The NBA off-season is where the toughest and most important decisions are made. While every team has decisions to make, the 2023 offseason is arguably the most important for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder considered one of the NBA’s up-and-comers, have several critical decisions regarding this year’s roster and years to come. One of those choices the Thunder must make is whether to tender Aleksej Pokusevski a rookie scale contract extension.
Oklahoma City is coming off a surprising season. The Thunder, who have been building towards returning to the playoffs since their last postseason appearance in 2020, hovered around the 10th spot in the Western Conference all season long. They ended up in the conference’s play-in tournament by winning their final three games and help from the Dallas Mavericks.
Oklahoma City finished with a 40-42 record despite having the league’s youngest roster. The Thunder used 30 different starting lineups, and none of their main big guys played more than 54 games. 2022 No. 2 overall draft pick Chet Holmgren missed the entire season.
The Thunder have plenty of flexibility to tinker with the roster for 2023-24. The Thunder have 14 players currently under contract and nearly $30 million of cap space. They also own the three 2023 draft picks, including No. 12 (projected).
Isaiah Joe, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Aaron Wiggins, and Lindy Waters III are on non-guaranteed deals. The Thunder can increase the cap to nearly $36 million by waiving those four players.
What Will The Thunder Do With Aleksej Pokusevski and Dario Saric This Offseason
Besides deciding whom to select with their lottery pick, Oklahoma City’s biggeCity’sa of contemplation concerns their big men. The Thunder finished this past season with rookie Jaylin Williams and Josh Giddey starting at center and power forward. Dario Saric and Robinson-Earl were the main two big men off the bench down the stretch.
Holmgren, Kenrich Williams, and Pokusevski should be 100% healthy by training camp. Still, depth is an issue as Saric is an unrestricted free agent.
The question the Thunder face regarding Pokusevski is whether they should offer him a rookie scale extension. Pokuservski is one of the team’s youngest members, and his contract runs through the end of next season. He is slated to make $5.0 million this upcoming season.
Pokesevski improved as a shooter while making strides as a passer and defender this past season. The 7-0 versatile forward also became an elite shot-blocker.
Pokusevski scored in double-figures 15 times and produced three double-doubles in 2022-23. He averaged 8.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.3 blocks in 34 games. The 21-year-old recorded career-highs in field goal percentage (43.4%) and 3-point percentage (36.5%) while draining a career-best 1.1 triples.le very talented and still learning the NBA game, Pokusevski is a below-average rebounder and average defensively. This past campaign, he missed nearly three months due to a left leg fracture.
The Thunder have until the start of the 2023-24 season to work out an extension for Pokusevski. Pokusevski will become a restricted free agent after the season if they don’t. That would mean the Thunder wouldn’t have exclusive negotiating rights, and his qualifying offer is tagged at $7.0 million and a cap figure of over $15 million.
For his part, Pokusevski doesn’t seem to be thinking about his contract, according to the Oklahoman. “I’m not worried about it at all,” he said at his exit interview.
Oklahoma City would be taking a slight risk by signing him to an extension, but the potential reward seems to outweigh any of those concerns. The Thunder have a history of not allowing young players they like to become restricted free agents. But the ultimate decision may come down to what the team does this offseason.
Saric is the Thunder’s only free agent this offseason. The 29-year-old did an admirable job serving as the Thunder’s backup center after coming over from Phoenix in a trade deadline deal. He really aided the Thunder with his rebounding and ability to stretch the floor down the stretch.
Saric produced 7.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 0.9 assists while shooting 51.5% from the field and 39.1% from the 3-point line in less than 14 minutes over 20 appearances for Oklahoma City. However, the 6-10 big man would like to make his stay in OKC a little more permanent.
“I would like to be back,” Saric said during the team’s exit interviews. Saric also spoke highly of the team, saying, “They really act like a team who’s matured to win games in the future.”
The Thunder can keep Saric from hitting the open market as they own his Bird rights. As a result, he is eligible for an extension for a maximum of four years and $58 million. If Saric hits free agency, the Thunder will likely have competition. According to Bleacher Report’s Josh Buckley, one team that could target Saric is the Golden State Warriors.