On Saturday, Thunder general manager Sam Presti was asked about Lu Dort’s contract situation and Dort’s upcoming team option, which would pay the 23-year-old guard $1.9 million next season.
“The only thing I can tell you,” Presti said, “is that we have an option on that agreement, and obviously it’s our plan to exercise that pending anything different.”
Something changed over a four-day span.
Wednesday was decision day on Dort’s option, and Presti reversed course. The Thunder, as first reported by The Athletic and confirmed by The Oklahoman, declined Dort’s team option for next season.
By declining the option, Dort will become a restricted free agent when free agency opens Thursday night. If the Thunder had accepted the option, Dort would be on the books for $1.9 million next season before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer.
As a restricted free agent, Dort can seek offer sheets from other teams, which the Thunder would then have the right to match. However, given the Thunder’s U-turn and the lack of cap space across the league, it’s expected that Dort and the Thunder will reach a long-term agreement in the coming days.
Depending on Dort’s motivation to stay in Oklahoma City, the team that signed him as an undrafted free agent, it might not even get to the point where Dort and his representation are actively seeking offer sheets from other teams.
Just a few days ago, it seemed unlikely that Dort and the Thunder were close to terms on a long-term contract agreement.
“Everybody knows how we feel about Lu and what he means to the team,” Presti said Saturday. “With that being said, he’ll be a free agent after next season, and we’ll have the ability to have those (extension) conversations with him at that time.”
Presti, calculated in everything he says, said that Dort would “be a free agent after next season.” Even if the Thunder had exercised Dort’s team option, the two sides still had plenty of time to reach an agreement before 2023 free agency rolled around.
It’s possible Dort, already on a team-friendly deal, lowered his asking price to something more amenable. It’s also possible, although unlikely, that a sign-and-trade is in place. Or perhaps the Thunder assessed the market for Dort and wasn’t intimidated by the risk of having to match a big offer sheet.
Accepting the team option would have also led to the possibility of Dort walking for nothing as an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Thunder avoided that situation by declining the option and making him a restricted free agent.
It will be interesting to see what number Dort agrees to. Many have compared Dort’s situation to that of Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who signed a four-year, $55 million deal in February. That’s an annual average of $13.75 million.
Dort has played in 139 games and has made 131 starts in his three seasons with the Thunder. Known for his perimeter defense, Dort’s offense has incrementally improved.
Dort averaged a career-high 17.2 points per game last season on 40% shooting. He’s a career 33% 3-point shooter.
Thunder declines Mike Muscala’s option
On Wednesday, the Thunder also had team options to either exercise or decline on centers Mike Muscala and Isaiah Roby.
The Thunder declined Muscala’s $3.5 million option for next season, The Oklahoman confirmed. Muscala will become an unrestricted free agent after spending the last three seasons in Oklahoma City.
Muscala shot a career-high 43% from 3-point range last season. He averaged 8.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
The 30-year-old stretch center never eclipsed 50 games in a season with the Thunder. He ceded playing time due to injuries, as well as the Thunder prioritizing the development of younger players.
Muscala underwent season-ending surgery in early March to address a nagging right ankle injury.
Muscala is set to enter his 10th NBA season.
Thunder picks up Isaiah Roby’s option
Meanwhile, the Thunder exercised Isaiah Roby’s $1.9 million team option for next season.
Roby, whom the Thunder acquired in a January 2020 trade with the Mavericks, averaged a career-high 10.1 points per game last season. He shot 51% from the field, including 44% from 3-point range on 2.2 attempts per game.
Roby has played in 109 games and has made 62 starts in his three seasons with the Thunder.