3 former Thunder players to bring back in free agency

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

As the OKC Thunderexits the draft phase of the offseason, free agency offers GM Sam Presti a unique opportunity to fill some holes and add veteran leadership.

While the 2023 free agent class is not particularly strong, there are still many players who can offer valuable roles. And this year, there is no shortage of opportunities for the OKC Thunder to reunite with some former players.

Three players the OKC Thunder should reunite with in free agency.

Russell Westbrook

The Thunder are entering win-now territory, and bringing back the greatest player in franchise history could help accelerate the process. Some factors could complicate Westbrook’s fit, but there would be plenty of upside.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey are firmly set as the Thunder’s backcourt of the future, so Westbrook would have to come off the bench as he did most of last season with the Lakers. While that could deter a Westbrook return, the Thunder offers him his ideal play style.

Westbrook loves to push the pace, and the Thunder finished top five in that category last season, much of which can be attributed to OKC’s youth. The Thunder have also built the roster without a traditional big man. Westbrook has played in small ball systems since leaving the Thunder and has thrived when given open driving lanes.

Westbrook’s playmaking and rim pressure will help any team he plays for, but arguably his most important trait for the OKC Thunder would be his rebounding. Although he had a down year in that category last season, Westbrook has consistently averaged more than seven rebounds per game for nearly a decade. Adding another elite rebounding guard could make a massive impact for a Thunder team that finished in the middle of the league in rebounding.

Jeff Green

It has been a long while since Green played for the Thunder. OKC traded him to Boston in 2011 for Kendrick Perkins. Since then, Green has become one of the league’s most traveled players and is now an NBA champion.

Although Green will enter next season at 37, he can still provide quality minutes and be a perfect veteran leader. Green’s value on the court has declined as he has aged, but he has shown his ability to contribute in spot minutes as he would in OKC.

Green’s skillset is similar to Kenrich Williams’s. While he is not necessarily the ball-handler Williams is, Green can play anywhere in the frontcourt. With the injury concerns of the current Thunder frontcourt, Green provides another body to use.

In the Nuggets’ championship run, Green averaged 17 minutes and proved to be a solid piece defensively. Unfortunately, his offensive struggles prevailed as the playoffs went on. Green scored just four points per game and shot 32% from three.

The OKC Thunder would not use him much, and after playing an essential role in a title run, it is unclear if Green is ready to take that step back. Should Green be comfortable with a reduced role, OKC could allow him to finish his career with the same franchise it started.

Nerlens Noel

It has been a rough last two seasons for Noel. He has missed much of the previous two years with injuries and seems to be slipping out of the league.

While Nerlens Noel is unlikely to find an opportunity to contribute as he did with the Knicks in 2021, he could find himself as a situational center for a team like the OKC Thunder. He would only be viable as a backup center in certain matchups, but having someone like him would be helpful.

Noel would add a different element as a fringe backup than Dario Saric or Mike Muscala, as his value comes defensively as a rim protector.

Having rim protection off the bench would be helpful as the Chet Holmgren era begins. Holmgren leaving the floor would not mean the Thunder’s last line of defense is also going with a backup like Noel.

Noel’s use on the offensive end would be mainly as a screener. In his first stint with the Thunder, he developed great chemistry with Dennis Schroder as a pick-and-roll partner. If he could replicate that with Giddey or another ball handler, the Thunder could have a perfect match.

Ultimately, any reunion with Noel would be judged on his ability to stay healthy. After playing just 42 games in the last two seasons combined, it will be up to the front office if it is worth the risk of bringing him back.

Next. Rookies prepared for off the court challenge of joining OKC Thunder. dark