The Thunder cup is full.
Or, perhaps, it runneth over.
Keeping a roster spot open is not unheard of in the NBA, yet 15 players is the maximum and given the flurry of reporting since free agency began — that is, assuming Nerlens Noel will indeed re-sign with Oklahoma City and free agents Mike Muscala and Alec Burks will sign, too — the Thunder appear to be there already.
Should those signings occur, here would be OKC’s players under contract for next season.
Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder, Andre Roberson, Jerami Grant, Patrick Patterson, Terrance Ferguson, Abdel Nader, Hamidou Diallo, Deonte Burton, Noel, Muscala and Burks.
That’s 14, none of which are the No. 25 pick in the draft, Darius Bazley, who should also be assumed on OKC’s opening-day roster.
That makes 15, one of which will have to go if room is to be made for Raymond Felton, who would love to come back, even in the professional teammate role he occupied most of last season before re-entering the rotation down its final stretch.
It’s also 15 players bound to bring in around $150 million in salary, well past the luxury tax threshold of $132.63 million, and given OKC’s repeat offender status, not only will the Thunder be paying taxes on every salary dollar it pays out over the cap, but multiples of those dollars.
Two players, Nader and Burton, do not have guaranteed contracts. Yet, given their salaries — about $3 million combined — cutting them (and replacing them) would save nothing.
So, what’s next?
These would appear to be the options:
• Stand pat: The Thunder can stay right where they are. They’ve got their 15 players as well as Jawun Evans, their lone two-way contract player.
At little cost, they’ve added players capable of spreading the floor and shooting with the acquisitions of Muscala and Burks, and they’ve kept Noel.
• Stand pat (without Pat): If the Thunder believe they must cut salary somewhere yet take no other risk by shedding rotation players, it’s hard to see how they hold on to Patterson.
In the final year of his contract, he’s due to make $5.7 million next season and cost much more than that in luxury taxes. And, if there’s no market for his services, nor his expiring contract, he could be waived and stretched as Kyle Singler was last offseason.
What the Thunder had hoped Patterson would bring — shooting — has never quite materialized consistently.
Additionally, both Burks and Muscala’s career 3-point shooting percentages — 35.5 percent and 36.5 percent — exceed what Patterson shot from distance last season (33.6 percent). And, though the terms of their contracts are unknown, they’ll almost surely earn less, even combined, than Patterson.
Further, the Thunder could shed Patterson, and re-sign Felton, thereby solidifying their locker room and saving millions, maybe more than $10 million, all at the same time.
• Not stand pat: Here’s where it gets dicey. These are the big moves that, even if the names involved have been bandied about, would still be huge moves should they happen.
Because finding a way to move Steven Adams ($25.84 million), Dennis Schroder ($15.5 million) or Andre Roberson ($10.74 million) would all improve OKC’s financial bottom line immensely, yet affect competitiveness in ways not clear.
Given all he does on both ends of the floor, losing Adams would create the greatest competitive risk even as it might open the floor and bring the Thunder in line with modern NBA offense.
Schroder is the squad’s best bench scorer and was preferred by Donovan to finish games, along with the starters, over Terrance Ferguson. He was also wildly inconsistent and perhaps Ferguson’s time to make a another big leap is now.
Already, Ferguson’s a clearly better defender than Schroder. Also, with Diallo, Nader, Burton, Burks, even Patterson, OKC would still claim wing depth.
Roberson remains a wild card.
He’s in the last year of his contract and if he’s able to return to his old defensive form after missing more than a season to injury, the Thunder would instantly be better, tougher and deeper. Perhaps a great deal much better, tougher and deeper.
But if he can’t?
The Thunder can be done, they can move or waive Patterson without great ripples or they can move others that would produce bigger and bigger ripples and perhaps only negative ripples on the court.
How much are they willing to spend? How much of the team do they want to blow up in the name of getting to that figure? How much are they willing to risk to put future reward in peril?