October 31st is an exciting holiday not only for dressing up in a way that you normally wouldn’t but also because of the rookie extension deadline, which expires at 11:59 ET on All Hallows’ Eve. For the Oklahoma City Thunder, all three of Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson were up for extension, and inking any of the three of them to a contract past this season would all but end their hopes and dreams of adding another maximum contract player like Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin.
The Thunder reached agreements with two of the players, committing around $100 million over four seasons to Adams and around $84 million over four years to Oladipo. The team was unable to reach an agreement with Roberson, making him a free agent next summer, possibly a restricted free agent.
Neither of the contracts the team signed is unreasonable; Adams’ contract seemed inevitable after last season’s playoffs, and Oladipo was possibly going to demand even more than his $84 million had he tested the market next summer.
If there is a criticism of either deal, it’s the timing. Under the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Thunder could have had almost $20 million more to work with in the summer had they waited to sign the players to the respective contracts following the season. With only minor moves, the Thunder could have manufactured enough cap room to pair a maximum contract player to play with Russell Westbrook.
The current CBA is being renegotiated, however, and the cap holds (which act as placeholders for a team’s free agents) on restricted free agents are possibly in flux. But there is no question that the Thunder left at least some money on the table by doing the extensions when they did.
However, that is a robotic outlook on the situation and does not factor in human emotion. The Thunder signed both players to four-year contracts but had the team let the two players test the market next summer; there is a chance they sign three-year contracts (the minimum allowable for restricted free agents), making the future less certain.
But the deed is done, and now Oklahoma City has its core for the foreseeable future. The early predictions on the 2017-18 salary cap are around $103 million, and the Thunder already have more than $106 committed. The team can add players by using exceptions — such as the mid-level or bi-annual exceptions — but they won’t have any cap space to add the type of player who would make them a perennial contender.
The only avenue the Thunder have to acquire a player of that caliber is via trade, which is an argument for extending Adams and Oladipo. The Thunder have the players to trade for a player that could elevate the Thunder to contender status — Domantas Sabonis and Cameron Payne, among others — and they have the players who could help match salaries in Kyle Singler and Anthony Morrow. Adding the hypothetical maximum-type player to a core of Adams, Oladipo and Westbrook immediately makes them a contender.
The other issue with extending Oladipo is the probability that Roberson will not be with Oklahoma City next season. Roberson is a fantastic defender and rebounds well for his position, but his fit next to a non-shooting backcourt is terrible and is only magnified when the Thunder start Sabonis and Adams in the front court, neither of whom can shoot.
Roberson might be best suited to play a small-ball forward, but the Thunder have a gluttony of big men that require playing time. He’s one of the best defenders in the league, but starting Westbrook, Oladipo and Roberson isn’t a recipe for having a top offense. If the price is right, the Thunder will match any team’s offer for Roberson, but his long-term fit in Oklahoma City is in question with the recent Oladipo extension.
The extensions of Adams and Oladipo cost money in the long-term but gave the team stability in the short-term. It also leaves the Thunder in a similar situation to where they have been for most of their history, unable to sign free agents due to a lack of cap space, relying on minimum contracts and players already on the roster to improve to make them into a contender.