With the 2022 NBA Finals, the Warriors’ championship parade, and Klay Thompson’s, shall we say, exuberant maneuvering through the streets of San Francisco now in the rearview mirror, we turn our attention to Brooklyn. No, not because Kyrie Irving and the Nets have reportedly reached an impasse in contract negotiations—well, not entirely because of that, anyway—but because the NBA will descend upon the borough Thursday for the 2022 draft, featuring highly touted prospects at the top and plenty of trade-related intrigue throughout.
Before Adam Silver officially puts the lottery-winning Orlando Magic on the clock, let’s take a look at the five most interesting teams entering the draft, given the state of their current rosters, the draft capital at their disposal, the franchise-shaping questions they’re facing, and all of the possibilities that their answers could unlock. As always, these are the most interesting teams to me; there’s no accounting for taste, after all.
We begin, appropriately enough, with a team whose name evokes a brewing storm:
Oklahoma City Thunder
No franchise in the NBA has more flexibility to pursue whatever path tickles its fancy than Oklahoma City, which controls a total of 19 first-round picks over the next seven years—an overflowing cupboard that includes the nos. 2, 12, and 34 selections in this year’s draft.
The Thunder also hold the draft rights to star Serbian guard Vasilije Micic, whom Marc Stein reports might finally be looking to make the leap to the U.S. after back-to-back EuroLeague Final Four MVP campaigns. Plus, they have $31.8 million in salary cap space burning a hole in their pocket with which to facilitate trades … before July 1, when rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s rookie-scale maximum salary contract extension kicks in and that flexibility goes bye-bye.
The questions on the lips of NBA observers everywhere: Will GM Sam Presti decide to cash some of those chips in? And, if so, what kind of team does Presti—who crafted a perennial contender by drafting Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden in a three-year span, but who arguably hasn’t really nailed a draft pick since Steven Adams in 2013 (and even then, Giannis Antetokounmpo went three spots later)—really want to build?
Gilgeous-Alexander (who averaged more than 30 points and seven assists after the All-Star break) and Josh Giddey (a preternaturally poised playmaker who started to thrive before a late-season injury) give Oklahoma City a pair of bona fide building blocks in the backcourt.
The no. 2 pick in this draft seems likely to deliver one up front: In his latest mock draft, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has OKC selecting Gonzaga 7-footer Chet Holmgren, a swizzle-stick shot-swatter who could protect the rim and clear the glass for a young team that had a near-top-10 defense before firing up the tank in earnest for the last six weeks of the season.
Head coach Mark Daigneault doesn’t yet have a difference-maker on the wing, though; it’ll be interesting to see how (or if) Presti uses his spending power and draft capital to fill in the blanks between those bookends.
ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported last week that Oklahoma City was “aggressively pursuing” an additional mid-lottery pick in exchange for the no. 12 pick and future assets or current OKC players. Such a deal could enable them to select another top backcourt prospect, like Jaden Ivey or Shaedon Sharpe.
If Presti wants to import some veteran help, he could go back to the Chris Paul/Al Horford/Kemba Walker playbook by using all that cap space to absorb a talented but high-priced and out-of-favor player—maybe Tobias Harris?—who might benefit from a rehab stint in Oklahoma City and help foster the development of the team’s burgeoning young core.
With a slew of intriguing youngsters—from curious projects like Aleksej Pokusevski and Darius Bazley to ready-made role players like Lu Dort and Kenrich Williams—plus make-weight salaries like Derrick Favors’s $10.2 million player option and that bushel of picks, the Thunder enter the 2022 offseason teeming with possibility. A veritable multiverse stretches out from Presti’s Bricktown war room; all that’s left now is to pick a timeline.