Oklahoma City Thunder – Off Season Report

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2015/2016 Record: 55-27 (Lost in Western Conference Finals)

Ins:

Ersan Ilyasova TR – Magic
Victor Oladipo TR – Magic
Alex Abrines FA – 3yrs / $18mil
Ronnie Price FA – 2yrs / $5mil
Domantas Sabonis TR – Magic
Joffrey Lauvergne TR – Nuggets
Semaj Christon FA – 3 yrs / $2.5mil (Non-Guaranteed)
Alex Caruso FA – 1 yr / $543k (Non-Guaranteed)
Kaleb Tarczewski FA – 1 yr / $543k (Non-Guaranteed)
Chris Wright FA – 1 yr / $980k (Non-Guaranteed)

Outs:

Nazr Mohammed FA – Unsigned/Retired
Kevin Durant FA – Warriors
Serge Ibaka TR – Magic
Randy Foye FA – Nets
Dion Waiters FA – Heat

Off Season Analysis:

When the biggest thing to happen to your team all summer is losing the franchise player, it’s pretty hard to redeem things. However, having a second superstar on the team and a usually crafty GM is a pretty good place to start. Perhaps it was already curtains for the current formation of this Oklahoma City team, which finally entered the post season at full strength but fell short. They were bundled out of the playoffs, yet luckily for them it won’t be remembered as the most famous choke after holding a 3-1 lead. In the months of June and July, Sam Presti and Kevin Durant both decided it was time for change.

Presti pulled the trigger first, sending Serge Ibaka packing to Florida on draft night before he hit free agency next year. OKC received Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis in the deal. Whether this was the first sign that the front office were preparing for life without Durant or not, they were certainly flagging that there would be a new look team for the 16/17 season. Oladipo is the most exciting backcourt partner for Russell Westbrook since James Harden was in town, Ilyasova can provide a lot of what was being asked of Ibaka at a much cheaper cost and Sabonis is a highly rated rookie with a chance to play 4 and 5 at the NBA level. It was a little win for the Thunder; they got a little deeper, a little more playmaking, a little more shooting and a little more for the future.

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Stats courtesy of NBA.com

Let’s touch a little more on the addition of Victor Oladipo AKA Mr.Featherly. This was an important move for the Thunder with or without Kevin Durant re-committing to the team. It unquestionably marked the first time Durant/Westbrook had a 3rd legitimate playmaking teammate, since Harden was traded to Houston. ‘Dipo was seemingly under-appreciated in Orlando, despite having a very successful second half of the 15/16 season. And perhaps even more importantly, his Post All-Star numbers (although a small sample size) are strikingly similar to Harden’s per36 numbers from his last year in OKC. More on that later.

Unfortunately it was 1 step forward and 100 steps back when free agency started and the 4th of July was no celebration for Thunder fans. The writing was already on the wall as Kevin Durant took his meetings in The Hamptons for the first 3 days of July and front office executives from OKC were bailed up in a Holiday Inn. Ultimately KD decided to join the Golden State Warriors and say goodbye to the second franchise he’d ever known (RIP Supersonics) throughout his 9 year NBA career. There isn’t too much to be said about Durant’s decision that hasn’t been said already. However I will say that whilst I feel for the fans of this franchise, I have no sympathy for ownership or anyone else involved in taking this team from Seattle.

One has to now wonder if head coach, Billy Donovan, regrets his decision to join the pro leagues and leave the green pastures of the college game. It is hard to argue that the KD/Russ combo was not a huge pull for Donovan in agreeing terms with OKC. Having said that, he is certainly not left with a dumpster fire and Presti will continue to add pieces to this team for him to work with. After the Ibaka trade and KD departure, the GM filled out the roster with a mixture of youth and veteran presence;

  • Alex Abrines, SG/SF; a wing prospect drafted by the Thunder in 2013.
  • Ronnie Price, PG; who will bring much needed leadership on & off the court.
  • Joffrey Lauvergne, PF/C; an interesting big man worth the flyer for two 2nd rounders.
  • Christon, Caruso, Tarczewski & Wright; prospects at basically every position being brought into camp on non-guaranteed deals.

Then a hero came along to battle the new found villain, Super-Russ committed to the city of Oklahoma and it’s fans were already saying Kevin who? With one year remaining on his existing deal, OKC would have to seriously consider trading Westbrook if they could not get him to re-negotiate his current deal and commit longer term. Could the franchise and it’s fans recover after losing both it’s stars in one off-season? Luckily for them, money cures all and they did not have to find out. Westbrook decided to take more money now, in return for more years on his deal and all was not lost. I’ve covered the rules and reasons surrounding extensions extensively in my Houston & Indiana reports, so here’s just the cold hard facts;

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Losing Kevin Durant is a variable that most teams will be unable to recover from, at least short term. Having said that, with his recent history of missed games through injury we can at least speculate as to how the Thunder will do without him. Last time KD was out for an extended period of time in season 14/15, Westbrook carried the team on his shoulders and only missed the playoffs thanks to an Anthony Davis Hail Mary and resulting tie-breaker. Take a look at what Russ did in the 39 games he was without Durant and also Ibaka.

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Stats courtesy of basketballreference.com

Those numbers are nothing short of insane and the 22-17 record extrapolated out into a full season actually equates to 46 wins, which would have made the playoffs that year. So while Westbrook is certainly not without his faults, there is plenty there to suggest he can carry this team as currently constructed to a playoff birth. Speaking of the roster, it is also important to look at how it ranks compared to the group Westbrook had in 14/15. The 5 most used lineups not including Kevin Durant were as follows;

  1. Adams/Ibaka/Jones/Roberson/Westbrook
  2. Adams/Kanter/Roberson/Waiters/Westbrook
  3. Adams/Kanter/Singler/Waiters/Westbrook
  4. Ibaka/Kanter/Roberson/Singler/Westbrook
  5. Adams/Kanter/Morrow/Waiters/Westbrook

As spoken about previously, Oladipo gives this group an off guard that they have not had the luxury of using in recent years. Instead, subject to the limited talents of Waiters, Roberson, Singler and Morrow at Shooting Guard. If the most recent playoff series showed us anything, it was that several of the players from the above lineups are far more accomplished players going into 16/17. Steven Adams is on his way to becoming a top 10 C in the league, Andre Roberson is an effective defensive wing to deploy in the starting lineup when used correctly on O and Enes Kanter is a lot more comfortable in his role now than he was coming in mid-season.

On top of a better starting unit and the remaining bench players, the roster is arguably deeper and more settled now with the likes of Payne, Price, Sabonis and Lauvergne as new options off the bench. This opposed to the situation and health issues with past players such as Perkins, Jackson, Jones, Smith and Lamb. The losses of Durant and Ibaka are no doubt going to hurt this team through a gruelling 82 game schedule but it’s time for the fresher faces to continue to step up and help Westbrook lead the Thunder into a new era.

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A new era that still has a few short and long term questions. Currently the roster sits at 16 guaranteed contracts, so it’s unlikely any of the training camp invites make the final cut and Mitch McGary may have made the final roster cut decision easy for the Thunder. OKC will also go into next summer armed with $40+ million in cap space but with extension decisions to make on Adams, Oladipo and Roberson first. Then of course, there is still the possibility that Westbrook is traded should things not work out as I’ve predicted and it becomes apparent it’s time to part ways. Although unlikely at this stage, Thunder fans should still prepare themselves for life without Russ one day.

It’s pretty hard to offer up an above average grade for a team that loses a recent MVP in it’s off-season. However, I’m sure Thunder fans are pretty bullish about where their team sits in the Durant A.D era and realise things could be a whole lot worse. The fact of the matter is OKC have a legitimate playoff shot, still have a top 10 player leading their team, a healthy young roster and plenty of money/assets going forward. Not to mention, there is every chance the roster looks different again before opening night.

Grade: C+

2016/17 Prediction: 48-34

League Pass Meter: 8/10

Westbrook leading his own team is must watch TV. This team is going to play with a chip on it’s shoulder, with their fearless captain leading the way. A triple-double will literally be on watch every single night and watching the likes of Dipo, Adams & Kanter make this team their own will be fun.

Depth Chart:

PG: Westbrook Payne Price Christon*
SG: Oladipo Morrow Abrines Caruso*
SF: Roberson Singler Huestis Wright*
PF: Ilyasova Sabonis Collison McGary
C: Adams Kanter Lauvergne** Tarczewski*

* Salary likely guarantees 10th Jan 2017
** Salary fully guarantees 10th Jan 2017

Salary Cap Situation:

2016/17 salaries: $92,915,356
2017/18 salaries: $56,806,284

Max room: $45.2mil
Min room: $13.9mil

Future Assets:

Incoming:
2018 2nd (Celtics, Protected 31-55)

Outgoing:
2017 2nd (Nuggets, Protected 31-55)
2018 1st (Jazz, Protected 1-14)

2016/17 Questions:

What will Westbrook average this year?

Will Oladipo work as Russ’ backcourt partner or be better suited off the bench?

Can Steven Adams lift himself into a legitimate top 10 NBA centre?

Who becomes the long term PF for the Thunder? Joffrey? Ersan? Sabonis? Other?

Can Presti land another star through trade or FA before Russ gets itchy feet?

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