Oklahoma City Thunder: What Does Their Future Look Like?

One of the most interesting young teams to follow in the NBA this season is the Oklahoma City Thunder. After a surprising 2019-20 season that landed the team the 5th seed in the Western Conference, the Thunder have now begun a full-scale rebuild for the 2020-21 season and beyond.

Last year’s Thunder team was led by future hall of famer Chris Paul, stretch-four Danilo Gallinari, sixth man of the year runner-up Dennis Schröder, and franchise corner-stone Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. All of these players with the exception of Gilgeous-Alexander are now on different teams, while Thunder general manager Sam Presti looks to continue building the team around his 22 year-old star player.

Sam Presti’s Mission

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – SEPTEMBER 26: Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti speaks to media at preseason media availability at the Thunder ION on September 26, 2019 in Oklahoma City, OKlahoma. 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 Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Oklahoma City Thunder currently hold a 20-33 record, leaving them at 13th in the Western Conference standings with only five weeks left in the NBA’s regular season. This will be Presti’s first losing season as general manager since the 2008-09 season when they went 23-59.

Right now the team is projected to have the 7th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, and they have also racked up an excessive number of future draft picks through trades with other teams. Presti holds 34 draft picks over the next seven seasons. Most teams typically have two picks a year barring any potential trades (one for each round), but Oklahoma City gained more picks by trading stars like Paul.

What Presti did differently was, he took the players that he initially received from those trades and flipped them with other teams in order to gain more draft leverage. This gives Presti an average of almost five picks a draft over the next seven years, which is almost unheard of in the NBA.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that he plans to draft four-five players every year, because he does have options. Draft picks in the modern NBA have become more valuable than ever as teams trading disgruntled star players will often seek trade packages with several draft picks.

Should any star player request a trade, Presti has put the Thunder in a position where they have more draft picks to offer than any other franchise. This would make declining an offer from the Thunder extremely difficult to turn down, since they hold future first round picks from other teams that could see a decline in win totals in the near-future.

Creating Salary Cap Space

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JANUARY 04: Al Horford #42 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in action against the Miami Heat during the second quarter at American Airlines Arena on January 04, 2021 in Miami, Florida. 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. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The last factor that Presti has done extremely well is preserving the Thunder’s cap space, by moving players who ate up a majority of their salary. These trades have left Presti with a team full of players on rookie contracts, and small amounts of guaranteed money. The team’s highest paid player is veteran center Al Horford, who is owed a lot of money next season at $27,000,000 . However, despite a production season, the team announced last month in March that Horford will sit for the remainder of the 2020-21 season, with the front office working with him in the upcoming off-season to put him in a better situation to win, rather than leaving him on a rebuilding team late in his career.

This means that the Thunder will likely move their largest contract off the books, making Gilgeous-Alexander their highest paid player at just $5,495,532. With a 2021 free agency class that lacks star power, the Thunder will find themselves in a spot where they’ll have to decide between spending money on a lower tier star right now, or wait for the star-studded 2022 free agency class next summer.

Next season the Thunder will also have to extend Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to an expected max contract, but because of Presti’s smooth maneuvering with the salary cap, they will still have enough money to offer one of 2022’s star free agents their other max contract slot.

The Development Of The Young Core

Perhaps the most exciting part about the Thunder’s rebuilding process has been the consistent emergence of their young talent. Shutting down Al Horford in an effort to provide more minutes to 21 year-old, 7′ 2″ center, Moses Brown has been one of the team’s better moves.

On March 27th, the same day that the team announced Horford’s departure, Brown put up a monster 21 points and 23 rebounds against the Boston Celtics. His rebounds total tied a franchise best, with 19 of his 23 coming in just the first half of the game.

Alongside Brown in this young core are players like, Aleksej Pokuševski, Théo Maledon, Darius Bazley, and second-year defensive specialist Luguentz “Lu” Dort.

Lu Dort proved himself to be an exceptional talent in the Thunder’s playoff run last year, where he was tasked with guarding superstar James Harden, who then played for the Houston Rockets. Despite the Thunder losing the series in seven games, Dort was praised for his defensive efforts against the former MVP.

This season, Dort has started in all 43 of his appearances for the Thunder, and has made it a priority to continue improving aspects of his offensive game. On April 13th, Dort posted a massive career-high, 42 points against the Western Conference’s top seed, the Utah Jazz. He also poured in 7-11 of his three-point attempts, a part of his game that he has shown much improvement in from last season.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s Growing Stardom 

2020-21 Season Averages: 23.7 PTS, 4.7 TRB, 5.9 AST

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has quickly become one of the best guards in the NBA in only his third season. In his 35 games played this season, he has shot an effective 50.8 FG%, 41.8% from deep, and a respectable 80.8% from the free throw line. The young guard has proven himself to be the perfect combo guard center-piece for the Thunder to build around, with his 6’5″ height and 6’11” wingspan.

Gilgeous-Alexander was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers in the summer of 2019 and spent his sophomore campaign learning from Chris Paul and other veterans. Now the leader of the Thunder, he has risen above expectations this season and will be a player that other stars will definitely want to play with in the future.

Just like his teammate Dort, Gilgeous-Alexander also posted a career-high of 42 points earlier this season, back on February 24th in a win against the San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately, his stellar season came to a halt after a foot injury put him on the sidelines for almost a month. He is expected to be re-evaluated later this April, but in his absence other guards like Maledon have stepped up on the offensive end.


The Oklahoma City Thunder have put themselves in a fascinating situation moving forward. With a solid young core to build around, and a solidified star in Gilgeous-Alexander, the future is bright for Sam Presti’s team. Time will tell what his plans are for their massive cap space and multitude of picks, but it will be something the entire NBA will have to keep an eye on in the coming years.

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