Once a potential dynasty, the Oklahoma City Thunder are now a team squarely in a rebuild.
And while Chris Paul helped keep them a playoff team for one year, he too was shipped out the following offseason.
Sam Presti made it clear the Thunder were in asset-acquisition mode, making trades left and right.
Oklahoma City now owns an astounding 35 draft picks over the next seven drafts.
We now cut to Sam Presti live from the Thunder's vault of future draft picks: pic.twitter.com/VkBMMmp6JF
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) September 16, 2020
That includes 20 first-round picks and 15 second-round picks.
OKC has at least three first-round selections in each draft through 2026, with the 2023 draft having five and the 2024 draft having four.
With all this draft capital, it is vital the Thunder turn it into a positive on-court product.
They already have a proven young star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
All but two members of the current OKC roster have three or fewer years of NBA experience.
This team will be young and should remain a lottery team next season.
Here are two steps they need to make moving forward to ensure they cash in this treasure chest of draft capital.
2. Thunder Need to Stay in Lottery
While the Thunder do own three first-round picks in next year’s draft, only one is unprotected.
And that is the pick from the Los Angeles Clippers, who will presumably be a Finals contender.
The pick from the Phoenix Suns is top-12 protected, so that should convey.
But the top-16 protections on the Detroit Pistons pick means it likely will not come over.
However, the Thunder do have top-14 protections on their outgoing first-round pick, meaning they would retain it should they stay in the lottery.
Something Oklahoma City should be trying their hardest to accomplish.
While building a winning culture is important in the NBA, talent acquisition is more important.
Especially lottery talent.
This study done by Burak Can Koc broke down the probability of being an All-Star based on draft pick.
Data from all NBA Drafts dating back to 1989 was used when formulating probabilities.
The analysis showed that lottery picks had a 25.7 percent probability of becoming an All-Star.
Non-lottery picks only had a 4.3 percent probability of becoming an All-Star.
Having young players learn how to win is a key component for player and team growth.
But OKC is devoid of a star outside of SGA and their best chance of drafting a second star will happen in the lottery.
Retaining their first-round draft pick next year should be a high priority for the organization.
1. Monitor Market for Disgruntled Stars
A harsh reality of being a small-market team is high-profile free agents rarely want to sign there.
There is less exposure for their brands and typically less to do off the court.
Because of this, Oklahoma City will most likely acquire a second (or third) star either through the draft or through a trade.
I like OKC as a front office but I also think bcuz they’re a small market they have to do a lot of tricks to keep/ get talent and the NBA needs to stop pushing so many small markets. The Knicks subsidize OKC.
— Memo Fantasma (@MallyBourdain) August 22, 2021
Disgruntled stars are the new norm in the NBA due to the age of player empowerment.
If their teams underperform, superstars can simply demand a trade to a new team.
And with OKC’s treasure chest of future draft picks and young talent, they will be a player in any future dealings.
If the Chicago Bulls’ newest signings don’t mesh, will Zach LaVine want to stay in the Windy City?
How many more losing seasons can Karl-Anthony Towns handle before he wants out of Minnesota?
All three of those players are entrenched with their teams for now, but all it takes is one bad year to turn the tides.
If any disgruntled stars become available next offseason the Thunder shouldn’t hesitate to shell out draft picks.
Pairing another elite player with SGA would immediately catapult them into playoff territory.
And the quantity of picks they have means they may be able to swing two mega-deals.
The Thunder can turn the ship around quickly.
They need to pounce if the opportunity presents itself.