and there won’t be videos with cigar smoking Thunder players tonight. Rather, there is widespread uncertainty over what precisely is about to happen as the clock strikes 6:00 pm EST. Will there be the typical rush of announcements that top tier talents have already made the handshake agreements which can’t be formalized until July 6th? Or, will this be a season of ‘wait and see’?

Initial indications are at least some stars have already removed their names from the NBA Free Agency lists at least in principle for now. I’m not sure how teams are getting away without tampering fines but as of late Saturday confirmation that two elite free agents will switch teams. Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with the Brooklyn Nets while Kemba Walker is seemingly headed to Bean Town as Irving’s replacement. Both are expected to sign 4-year, $141M deals with their new teams.

Other leaks surfaced that several other elite talents are staying put to sign max deals. Formal announcements are expected from at least another quintet of elite talents returning to their current clubs:

  • The Mavericks are expected to offer Kristaps Porzingis a max 5-year, $158M deal
  • In spite of the ACL injury, the Warriors will extend Klay Thompson a 5-year, $190M max deal
  • Khris Middleton will ink a max 5-year, $190M to stay with the Bucks
  • Nikola Vucevic is expected to accept a 4-year, $100M deal to stay with the Magic
  • Harrison Barnes appears poised to sign a 4-year, $88M deal with the Kings

Those seven anticipated deals remove a vast majority of the top end talents from the board, however, the key names at the very top of the ladder aren’t likely to make swift decisions as they intend to exercise their rights to meet with various suitors.

Specifically, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler are all set to meet with teams for recruitment pitches. Those meetings will occur over the next few days and their decisions could serve to either allow other squads to sneak in and snatch up other talents or put teams in holding patterns as they await this trio to make up their minds.

Durant is expected to meet with both New York teams and the Warriors although his list could be longer and possibly also include the Clippers. Kawhi Leonard has meetings set with both LA teams and will meet with the Raptors last. Jimmy Butler is arguably the most interesting of the top tier since at least two clubs desirous of his services will require him to sign with the 76ers prior to instigating a sign and trade. The Rockets and Heat are those teams with the Nets, Clippers, and 76ers also in the mix.

The big question is how this trio will affect other free agents decisions and if clubs will lose out on potential opportunities while they await their choices.

Even the deals already expected as per above will have a rollover effect. For example, the Nets signing of Irving resulted in D’Angelo Russell being freed up to sign elsewhere. Each of the Timberwolves, Lakers, and Suns are said to have an interest.

Clubs will also jump at making solid offers for Tobias Harris while Jimmy Butler mulls over his choices and could put real heat on the 76ers since they weren’t expected to offer the absolute max to Harris (although a Jimmy Butler exit could change those circumstances). Likewise, expect teams to make strong showings to steal away Malcolm Brogdon and Brook Lopez from the Bucks and force their hands to match. A situation which could push the Bucks immediately into the luxury tax arena.

Depending on which National outlet you align with the top 10 to 15 free agents or order differs but a good portion will be locked in immediately while others will need to decide on whether to take top offers or await the choices of the Kawhi-KD-Jimmy trio.

OKC Thunder Sam Presti has different objectives in 2019:

In terms of the OKC Thunder, the one positive is for the first time in three seasons they aren’t in a situation of needing to retain core pieces (Durant who left, Westbrook, Adams, George, and Grant all who re-signed). Nor will they be among the teams pitching top talents thanks to a ballooning salary situation.

That said, there are decisions for Sam Presti’s team to make which may involve trades to clear space and re-fill gaps. Plus there are a number of available players who won’t draw the upper register payments but could be logical and feasible options. As I mentioned in the Northwest primer for every big name free agent there are also deals to be found – they just require more faith and a long term vision or belief in the player

"That doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions to be had. Case in point, the next Brook Lopez who shoots 36.5 percent on 6.3 attempts per game is out there waiting to be landed for $3.3 million. And, the next undrafted Fred VanVleet or undervalued Landry Shamet is out there waiting too."

Although the initial news at 6:00 p.m. EST will come and furious NBA Free Agency often lasts well into August. Once the top and mid level stars are off the table it’s common for teams and free agents to take their time making decisions. Summer League can also play a factor as clubs investigate if youthful assets could provide the same production of a more expensive existing pro.

To that end, we’ve got your ultimate guide to help you navigate free agency and the offseason. We’ve outlined each division listing the teams’ current rosters, salary situation, 2019 free agents, drafted prospects, as well as the 2020 free agents. In the latter case, these players often become part of summer trades since clubs prefer to get value from an asset prior to their contracts ending. the links are below for each division:

NBA Free Agency Primers:

Atlantic Division PrimerThe Eastern Powerhouse

  • Boston Celtics
  • Brooklyn Nets
  • New York Knicks
  • Philadelphia 76ers
  • Toronto Raptors

Central Division PrimerDivision with greatest potential for growth

  • Chicago Bulls
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Detroit Pistons
  • Indiana Pacers
  • Milwaukee Bucks.

Southeast Division PrimerThe underperforming division

  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Miami Heat
  • Orlando Magic
  • Washington Wizards

Pacific Division PrimerDivision in greatest flux

  • Golden State Warriors
  • LA Clippers
  • LA Lakers
  • Phoenix Sun
  • Sacramento Kings

Southwest Division PrimerAnalytics, upstarts, and perennial contenders

  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Houston Rockets
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • San Antonio Spurs

Northwest Division PrimerMasters of the West

  • Denver Nuggets
  • Minnesota Timberwolves
  • OKC Thunder
  • Portland Trail Blazers
  • Utah Jazz

OKC Thunder Free Agent T.I. Series:

More from Thunder Free Agency

Although the OKC Thunder are unlikely to be active in the early stages of free agency they’ll still need to fill roster gaps. Uncertainty over what will happen with their own free agents will also have a domino effect.

Over the next several weeks the T.I. writing team will attempt our best Sam Presti impressions. As we pour over the free agent market two defining factors will take precedence. One: does the free agent fill a specific roster opening and/or need on the team. And two, are they a free agent who can reasonably be acquired given the current Thunder salary limitations.

While the candidates won’t fall in the superstar category they will be viable options. Ultimately, the OKC Thunder already have two superstars and the need this offseason more than ever is to surround Westbrook and George with assets who’ll compliment their talents. We intend to take this seriously and maybe along the way find a few diamonds in the rough, this season’s Brook Lopez or the next Fred VanVleet who slipped under everyone’s radar.

Next. Recapping 2019 NBA Draft selections including Thunder pick. dark

Enjoy the frenzy today and as always check back with Thunderous Intentions as we continue the offseason journey.