In budget crunch, Thunder bank on potential

Associated Press  |  Last updated July 11, 2012
While the NBA's other top teams load up on high-priced talent through free agency and trades, the Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to improve while facing a budget crunch. The Thunder announced the signings of former No. 2 overall draft pick Hasheem Thabeet and undrafted free agent Hollis Thompson on Wednesday, the first day after the league's moratorium on additions. Thabeet, a 7-foot-3 center from Tanzania, was the second pick in the 2009 draft but has averaged only 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in limited playing time over his first three seasons with Memphis, Houston and Portland. Thompson left Georgetown after his junior season but was not taken in the draft. He will be getting his first shot at the NBA, while Thabeet is seeking a fresh start in another new situation. ''Young players, as we've seen, they all develop at different rates in different situations. I wouldn't make any judgments based on two or three years,'' general manager Sam Presti said in a phone interview. ''I think we have to allow that process to take its course and allow him to continue his development and see where things lead after his time with the Thunder.'' The moves are a sign of where the Thunder stand, with All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook already locked into expensive, long-term contracts and with Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and NBA blocks leader Serge Ibaka eligible for their own high-priced deals. Instead of chasing after the likes of Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, the Thunder are trying to build on a budget and limit the damage the luxury tax may present to their payroll. For now, that means taking a chance on players like Thabeet and Thompson. Those additions, plus the signing of first-round draft pick Perry Jones III, make even less likely the return of veteran free agents Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey. Presti said Oklahoma City sees ''more growth left'' in Thabeet, who fits the franchise's defense-first mold. Thabeet has attended the Thunder's summer league games in Orlando, Fla., this week but Presti said he will not play in summer league as the team instead focuses on his individual development leading up to training camp. ''As a young player, at 25 years old, he's really just beginning. We've always looked at everybody's body of work and how we feel like our organization can put them in positions to be successful,'' Presti said. ''Clearly, we feel like there's an opportunity to impact Hasheem's development but that's going to be a process.'' Thompson, a 6-8 forward, set a Georgetown record by shooting 44 percent from 3-point range over three seasons. He was second on the team averaging 12.8 points and grabbed 5.5 rebounds last season. His agent, Seth Cohen of Original Creative Representation, said Thompson received a three-year contract, with the Thunder having a team option on both the second and third seasons. Cohen believes Thompson's draft stock fell because played with a misdiagnosed sports hernia the second half of last season and had to cancel many pre-draft workouts. Thompson will have surgery on Thursday. Presti said he will miss three to four weeks of offseason work but will be ready for training camp. That will also keep him from participating in summer league games. ''He understands how to play within the framework of a system,'' Presti said. ''I think he has a good understanding of where he's effective on the floor and plays to his strengths, which we think for a young player is a very positive trait.'' Cohen called the end of last season an ''aberration'' for Thompson and expressed appreciation to Presti for seeing potential in him despite the injury. ''He's got an NBA skill set,'' Cohen said. ''That's the bottom line.''
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