The Oklahoma City Thunder have a critical offseason ahead of them, with the most flexibility in capitalization and draft capital they have had in the past decade.
The Thunder have the second-lowest NBA payroll on the books next season and are projected to have at least $ 50 million in cap space to spend in free agency. With that in mind, they already have 11 guys under contract next season and they have four top-36 draft picks.
While there are likely to be trades and roster moves outside of the draft and free agency, that means roster spots will be hard to come by in Oklahoma City. Money will have to be spent to bring players to the top of the four potential rookies joining the team.
With that in mind, there are also three players who are in their free agency from the roster last season who will also be considered for these open spots. While they are each in quite different positions when it comes to their position to return to the team, this will be something Thunder general manager Sam Presti will have to navigate as he uses his cap space.
All Mykhailiuk (restricted)
A 6-foot-7 forward, Svi Mykhailiuk has shown himself to be more than just a shooter during his short time in Oklahoma City. After being acquired in Hamidou Diallo’s deal with the Detroit Pistons before the trade deadline, Mykhailiuk played a key role down the stretch for the Thunder.
In the 30 games he appeared in for the Thunder during the 2020-21 season, Mykhailiuk started in nine contests. While he knocked down his 3-point attempts at a steady pace, he also showed his versatility on the defensive side of the court and as a shot-maker.
With his long frame, Mykhailiuk was tasked with protecting some of the most prolific scorers in the entire NBA at times last season. In fact, against the Dallas Mavericks, he was called up as a starter and asked to be the Thunder’s main defender for Luka Doncic.
Mykhailiuk demonstrated his ability to put the ball down and score from various levels, and showed an ability to create plays that we had not seen him before. It was not only effective in the midrange, but around the rim as well. He even showed quite a few emphatic dunks at the rim when he attacked the dribble at OKC.
Mykhailiuk averaged 10.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game after being acquired by the Thunder in March.
Ready to hit restricted free agency, the Thunder should seriously consider keeping 23-year-old Mykhailiuk around. It is not every day that you have the opportunity to acquire a boy of his size who is able to space the court and play in multiple positions.
While it’s unclear what other teams in the league would offer to get him away from the Thunder via an offer sheet, Mykhailiuk has shown that he would be a solid rotation player in the Thunder’s system going forward.
Tony Bradley (restricted)
After jumping through the league early in his career, Tony Bradley landed in Oklahoma City through a trade last season. In a fairly significant move to the trade deadline, the Thunder sent George Hull to the Philadelphia 76ers for a package that included Bradley, who is a former first-round draft pick.
At just 23, Bradley isn’t an elite size for the center position at 6-foot-10, but he’s extremely efficient with his minutes. Through 22 games in the Thunder uniform off the bench, he averaged 8.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in just 18.0 minutes per game. Bradley also shot 65.6 percent from the floor and 70.5 percent from the free throw line.
Bradley, a traditional center, can’t stretch the floor, which is extremely important in the modern NBA. Because of this, he will likely never become a starting center in this league. However, in a limited reserve role, he has shown in various situations that he can be a great spark off the bench without needing a lot of floor time.
Bradley is another member of the Thunder that Sam Presti traded near the deadline, fully knowing that he would have to deal with restricted free agency in a few months.
The market for the old-school greats coming off the bench shouldn’t be too hot, which means the Thunder should be able to keep Bradley on a friendly deal. If they can find him the spot on the roster and they want to bring him back, he’ll probably compete for the minute with Moses Brown and any other centers OKC acquires this summer through draft, trades and free agency.
Mike Muscala (no restrictions)
Mike Muscala, one of the most respected players on and off the court in Oklahoma City, is set to enter unrestricted free agency for the third consecutive offseason. While he re-signed with the Thunder last time with a minimum contract, that may not happen again this summer.
While Muscala was a great big stretch for OKC last season and a key figure in the locker room, young talent will likely be prioritized this summer, especially considering the direction of the team and how tight the roster spots will be. Certainly there will be a mutual interest in the two parties getting back together, but logistically it may not work out.
Regardless, Muscala should have a favorable market this summer in free agency, especially with the number of contenders looking to add cheap shots. At 6-foot-10, Muscala shot 37.0 from beyond the arc with the Thunder during the 2020-21 season.
The only unrestricted free agent the Thunder will have to worry about, Muscala will likely wear another team’s jersey next season.