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With bright future ahead, expect more patience from Thunder this offseason

2024 NBA Playoffs - 	New Orleans Pelicans v Oklahoma City Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 24: The Oklahoma City Thunder talks to the media after the game against the New Orleans Pelicans during Round 1 Game 2 of the 2024 NBA Playoffs on April 24, 2024 at Paycom Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2024 NBAE (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

Oklahoma City fans understand how special this team is — hundreds of them showed up at the airport at 1 am to welcome their Thunder back after they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Mavericks Saturday night.

Those fans are going to be rewarded over the coming years — this team has immense promise and the chance to be truly special.

Just don’t expect GM Sam Presti to rush the process.

Patience has been the mantra in Oklahoma City and that will not suddenly change this summer. Oklahoma City made a giant leap this season, going from the play-in a season ago to being the No. 1 seed and advancing to the second round of the playoffs this season. While Oklahoma City has cap space and a plethora of picks, they are not going to suddenly push all their chips into the middle on a win-now gambit. They don’t need to, they are already winning now and improving. While they may look to a veteran to fill a role, the core of this roster is set.

Oklahoma City has one of the best players in the league in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. At age 25, he has been in the top five in MVP voting for two consecutive seasons. He averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 assists, and 5.5 rebounds a game this season. However, he learned a hard lesson in the final seconds of the Thunder’s elimination when he fouled P.J. Washington on a corner 3.

“We talk about it all year, the little things that go into winning games. And being disciplined. It sucks,” Gilgeous-Alexander said postgame of the foul. “Obviously, if I had the moment back, I wouldn’t have fouled him and just let him make or miss the shot.”

Next to SGA is Jalen Willilams, who broke out in his second season as an All-Star level wing who averaged 19.1 points a game and shot 42.7% from 3. Then there is Chet Holmgren, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting and changed the Thunder defense with his elite rim protection. Solid role players surround those three in Lu Dort (age 24), Isaiah Joe (24), Cason Wallace (20, a rookie) and Jaylin Williams.

The guy who could be the odd man out is Josh Giddey. His role has shrunk with the emergence of Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams — Giddey is best with the ball in his hands, but the Thunder aren’t going to take the ball out of the hands of SGA. Giddey became the guy other teams tried to hide their center or weakest defender on and dared him to hit 3s over them — Dallas did that in the second round and Giddey shot 3-of-16 from beyond the arc against them.

Giddey is extension-eligible this summer, but the more likely outcome is OKC keeps him on the books for $8.3 million for next season and tries to trade him this summer. There are a couple of reasons for that, one of which is to keep the tax man at bay for a little longer. SGA is on a max contract, but Williams and Holmgren are still on their rookie deals — in a couple of years, this team starts to get very expensive. For the next couple of summers, Presti will have room to maneuver.

Just don’t expect a big, bold move this summer.

A lot of fans pushed for the Thunder to pursue a more traditional, old-school center at the trade deadline, but the Thunder stayed the course for a couple of reasons. One, this group was untested, and the front office wanted to see how they responded in the cauldron of the playoffs.

Second, the Thunder are a five-out team, one whose offense is based on opening up the paint because their four and five can space the floor and make plays — plant an old-school big man on the court and it throws the Thunder off balance. It changes the dynamic of how they play.

But when the Thunder’s basketball season was on the line Saturday against a more physical Dallas team and its athletes like Derrick Lively, Daigneault went to a two-big lineup of Holmgren and Jaylin Williams, “Trying to help out on the glass specifically... just trying to get more cumulative size on the floor.”

OKC needs to find a way to get more physical and match up with teams like Minnesota, Dallas, and Denver, but how does it do that without changing its identity? Does going after someone like Jarrett Allen help this team as much as some think, or does it change them too much? Do they bank on Holmgren’s growth, and do they give the man a lot of protein shakes this summer?

With all the draft picks the Thunder have in the coming years Presti has flexibility. He can be patient.

But how fast this team has gotten elite changes the calculus a little — this team is ready to win now. It can win big next year.

The fans in Oklahoma City get that.