30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Thunder's sudden ascent puts West on notice

As Shai Gilgeous-Alexander elevates to All-NBA status, an upward swerve has Oklahoma City on the brink of annual contention in the West.

The Thunder youth movement is officially on the upswing, with Josh GIddey (left), Jalen Williams and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leading the way.

Key additions

  • F Davis Bertans (trade), G Victor Oladipo (trade), G Cason Wallace (draft)

Key subtractions

  • None significant

Last season

Sometimes bad omens don’t always follow you around like a dark cloud. Such was the case with OKC after Chet Holmgren, the Thunder’s No. 1 pick, was done for the season even before it started. A foot injury suffered during the summer effectively put Holmgren on ice, literally, and delayed his rookie season until 2023-24.

And yet the Thunder prospered anyway, as well as a developing team could in a very deep and competitive Western Conference. OKC won 40 games and saw progress across the board as young players took the next step — baby steps, but steps nonetheless. There was growth from Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, Lu Dort and Isaiah Joe, among others.

Plus: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went from All-Star to borderline superstar, becoming one of the league’s toughest players to guard, finishing fourth in scoring at 31.4 ppg.

OKC missed the playoffs, however, crashing out of the AT&T Play-In Tournament so there remain challenges ahead. But all things considered, OKC’s rebuilding blueprint is going according to plan.

Summer summary

Since 2019, there has been one constant on Draft Day — Sam Presti making a trade. The OKC personnel boss, one of the best in the business, explained by saying he always wanted to move up in the first round if such a situation presented itself. Like clockwork, Presti secured another swap this June, sending his first-rounder to Dallas, moving up two spots to No. 10 while taking Bertans’ contract off the Mavericks’ hands as “punishment.”

Obviously, this was less about getting a devalued 3-point shooter in Bertans than making sure OKC was in position to get Cason Wallace. Was there a chance Wallace would be there at 12? Perhaps. But on the first page of the general manager handbook, written in bold-face is this: Get the guy you want.

And so, OKC added another promising young player to a swelling collection. Wallace is a 6-4 combo guard from Kentucky who brings solid defensive credentials. He’s a streaky shooter with decent range, and doesn’t turn 20 until November; expect the same player development treatment in OKC as the others who came before.

Otherwise, the Thunder had a relatively quiet offseason. Bertans is owed $33 million over the next two seasons, making him the Thunder’s second-highest-paid player next season behind Gilgeous-Alexander. But with a surplus of players still on their rookie contracts, Bertans’ money isn’t an issue, and – if anything – helps OKC reach the required salary floor.

Jalen Williams shined in his first season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, earning All-Rookie honors.

It’s the same reasoning behind bringing back Oladipo. His recent injury history suggests a short stay in OKC, but the Thunder will use his $9 million to pad their cap, having received a pair of second-rounders from Miami as well.

There was no blockbuster trade and OKC resisted any urge, however small, to trade a young asset in order to take shortcuts. Best news is Holmgren made it through the summer without re-injury, and looked solid while doing so.

Up next: Chicago Bulls | Previously: Detroit Pistons

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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