Monthly Archives: June 2014

Free Agency and the Oklahoma City Thunder

presti thunder

This is the first free agency period in a while where the Thunder, not only seem like bit players, but also seem willing to participate. For years, the mantra for the Thunder around this time of year has been about internal development. Their recent free agent grabs have been an aging vet (Derek Fisher) and a reclamation project (Hasheem Thabeet). Everyone currently on a guaranteed deal on the Thunder roster has either been drafted by the Thunder or has been traded for by them. Only Thabeet has been obtained via free agency, and his deal is contingent on the Thunder opting into it.

Before we get into the discussion of free agency, we have see what the Thunder have to offer. As discussed before, the NBA salary cap and luxury tax line will all move up this season. While the Thunder are over the salary cap, they do currently fall under the luxury tax line, which will be set at about $77 million next season. If you include the newly drafted first round rookies, the Thunder sit at 12 guaranteed contracts. Those 12 contracts equal to about $69.6 million dollars. The Thunder will be in the market for a shooter, so it only makes sense for them to lock into Grant Jerrett’s deal at $816,000, bringing the total to $70.4 million. I’m keeping Thabeet off the roster at the moment because the selection of McGary kind of negates what he brings to the table. With that said, the Thunder are about $6.58 under the luxury tax line with 2 roster spots available to them.

Any deal the Thunder do will be in the form of an exception. With the Thunder being over the salary cap, they’ll have access to the full mid-level exception, which is about $5.15 million dollar per year for 4 seasons. The Thunder can divide that among multiple players or use it all on one player. The Thunder also have a $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception (TPE) obtained from the sign and trade deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves involving Kevin Martin. That exception has an expiration date of July 11, 2014. The Thunder can use the TPE to facilitate a sign and trade for any free agent.

So what are the Thunder’s needs? The Thunder have 3 needs that can be addressed via free agency. The first need, as everyone knows, is perimeter shooting. We saw what a team full of shooters can do in the Finals. The 2nd need for the Thunder is an offensive post presence. And the third need for the Thunder is a veteran 3rd string point guard. Here are 10 options that can meet those needs.

1. CJ Miles – SG/SF / 6’6″ / 231 lbs /27 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Cle) – 9.9 pts /2.0 rebs /1.0 asts /0.3 blks /0.9 stls / 39.3% 3-point FG / 16.03 PER

cj miles

If you don’t succeed, try, try again. The Thunder tried to sign Miles in the summer of 2008, but the Utah Jazz matched their offer sheet. Back then, the Thunder were a team in transition, moving from Seattle to Oklahoma City, and coming off a 20 win season. This time around, the Thunder are a championship contender with a need at shooting guard. Last time, we signed Miles to a 4 yrs/$15 million dollar offer sheet. I’d say look for something similar this time around.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs /$11 million

2. Mike Miller – SF /6’8″ / 218 lbs /34 years old

  • Stats last season (w/ Mem) – 7.1 pts /2.5 rebs /1.6 asts /0.1 blks /0.3 stls / 45.9% 3-point FG /12.50 PER

We were in contention last season for the Mike Miller sweepstakes after he was amnestied from the Miami Heat. Ultimately, though, he ended up choosing the Memphis Grizzlies, with whom he played for previously. Even though he has the stigma of having a bad back, he played all 89 games (82 + 7 playoffs) last season at 20 minutes per game. He would definitely supply the perimeter shooting the Thunder desperately need, but would not be a good candidate for the starting 2-guard position.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs /$6 million (team option on 2nd year)

 

3.  Pau Gasol – PF/C / 7’0″ /250 lbs /34 years old as of July 6th

  • Stats last season (w/LAL) – 17.4 pts /9.7 rebs /3.4 asts /1.5 blks /0.5 stls /19.34 PER

pau gasol

There has been talk that Gasol would be meeting with Oklahoma City once he is able to. It would be interesting to see what the team is willing to give Gasol, who is probably still worth at least $8 million a season. They can only offer the Mid-Level Exception ($5.15 million) or the Traded Player Exception ($6.6 million). Would Gasol be willing to give the Thunder a discount in order to contend for a title? If so, Serge Ibaka better start recruiting el Señor Gasol.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs / $19 million

4. Jameer Nelson – PG /6’0″ /190 lbs /32 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Orl) – 12.1 pts /3.4 rebs /7.0 asts /0.1 blks /0.8 stls /34.8% 3-point FG /13.89 PER

When the New York Knicks hired Derek Fisher to be their head coach, a position opened up within the Thunder organization. It’s the position of veteran point guard with leadership characteristics that can knockdown a 3-point shot from time to time. Nelson would be perfect for that position, but the question becomes does Nelson still see himself as a starting quality point guard, or is he ready to become a bench point guard?

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs / $7 million (team option on 2nd year)

5. Vince Carter – SG /6’6″ /220 lbs /37 years old

  • Stats last season (w/ Dal) – 11.9 pts /3.5 rebs /2.6 asts /0.4 blks /0.8 stls /39.4% 3-point FG /15.97 PER

Vince Carter

With the Thunder trying to develop their young wing talent in Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, and Andre Roberson, you would think that bringing in someone like Carter may have an adverse effect on their development, similar to what Caron Butler’s addition did to the psyche of Lamb and Jones last season. But, if the Thunder are able to convince Carter to sign for about $3 million for 2 years to be a scorer/shooter off the bench, I think they would go for it. But it would have to be once other players have turned the Thunder down.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs/$7.6 million

6. Anthony Morrow – SG /6’5″ /210 lbs /28 years old

  • Stats last season (w/NO) – 8.4 pts /1.8 rebs /0.8 asts /0.2 blks /0.5 stls /45.1% 3-point FG /13.96 PER

If the Thunder a looking specifically for a shooter off the bench, in the Daequan Cook mode, then Morrow is your man. Morrow is a good shooter, but can’t do much else. He’s a sieve defensively and averages about the same amount of turnovers as assists. But if you want someone to just sit in the corner and receive passes from a driving Russell Westbrook, then Morrow has to definitely be an option.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs/$3.5 million

7. Ed Davis – PF /6’10” /225 lbs /25 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Mem) – 5.7 pts /4.1 rebs /0.4 asts /0.7 blks /0.3 stls /15.99 PER

The Grizzlies decided to let Davis become an unrestricted free agent after deciding not to pick up his qualifying offer. With the selection of McGary, signing Davis would be a bit of overkill. But as a young big and as an asset, Davis may be worth talking to. He’s shown some flashes throughout his 5 year career, but has also been inconsistent. The glut of big men on the Thunder roster may prevent this from coming to fruition.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs/$12 million (team option on 3rd year)

8. Jodie Meeks – PG/SG /6’4″ /208 lbs /26 years old

  • Stats last season (w/LAL) – 15.7 pts /2.5 rebs /1.8 asts /0.1 blks /1.4 stls /40.1% 3-point FG /14.75 PER

Always beware of players that have had career years on bad teams. The green light that these players receive on bad teams can skew their statistics. Fortunately, the Thunder wouldn’t need Meeks to be alpha male No. 1. We’d need him to be a scorer and shooter off the bench. Meeks’ seaon last year may make him too expensive for the Thunder, though.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs /$11 million

9. Ray Allen – SG /6’5″ /205 lbs /39 years old as of July 20th

  • Stats last season (w/Mia) – 9.6 pts /2.8 rebs /2.0 asts /0.1 blks /0.7 blks /37.5% 3-point FG /12.83 PER

ray allen

Allen has seen it and done it. A lot like Fisher, he’s hit big shots in big moments and won multiple championships. I could definitely see the Thunder make a run at Allen as a shooter off the bench. He’s slowed a bit, but that didn’t stop the Thunder from signing Fisher 3 seasons in a row.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs /$5.5 million

10. Shawn Marion – SF /6’7″ /228 lbs /36 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Dal) – 10.4 pts /6.5 rebs /1.6 asts /0.5 blks /1.2 stls /35.8% 3-point FG /13.78 PER

Marion’s best work is behind him, but he would still be a valuable commodity off the bench. His versatility allows him to play and defend multiple positions. And even though his shot mechanics make newborn babies cry, he still sinks his 3’s at a pretty good rate. Marion would be a great mid-season addition and not necessarily a great off-season addition based on the what the Thunder need.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs /$7 million

The Thunder have a little bit more money under the tax line this offseason, but nothing to necessarily write home about. Something to look out for though: The Thunder may go over the tax line during this free agency period if they have a plan in place to trade Perkins or Collison at the trade deadline. Remember, a team has be under the tax line by June 30th. With the Thunder’s penchant for looking for bargain, look for them to sign Miles (as a starting SG) and sign a veteran shooter (either Allen or Carter). Also, as much as I would love it, the Gasol signing is a pipe dream. Unless Ibaka says something great in Spanish and convinces Gasol to sign with the Thunder for under market value, we will go into the season with Ibaka and Perkins as our starting front court. As I mentioned in the draft postscript, the Thunder have a lot of what they need already on the roster. They could possibly just sign a veteran shooter and go with Jackson, Jones, Roberson, or Lamb as the starting SG.

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2014 Thunder Draft: A Postcript

mitch mcgary josh huestis sam presti troy weaver thunder

I’ve learned you never write about anything right when it happens. With emotions at a crescendo, you may exaggerate the highs and hyperbolize the lows. With that said, this draft was a bit of a disappointment. Not necessarily with the players that we got, but with the lack of activity from the Thunder. We’ll never know whether the Thunder intended to draft the two players they got from the get go. But with needs being what they are, the Thunder didn’t really fill any of their most glaring needs with their two draft picks. And that’s where the disappointment lies.

With that said, the Thunder do enter the free agency period with more cap flexibility and more money in hand than they have had in the past. Maybe they intended to get two players in the draft all along and decided to fill their needs via free agency. With perimeter shooting being one of the most glaring needs, the Thunder could easily get that after July 1st from someone like CJ Miles or Mike Miller. Or they may entice a team that is looking to rid themselves of salary in order to make a big free agency splash (i.e. Mike Dunleavy Jr from the Bulls using the $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception).

While the expectations leading up to the draft may have shrouded the draft in disappointment, it’s always important to remember where the Thunder are, in relation to the rest of the league. They were one of the Top 4 teams in the league and took the eventual champs to 6 games in the Western Conference Finals. While getting to the Western Conference Finals may no longer be a cause for celebration, it’s important to remember that this team is on the cusp of a championship and has their core pieces in place. I like to compare this team to a great album. The core players (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Jackson, and Adams) are the hits on the album, while the other players are the filler tracks. The better the filler tracks, the better the album. The Thunder are close to having a great album, and the filler track have enough time to grow on you.

Here’s a look at the three players the Thunder obtained in the 2014 draft:

No 21 – Mitch McGary – PF/C – University of Michigan

mitch mcgary thunder

When the Toronto Raptors chose Bruno Caboclo (who??!!), I was certain the Thunder would select either Clint Capela or Kyle Anderson. And I would have been happy with either of those selections. But then the Thunder selected McGary, and I was like “Huh?”. Let me preface this by saying, I was a huge fan of McGary’s in the 2012-13 season, when Michigan made their run in the tournament. I thought he had the potential to a Nick Collison/Bill Laimbeer type player for the Thunder. When he decided to stay in school for the 2013-14 season, I said to myself, “I wonder if he’ll be available for the Dallas pick (wherever that may end up being)?” With McGary being a potential lottery pick and the Dallas pick being protected for the top 20, I figured there was no way McGary would fall that far down.

But alas, McGary was injured for most of his sophomore season with a back injury and was facing a season long ban due to a failed drug test. With all that stacked against him, McGary decided to enter his name into the draft. With an injured back and a bit of a tarnished reputation, McGary’s stock fell. Adding to that fire, McGary refused to allow NBA doctors to perform a physical on him. Many people viewed that as a sign that he was damaged goods, but apparently that might have been a smokescreen due to a promise he received from the Thunder.

So what does McGary bring to the table? With Nick Collison aging and in the final year of his contract, McGary becomes a great development replacement for the veteran. He has a lot of the same skill set as Collison. He sets great screens, is good in the pick and roll, is a good passer, and has the (surprising) quickness and agility to get around most big men. He has great role player potential and will probably get meaningful minutes sometime this season.

No. 29 – Josh Huestis – SG/SF – Stanford University

josh huestis thunder

When you write a blog, one of the chores is to do research. So when the season ended, I immediately switched over to draft mode. I watched most of the draft video breakdowns at DraftExpress.com and NBADraft.net. I got to know the players who would logically be available when the Thunder chose at 29. But once again, the Thunder managed to surprise me and chose someone whom I did no research on. Josh Who-tis??? When I first saw his name, I thought he might have been hispanic. I thought his name may have been pronounced Josh Wes-teez.

Last season, it was Andre Roberson, who was billed as a perimeter defender and wing rebounder. This season, it was Huestis, who is being billed as a perimeter defender and wing rebounder. Whaaaatttt???? I’ve kind of gotten over the fact that we didn’t draft a wing that could shoot. But why rehash the “perimeter defender who needs to develop a shot” routine? And let me reiterate….this has nothing to do with Huestis. He seems like a hard worker and someone who will fit in the Thunder culture. But at what point do we stop drafting these types of players and start drafting more complete players? Even at 29, players like Kyle Anderson, Cleanthony Early, and KJ McDaniels were still available.

After looking around the internet, I happened upon some Huestis videos. He is definitely a big perimeter defender that does great in one on one situations. He seems to have a better shot than Roberson at this same point last season, but its a shot that still would not be deemed threatening to opponents. Word is that the Thunder intend to have Huestis develop in Tulsa for most of the season, but they said the same thing about Roberson and he ended up starting 16 games last season.

No. 55 – Semaj Christon – PG – Xavier University

semaj christon thunder

When I started looking at mock drafts around January, Christon’s name began showing up at the Thunder’s pick late in the first round. With the uncertainty surrounding Reggie Jackson’s future, the Thunder decided to buy Christon’s rights from Charlotte. Christon has good size for a point guard (6’3″) and carries a 6’6″ wingspan. He reminds me a lot of Marquis Teague of the Chicago Bulls. Someone that plays athletically and can get into the lane. But also someone who will have to work on his shot and develop more of a floor game as a point guard.

Will he make the team? I have no idea. It all depends on who the Thunder acquire during free agency. With 12 players already guaranteed and 2 on non-guaranteed team options (Hasheem Thabeet and Grant Jerrett), there may not be enough space on the roster for Christon to be signed. But you can guarantee that if the Thunder like Christon, they’ll find some way to keep him within the organization’s system as they did with Jerrett last season.

Again, as I wrote last season, this draft had as much to do with the players who were drafted as with the players who were still on the roster when the night ended. The team has extreme confidence in the young players within the organization and has plans to keep them on the roster for right now. They could have possibly included them in draft day deals in order to move up, but chose, instead, to stay the course and let that royal jelly work its magic on players like Lamb, Jones, Roberson, and Jerrett. With the draft over, it’s on to free agency.

NTTBB’s 1st Annual Mock Draft

This is Now That’s Thunder Basketball’s first mock draft. It only involves the first round. Enjoy

1. Cleveland Cavaliers Andrew Wiggins – G/F Kansas
2. Milwaukee Bucks Jabari Parker – G/F Duke
3. Philadelphia 76ers Joel Embiid – C Kansas
4. Orlando Magic Marcus Smart – G Okla St.
5. Utah Jazz Dante Exum – G Australia
6. Boston Celtics Noah Vonleh – PF Indiana
7. LA Lakers Julius Randle – PF Kentucky
8. Sacramento Kings Elfrid Payton – PG La. Lafayette
9. Charlotte Hornets Nik Stauskas – SG Michigan
10. Philadelphia 76ers Aaron Gordon – PF Arizona
11. Denver Nuggets Jusuf Nurkic – C Croatia
12. Orlando Magic Rodney Hood – SF Duke
13. Minnesota Timberwolves Doug McDermott SF/PF Creighton
14. Phoenix Suns Gary Harris – SG Michigan St. 
15. Atlanta Hawks Dario Saric – PF Croatia
16. Chicago Bulls Adreian Payne – PF Michigan St.
17. Boston Celtics Kyle Anderson – SF/PF UCLA
18. Phoenix Suns Zach Lavine – SG UCLA
19. Chicago Bulls Shabazz Napier – PG UConn
20. Toronto Raptors Tyler Ennis – PG Syracuse
21. Oklahoma City Thunder Clint Capela – PF/C Switzerland
22. Memphis Grizzlies James Young – SG Kentucky
23. Utah Jazz Jordan Adams – SG UCLA
24. Charlotte Hornets TJ Warren – SF NC State
25. Houston Rockets PJ Hairston – SG Texas Legends (NBDL)
26. Miami Heat Jordan Clarkson – PG/SG Missouri
27. Phoenix Suns Jerami Grant – SF Syracuse
28. LA Clippers Jarnell Stokes – PF Tennessee
29. Oklahoma City Thunder KJ McDaniels – SG Clemson
30. San Antonio Spurs Bogdan Bogdanovic – SG Serbia

Thunder’s Draft Day Options

jerrett roberson adams presti thunder

When it comes to draft picks, a team only has 3 choices: Move up, stay put, or move down (or out) in order to pick up more assets. These are the options facing the Thunder. Last season, with 3 draft picks in hand, they stayed put at 12 (Steven Adams), moved up to 26 from 29 (Andre Roberson), stayed put at 32 (Alex Abrines), and moved up (bought) 40 (Grant Jerrett). With the 21st and 29th pick this season, here’s a look at some of the players the Thunder may target if they move up, stay put, or move down.

Moving Up Into the Top 10

marcus smart joel embiid

As I’ve previously discussed, the Thunder do have some assets that could potentially entice a team to give up their higher draft pick. In addition to the 21st and 29th pick, the Thunder also possess a $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception, a bevy of young cheap players, and two expiring contracts (Kendrick Perkins ($9.4M) and Collison($2.2M)). So with all that in hand, how far up can the Thunder move? Well, you can pretty much throw out any chance of moving into the Top 10. The only option I could really see in the Top 10 is Sacramento at 8, but we’d have to probably give up one of our young players (Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, or Perry Jones) along with the draft picks to do so. If the Thunder make this type of move, it’s because they either love someone a lot or because someone they love (but thought wouldn’t be available) has dropped. There are only 3 players I could see causing this type of jump:

1. Marcus Smart – PG/SG / Oklahoma State / 6’3″ / 227 lbs /So. – Smart is one of those players that is hard to ping on mock drafts. We know he won’t go top 2, but he could possibly go anywhere from 3-10. Smart was tabbed as a Top 5 type player, but the incident with the Texas Tech fan and the fact that he didn’t vastly improve from his freshman year to his sophomore year, has caused some prognosticators to cool a bit on Smart. If he drops past 7, look for the Thunder to try to sneak in at 8 with their 2 draft picks and Reggie Jackson. Chances of this happening: 5%

2. Joel Embiid – C / Kansas / 7’0″ / 250 lbs /Fr. – Embiid’s worst enemies are the ghosts of Greg Oden and Sam Bowie. Especially in a draft that features not one, but two dynamic wing players. Embiid’s latest set back may cause teams to get “fragile center-itis”. Nerlens Noel was slated to go Number 1 last season before he tore his ACL in February 2013. He ended up dropping to 6th and sat out the entire year. If teams in the Top 10 are looking for someone who will play immediately, they may end up passing on Embiid. Chances of this happening: 2%

3. Elfrid Payton – PG / Louisiana Lafayette / 6’4″ / 185 lbs /Jr. – When the season ended, some mock drafts had us taking Payton…at 29! No one has moved up more in this draft process from mid-April to now than Payton. His physical attributes have some people comparing him to Rajon Rondo. Someone who isn’t a great shooter, but can get to any spot he wants on the floor. If you want a point guard than can get into the paint and create havoc from there, Payton is that guy. Chances of this happening: 10%

Moving Up Into the 11-15 Range

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Tournament Michigan State v Michigan

Moving up into this range may be a bit easier and may not necessarily require one of the Thunder young players. Picks 21 and 29 may be enough for someone looking to pick up draft picks later in the draft (with lesser financial implications). Here are 3 players the Thunder may be looking at in this range:

1. Nik Stauskas – SG / Michigan /6’6″ /207 lbs /So. – Stauskas had an extremely successful sophomore year at Michigan and is probably one of the best sharpshooters in the draft. In a league where 3-point shooting is extremely valued, I could see the Thunder trying to move up to take Stauskas. Chances of this happening: 15%

2. Doug McDermott – SF / Creighton /6’7″ /220 lbs /Sr. – McDermott just finished a career in which he ended up in the top 5 of the NCAA career scoring list with 3,150 career points. He is a great shooter and great at creating a shot for himself. His athleticism, or lack there of, may be what limits him professionally. Oklahoma City is rumored to have had McDermott in for a workout. If he slips, he may definitely be a target for the Thunder. Chances of this happening: 25%

3. Gary Harris – SG / Michigan State /6’4″ /205 lbs /So. – With Thabo Sefolosha’s expected departure, the Thunder may be in the market for a SG that can play both ends of the floor. Though Harris may not be a great shooter, he has the tools to be a great defender. He may be someone that the Thunder targets if he falls. Chances of this happening: 20%

Moving Up To The 16-20 Range or Staying Put at 21

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Tournament Michigan State v Michigan

There are about 10 players that could be selected in the 16-21 range. You won’t need too many assets to move up from 21 here, but this range is where the $6.6 million dollar TPE may come into play. Chicago has two picks in this range (16 and 19) and are vying for the services of free agent Carmelo Anthony. They need to get rid of salary and may also be willing to part with one or both of their picks. There also the possibility that the player may fall to the Thunder at 21 anyway. Here are 5 players the Thunder may be targeting at this range:

1. Adreian Payne – PF / Michigan State /6’10” /240 lbs /Sr. – Payne built his game up throughout his tenure at Michigan State, turning himself into a consistent outside shooter, with the ability to also play a little inside. With Nick Collison get older, Payne may prove to be a good replacement for the Thunder. Chances of this happening: 30%

2. TJ Warren – SF / NC State /6’7″ /220 lbs /So. – One of the things missing off the Thunder’s bench was scoring. Lamb looked great at the beginning of the season, but tailed off at the end, hurting the Thunder’s bench production. Warren is the type of player that can score in a variety of ways. He was one of the best scorers in the NCAA (24 ppg) and his game should translate as a bench player. Chances of this happening: 40%

3. Glenn Robinson III – SG/SF / Michigan /6’6″ /211 lbs /So. – Robinson failed to live up to the expectations set for him at the beginning of the season. But the skill set is there to be a great role player. He has solid size for a wing (6’6″) with a 6’9″ wingspan. He does a lot of things good, but nothing great. He could be a decent option to replace Sefolosha in a season or two. Chances of this happening: 40%

4. James Young – SG /Kentucky /6’6″ /215 lbs /Fr. – One of the needs for the Thunder is shooting from the wing position. Young can give you that and can grow into a consistent bench role for the Thunder this season. With Jackson and Lamb’s play making ability, there may be plenty of opportunities for Young to showcase his main skill. Though he may be a liability defensively, he does have the tools to be a good defender. Chances of this happening: 35%

5. Zach Lavine – SG / UCLA /6’6″ /180 lbs /Fr. – A freak athlete in the Gerald Green/Russell Westbrook mold, Lavine may take some time to develop, but may also have too much potential to ignore. If put through the Thunder development plan, Lavine may be a great pick 2 seasons from now. But if the Thunder are looking for immediate dividends, then Lavine may not be the man for this pick. Chances of this happening: 25%

Ultimately, if the Thunder stay within this range, they may be looking for someone who can pay dividends this season, and not a developmental project. They’ll definitely be looking for someone that can either provide scoring from the perimeter or someone to complement the bench.

Picking In The 22-30 Range

kj mcdaniels

This is kind of where it gets interesting. The Thunder can get a player of value in this range (Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones) if they play their cards right. Also, as seen last year, if the Thunder like a player, they aren’t opposed to trade up for a pick by using cash. Here are 3 players the Thunder may be looking at in this range:

1. Clint Capela – PF/C / Switzerland /6’11” /222 lbs – At this point in his career, Capela is a poor man’s Ibaka. He has great athleticisim, but lacks the experience and IQ to put it all together. He’s a project, but he’s also a workable project. He has the tools in place to be very similar to Ibaka defensively. Offensively, though, it’s a different story. It would probably be good if Capela stayed in Europe one more season to further his development before joining the Thunder. Chances of this happening: 50%

2. CJ Wilcox – SG /Washington /6’5″ /201 lbs /Sr. – Wilcox is a great shooter and someone who would benefit playing next to a chaos starter like Russell Westbrook. The Thunder are looking for shooting and if Wilcox is available, they may snatch him up. Chances of this happening: 25%

3. KJ McDaniels – SG/SF /Clemson /6’6″ /196 lbs /Jr. – If the Thunder don’t draft a wing player at 21, look for them to take someone like McDaniels. The 2013-14 ACC Defensive Player of the Year led the ACC in blocks (as a SG/SF) and is probably the best one on one defender in the draft at the wing position. The Thunder may have drafted their wing stopper last season in Andre Roberson, but if they like what they see from McDaniels, I think they may also draft him. Chances of this happening: 45%

Trading Down (Or Buying) Into The 2nd Round

damien inglis

 The Thunder may also either trade down into the 2nd round or buy a 2nd rounder like they did last season. Here are 3 players the Thunder may look at in the 2nd round.

1. Spencer Dinwiddie – PG/SG /Colorado /6’6″ /205 lbs /Jr. – Before tearing his ACL, Dinwiddie was one of the more diverse wings in the NCAA. He could score, shoot, and play-make. The Thunder may take a chance on Dinwiddie as a Tulsa stash to see how he fairs in his recovery. Chances of this happening: 40%

2. Mitch McGary – PF/C /Michigan /6’10” /266 lbs /So. – Before his back injury last season, McGary was seen as a lottery pick after his freshman season. But with him preventing the NBA docs from performing a physical on him, many have begun to label him as damaged goods. But as a project, McGary may be worth the risk. Chances of this happening: 15%

3. Damien Inglis – SF/PF /France /6’9″ /240 lbs – An athletic specimen, Inglis has a 7’3″ wingspan and a very muscular build. His shooting is his biggest flaw, but at only 19 years of age, this is something that can be developed as he ages. He has the potential to be a Boris Diaw type player with his ability to handle the ball and play-make. Chances of this happening: 45%

The Thunder have a ton of options in this draft. With a little bit of chaos swirling around with the impending free agency of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, many teams are trying to set themselves up to have the ability to sign one or both of these free agents. Armed with their assets, the Thunder will look to come out of this draft with a much stronger team than they had before the draft. Whether it’s with their draft picks or with veterans they’ve acquired, the Thunder should head into the 2014-15 season with a more complete team than the one that got ousted in the Western Conference Finals.

Thunder Offseason: Trade Partners and Draft Night

sam presti thunder

The Oklahoma City hold two first round picks in this year’s draft. Their own (No. 29) and Dallas’ first rounder (No. 21) obtained from Houston in the James Harden trade. In a daft and offseason that will be filled with intrigue heading into July 1st, assets are a powerful thing to be in possession of heading into the draft. The Thunder are on the cusp of becoming a championship team, having been in 3 of the last 4 Western Conference Finals and being on the losing end of the 2012 NBA Finals. With most of the core pieces in place, the Thunder may use these assets to get that final piece or two to finally get over the edge.

Assets

Other than the two first round picks in a pretty loaded draft, the Thunder also have the $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception (TPE) they obtained from the Kevin Martin sign and trade last season. The TPE can be used to trade for a player without having to add any players in order to make the salaries match. For example, Gerald Henderson of the Charlotte Hornets makes $6 million dollars in salary. If the Thunder wanted to trade for him, they could offer the Hornets their TPE for $6.1 million dollars and a draft pick or the draft rights to one of their Euro-stashes.

kevin martin

In addition to the TPE, the Thunder have 2 players in the final year of their contracts. Kendrick Perkins will be making $9.4 million dollars and Nick Collison will be making $2.2 million dollars next season. In addition, if the Thunder pick up Hasheem Thabeet’s final year, he’ll be making $1.25 million. In the NBA, expiring contracts become valuable because the receiving team can trade away a player (or players) of equal cost, but usually with more time left on their contracts. For example, let’s hypothetically say the Spurs were needing to trade Tiago Splitter to make space for Kawhi Leonard’s upcoming extension. Next season Splitter will be making $9.25 million, but has 2 more years left on his contract after that. The Spurs could hypothetically trade Splitter to the Thunder for Perkins and his expiring contract.

Also, the Thunder have a slew of young players all making under $3 million dollars a season (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Andre Roberson, and Grant Jerrett) and two valuable Euro-stashes in Tibor Pleiss and Alex Abrines. The inclusion of these players in a deal are usually the things that either make or break a deal.

Targets

With Thabo Sefolosha going into free agency and some of the depth of the team either not coming back (Derek Fisher and Caron Butler) or getting older (Collison), the Thunder will probably be in the market for a starting 2-guard and some veteran depth for the bench. So what are some possible targets for the Thunder?

Mike Dunleavy

With Chicago wanting to try their hand in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, the Bulls will have to rid themselves of some salary before even attempting to offer Anthony anything close to a max contract. The Thunder obtained some assets from Miami when they were making their run at LeBron James (and Chris Bosh) in 2010. In that draft, they obtained SG Daequan Cook from Miami and the No. 18 pick for the No. 32 pick. The Bulls will shed some salary by releasing Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause. But the Bulls will probably need a little more salary shed before they can offer Anthony a max (or very near max) deal. While Dunleavy is a weapon as a 3-point specialist, they probably won’t want to get rid of any of their young (cheap) wings such as Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell. In addition, rumors that Bulls’ Eurostash Nikola Mirotic is ready to join the Bulls may necessitate that the dump even more salary.

dunleavy bulls

The Thunder could target Dunleavy with the TPE, and then try to obtain one of the Bulls’ two first round picks (16 and 19) for the Thunder’s 29th pick. That way, the Bulls shed salary, but still have an asset that allows them to obtain a player in the future, in the form of the TPE. Also, the Bulls trade one of their 1st rounders, but stay in the first round with pick No. 29, albeit at a cheaper price.

Iman Shumpert

At the trade deadline this past season, there were rumors that the Knicks and Thunder were discussing a trade centered around Iman Shumpert and the Thunder’s first round pick. At the time, it was not known whether the Thunder would have a 2nd first round pick. With the season over and the Knicks under new management, it could be a good time to revisit those talks. Depending on how Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher view Shumpert could determine whether he is available during the draft.

Arron Afflalo

Probably the most difficult of the trades to do. Difficult, because Afflalo makes $7.6 million, which is too much to fit under the TPE. Unfortunately, the TPE is an all or nothing deal. Either you are able to obtain the player using the TPE or you’re not. TPE’s cannot be used in conjunction with something else in the same transaction. At $7.6 million, the Thunder would have to trade a player or two along with assets such as draft picks or Euro-stashes. So then the question becomes: Do the Thunder view Afflalo as the final piece of the puzzle?

arron afflalo

If you follow the history of the Thunder, you know that they trust in their system and their developmental program. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones will be entering into their 3rd year (or as its called in Thunder lore “The Year”) and Steven Adams will have an another offseason’s worth of training under his belt. So, no, I don’t think they will trade for Afflalo. Players like Shumpert and Dunleavy will take less assets to obtain, so I can definitely see the team going after someone like that.

In an offseason that may feature LeBron, Carmelo, and Bosh as free agents, Kevin Love as a moving target, and a vaunted draft class, you can expect to see plenty of moving parts around the league. With assets in hand, the Thunder may throw their hat into the fray to see what they can come out of it with.

Exit Interviews 2014: Thunder roster and outlooks

Kevin Durant

With the Thunder’s 107-112 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma City’s season came to an end. Was this a disappointing ending to the season? Maybe, maybe not. The Thunder fell to a team they had swept in their season series, and whom they had seemingly figured out. But the playoffs are a different season, a different monster, and the Thunder could never consistently muster that playoff intensity they showed in games that featured some sort of external pressure (elimination games, games after a big defeat). Maybe those are just symptoms of a young team having to take its knocks before coming out as a hardened champion.

The elimination meant the end of the line for the 2013-14 Thunder. Whenever a season ends, be it in mid-April at the conclusion of the regular season or mid-June at the conclusion of the NBA Finals, every team holds exit interviews with each player and coach on their team. Exit interviews serve two purposes: either to tell the person what to work on for the next season or to advise the person of their intentions in regards to extensions or standing on the team. While the Thunder have already held their official exit interviews, these are my exit interviews for each player on the team.

Scott Brooks – Head Coach

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Record – 59-23 (.720)

Season Review – As you well know, I have my issues with Scott Brooks. He’s a good coach, but he lacks that extra “it” to become a championship level coach, in my opinion. In all honesty, though, he did a pretty good job this season considering all the obstacles the Thunder faced. For the first time since they arrived in OKC, the Thunder got bit by the injury bug. Yet, Brooks managed to weather all those storms and lead the Thunder to the 2nd best record in the NBA. For that, he has to be commended. It was good to see him make a concerted effort to develop his young players by giving them minutes throughout the season. His between game adjustments in the playoffs helped the Thunder get past the first round, and likely, extended the Western Conference Finals. But his inability to make in-game adjustments on the fly sometimes destroyed the flow within a game and led to runs by the opponent that the Thunder could not come back from.

Salary for 2014-15 – $4,000,000

Future Outlook – The team took it’s first step back in the regular season, but not by much. Injuries and playing inexperienced players had a lot to do with that. The Thunder still came out with the 2nd best record in the league. With that said, the shine on Brooks’ image has been deteriorating for the past 2 seasons. Brooks is starting to get the dreaded “great regular season coach, but questionable playoff coach” tag. The players love him, but they love winning more. If Brooks is not able to get this group over the hump, it may be time to move on to another coach.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – You’ve been good for this team. You’ve guided their growth and are on the precipice of doing something big. You just need to make quicker adjustments in-game, and need to trust more in your role players more.

Steven Adams – Center

adams duncan thunder spurs

Season Averages – 81 games (20 starts) / 14.8 mins / 3.3 pts /4.1 rebs /0.5 asts /0.7 blks /0.5 stls / 11.25 PER

Season Review – One of the biggest rookie surprises of the season in the NBA. Adams was expected to be a project that would be shuttled back and forth between Oklahoma City and Tulsa to further his development this season. Instead, Adams solidified his stake as the team’s back-up big man and even started a quarter of season because of a groin injury to starting center Kendrick Perkins. Adams combined his athleticism and strength to carve out a niche as a defensive specialist off the bench. He provided a source of frustration to opponents who took umbrage to Adams’ physical style of play. That umbrage led to at least 5 ejections throughout the season, the most important being Zach Randolph’s suspension in Game 7 of the first round after he hit Adams in his face with a closed fist in Game 6. His play continued and improved in the playoffs as he cut down on his fouls and became even more of a force on the defensive end. He even showed glimpses of a offensive game throughout the playoffs.

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,184,960

Future Outlook – Definitely, one of the staples of the organization. His development is as important as the continued development of the Thunder’s current core (Durant, Westbrook, Jackson, and Ibaka). After missing out on a couple big men in recent drafts (Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens), the Thunder seem to finally have gotten it right with Adams. Not only is he the right combination of strength and athleticism, but he also has the right mindset. He understands what the team is asking of him and doesn’t deviate from that plan. His mentality was veteran-like which serves him well for his style of play.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Great rookie season. Develop your entire offensive repertoire. Develop a go to move (jump hook using both hands). Work on your jumper from 5-15 feet out. Work more on your quickness and not necessarily on your strength this offseason.

Caron Butler – Guard/Forward

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Averages – (w/OKC) 22 games /27.2 mins /9.7 pts /3.2 rebs /1.2 asts /0.3 blks /1.1 stls /12.24 PER

Season Review – Butler started the season with his hometown Milwaukee Bucks. As the season progressed, it became apparent that the Bucks were in the beginnings of a complete rebuild. Butler, in his pursuit of a championship and meaningful playing time, agreed to a buyout in late February. The Thunder signed Butler on February 28th. Instantly, he became one of the first players off the bench for the Thunder, providing outside shooting and veteran leadership. That continued into the playoffs, where Butler even started 2 games for the Thunder in the first round, in place of a struggling Thabo Sefolosha. As the playoffs progressed, though, the well seemed to dry up for Butler as he struggled to provide much for the Thunder. His shot wasn’t falling and his defense was lacking. In the end, he registered a DNP-CD in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.

Salary for 2014-15 – Unknown as he is an unrestricted free agent

Future Outlook – Does Butler have a place in the Thunder’s future? Possibly, but not likely. Butler was scheduled to make $8 million dollars in the final year of his contract. It will be interesting to see what he garners in the open market this offseason. He’s no longer an $8 million dollar a year player, but does he think he is a vet minimum type player yet? If Butler is okay making the vet minimum, then the Thunder may try to re-sign him. If he fancies himself more as a $3-5 million dollars a year player, he’ll probably be wearing a different jersey next season. Also, the weirdness surrounding his lack of availability during exit interviews probably just seals his fate as an ex-Thunder player from here on out.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Thank you for your time on the team. If things can be worked out financially, we would definitely like to have you back. But if not, good luck in your future endeavors. Oh, and by the way, who were you calling every time you hit a 3?

Nick Collison – Forward/Center

collison splitter thunder spurs

Season Averages – 81 games / 16.7 mins /4.2 pts /3.6 rebs /1.3 asts /0.3 blks /0.4 stls /11.84 PER

Season Review – Collison continues to provide valuable playing time as a back-up big. His minutes per game were the lowest for his career. Father Time is starting to catch up to Collison, but there are still games where Collison is one of the best bigs out there (Game 6 vs. the LA Clippers).  He is the anchor of the reserves and provides a calming effect when he is at the top of his game. Collison even began to incorporate a 3-point shot into his game. He took a beating near the end of the season, and seemed to age throughout the playoffs (other than the aforementioned Game 6 in the 2nd round).

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,242,003

Future Outlook – Collison heads into next season on the final year of his contract. He is the gray beard of the players, having been on the team the longest. His body is starting to show the ill effects of a 10 year career with his playing style. He’s a bit slower laterally and doesn’t have the same strength to handle big men as he used to. His veteran leadership on the team is unparalleled and his educating of Steven Adams may be worth every penny of his salary.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Nick, you’re an important asset for this team as a veteran. Continue to work on your outside shot. Realize that your minutes may continue to decline, but your importance on the team is still top-notch. Rest as much as possible this offseason.

Kevin Durant – Forward

durant

Season Averages – 81 games (81 starts) / 38.5 mins /32.0 pts /7.4 rebs /5.5 asts /0.7 blks /1.3 stls /29.9 PER

Season Review – MVP! MVP! MVP! Durant won his first MVP award this season. He was, without question, the best player during the regular season. He carried the Thunder through all their injuries this season and had a stretch in January (when the sting of life without Westbrook for the second time in the season was still fresh) where he averaged 36 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in 16 games with a PER of 36.6. It was during this time that he started a streak of 12 straight games of 30+ points and a streak of 42 straight games with 25+ points. He had 3 triple doubles and 27 double doubles. Numbers that evoked thoughts of Michael Jordan. Historic numbers for a historic season. But all that heavy lifting may have had an effect on Durant in the playoffs. While he didn’t look as fatigued as he did in the 2013 playoffs, his numbers did tail off in the playoffs. It could have been fatigue, or it could have been the fact that, without an effective offensive system in place, playoff defenses just keyed in on him and tried to make other players, Westbrook included, beat them.

Salary for 2014-15 – $18,995,624

Future Outlook – One of the pillars of the franchise. The team goes as far as he takes them. Durant has out-skilled the entire league to the tune of 4 scoring titles and an MVP. Now, it’s time for him to learn how to out-think the league. Years of falling short will cause you to start thinking about different ways to affect the game, whether directly or indirectly. Jordan went through. LeBron went through. Now, it’s KD’s turn to go through it. Hopefully, next season will be the year Durant puts it all together, as if Durant wasn’t scary enough for the rest of the league.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Congratulations on the MVP. But there is work to be done for next season. Rest up. Get stronger. Don’t touch a basketball for a month. Watch the Finals and let that hurt fester. Your time will come, but it’ll be up to you to set it in motion. When it comes time to touch a basketball, work on your game from 15 feet in.

Derek Fisher – Guard

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Averages – 81 games / 17.6 mins /5.2 pts /1.5 rebs /1.4 asts /0.0 blks /0.9 stls / 10.09 PER

Season Review – Instead of signing for the 2nd half of the season as he had done in the previous 2 seasons, Fisher decided to sign for the full year for his farewell tour. Amazingly, at the age of 39, Fisher was still a valuable reserve for a championship contender. His perimeter shooting and veteran leadership were extremely important to a team that was dealing with injuries and shuffling line-ups. From January through March, Fisher jumped in his Kia and asked Uvo to take him back to 2003. In those three months, Fisher shot 69/159 (.434) from 3-point land. After March, Fisher’s perimeter shooting declined as did his production.

Salary for 2014-15 – Retired ($5,000,000 from the Knicks, though)

Future Outlook – The New York Knicks hired Fisher to be their head coach on June 10th. With the success of Jason Kidd in Brooklyn, recently retired point guards seem to be the fad in the coaching department.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Thank you for you time in OKC. The professionalism with which you handled yourself these last three seasons showed a young team how someone can age gracefully in this league. The wisdom you’ve extolled onto the team’s core players will last for years as they become veterans. Good luck in your new job as head coach of the NY Knicks.

Serge Ibaka – Forward

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

Season Averages – 81 games (81 starts) / 32.9 mins /15.1 pts /8.8 rebs /1.0 asts /2.7 blks /0.5 stls /19.66 PER

Season Review – Durant may have been the MVP, but Ibaka was the glue that held the team together. He was one of the most consistent scorers in the league (always scoring between 13-17 points), provided a perimeter release valve when teams doubled Durant and Westbrook, gobbled up offensive rebounds to the tune of nearly three a game, and was one of the best interior defenders in the league. Ibaka became one of the best two way players in the league. His impact was no more evident than the first two games of the Western Conference Finals. Nursing a Grade 2 calf strain that he suffered in Game 6 of the 2nd round, Ibaka missed the first two games of the WCF. In those two games, the Spurs averaged 60 points in the paint. After miraculously returningin Game 3, the Thunder reeled off two straight wins to tie the series. Even though they went on to lose the series, the impact of Ibaka was put on full display for the league to see.

Salary for 2014-15 – $12,350,000

Future Outlook – One of the pillars of the franchise, Ibaka’s improvement was one of the most important developments of 2013-14. Without it, the Thunder would have definitely struggled throughout the season. Moving forward, anything further that Ibaka can give you will be icing on the cake. Ibaka is the perfect compliment to players like Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson. His versatility as a perimeter-oriented big man that can get a couple baskets inside is a change of pace to the dribble drive action of the other three core players. Also, expect a Defensive Player of the Year in his future.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Buen trabajo esta temporada. Tu eres uno de los jugadores mas importante para el futuro de este equipo. Sigue mejorando tu juego (los tiroteos de 3, los tiroteos de 15 pies o mas, y tambien tu juego en el puesto). Usa este tiempo para descansar.

Translation: Great job this season. You are one of the staples of the franchise. Keep improving your game this offseason (3-point shooting, perimeter shooting from 15 feet out, and post play). Take this offseason and rest.

Ibaka’s the only guy on the team that speaks Spanish, so of course, our 1 on 1 sit-down would be in Spanish. Avec Classe!

Reggie Jackson – Guard

jackson duncan adams parker thunder spurs

Season Averages – 80 games (36 starts) /28.5 mins /13.1 pts /3.9 rebs /4.1 asts /0.1 blks /1.1 stls /15.43 PER

Season Review – The importance of Jackson this season was twofold. First, he was the Thunder’s sixth man and their tertiary ball handler in closing line-ups. Secondly, and probably most important, he was the back-up point guard that stepped in when Russell Westbrook had to miss nearly half the season. Much like he did in the postseason last year, Jackson stepped in and guided the team almost effortlessly. He isn’t Westbrook and he never will be. But he’s similar enough that the team doesn’t have to completely change their style of play when Westbrook is off the floor. As the season progressed he improved his 3-point shooting. He started November shooting 20% from the 3-point line. By April, he was shooting 41.4% from long range. In the playoffs, Jackson took over in Game 4 of the Grizzlies series and, more than likely, saved the season for the Thunder. It was a strange occurrence as Durant and Westbrook both handed the reigns over to Jackson in the 4th quarter and in overtime. In the Western Conference Finals, with Thabo Sefolosha struggling in the first two games, coach Brooks inserted Jackson into the starting line-up and it paid immediate dividends.

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,204,369

Future Outlook – Much like Harden from two seasons ago, Jackson is at that point where he can be extended by the Thunder this offseason or risk going into restricted free agency next offseason. The Thunder are in a much better position financially to consider resigning Jackson to an extension than they were when Harden was up for one. The salary cap will be bumped up $5 million dollar next season and the Thunder have done a great job staying under the luxury tax line these last 4 seasons. If signed, Jackson’s extension doesn’t kick in until Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison are either off the books or resigned for significantly smaller price. Jackson appears to be one of the main components of the core, but also appears to be its most available for any trade partners.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Continue working on your outside shot this offseason. If that ever becomes a consistent weapon in your arsenal, the sky will be the limit. Watch film on what you need to work on defensively and where you can pick your spots better as a floor general. Other than that, great job this past season.

Grant Jerrett – Forward

jerrett thunder

Season Averages – 0 games played for the Thunder.

Tulsa 66ers – 27 games (25 starts) / 29.2 mins /15.1 pts /6.1 rebs /0.7 asts /0.8 blks /0.6 stls

Season Review – The Thunder bought the draft rights to Jerrett from the Portland Trailblazers who drafted him in the second round. Instead of offering him a training camp deal, the Thunder allowed Jerrett’s right to expire, which allowed him to enter his name into the D-League draft. The Thunder (66ers) maneuvered their way to the top pick in the D-League draft and took Jerrett with the first pick. Why would the Thunder go through all that trouble to basically draft a player twice? Teams with second round picks have one of two options: They can either send the player overseas for development (hence the reason why so many “who is that?” foreign players are drafted in the 2nd round) or they can offer them a training camp contract. If they aren’t signed to the 15 man roster once the season starts, the player essentially becomes a restricted free agent. The Thunder, not wanting to risk losing Jerrett, but also cognizant of the fact that he needed further developing, worked out a deal to have him be a part of the Tulsa 66ers this season, while also being under the watchful guise of the Thunder. When the D-League season ended, the Thunder signed Jerrett for the final week of the season and made him a part of their playoff roster, albeit inactive for all 19 games.

Salary for 2014-15 – Unknown, but he is believed to be under contract for the Thunder next season.

Future Outlook – Jerrett is stretch 4 in the Channing Frye mold. He shot 36% from 3-point land in the D-League. On a team where offensive spacing is necessary, a cheap 3-point specialist is a nice thing to have.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Continue working on all aspects of your game this offseason. Come into training camp in shape and prepared to work. You have a skill that is very valuable in the NBA, but you can’t settle for being a one trick pony.

Perry Jones – Guard/Forward

jones splitter westbrook thunder spurs

Season Averages – 62 games (7 starts) /12.3 mins /3.5 pts /1.8 rebs /0.4 asts /0.3 blks /0.2 stls /10.14 PER

Season Review – Coming into the season, Jones was one of the mysteries for the Thunder. He barely played in his rookie season and missed out on the 2013 Summer League due to a dental ailment. His physical tools (6’11, long, crazy athleticism) were off the charts, but Jones was more a product of his part, not necessarily a sum of his parts. Jones was given the opportunity to play more this season, and even started 7 games. With apologies to Thabo Sefolosha, Jones was probably the Swiss Army knife of the Thunder this season. He was their situational defender. If they needed a long athletic defender for a series or two, he was their utility defender. If they needed a bigger defender for someone like LeBron James, Jones was that guy. Jones even began to incorporate a 3-point shot into his game and was sometimes used as a floor spacer. Jones’ playing time wavered as the season wore on, but it is very apparent that he has a bright future in the NBA.

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,129,200

Future Outlook – Due to his versatility, Jones will be an important piece in the Thunder’s future. His ability to defend multiple positions will be his bread and butter. But its how he develops offensively that will determine whether Jones will be a defensive specialist or an all around player that will be an import part of the rotation.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Of all the players on the Thunder, you intrigue me the most. You have the tools to be a monster on the court. It’s on you whether you want to affect games, or whether you are just happy being in games. You have a good foundation defensively because of your physical tools. But you need to determine what you want to do offensively. Do you want to be a 3&D guy? Or do you want to be an all-around threat? Work on all facets of your game offensively and get a little bit stronger.

Jeremy Lamb – Guard

lamb diaw joseph thunder spurs

Season Averages – 78 games / 19.7 mins /8.5 pts /2.4 rebs /1.5 asts /0.3 blks /0.7 stls /13.44 PER

Season Review – After barely playing his rookie season, Lamb was slated to be one of the top reserves off the bench for the Thunder. And for the first 3 months of the season, Lamb played like he was one of the top bench players on the Thunder. He was averaging double digits, shooting the ball well, and making the right plays. He was even a part of some of the closing line-ups in close games. After the All-Star break, though, his play became inconsistent. Whether it was fatigue or the signing of Caron Butler, Lamb’s play on the court and his playing time both decreased tremendously. After averaging over 20 minutes per game pre-ASB, his minutes dipped to about 13 mpg after the ASB (even registering 4 DNP-CD’s in the final month of the season). In the playoffs, Lamb mostly watched from the bench, but played well in the WCF when called upon.

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,202,000

Future Outlook – Lamb showed in the first half of the season that he is an incredibly important asset for the team. His perimeter shooting and play-making make him another weapon to have out there in support of Durant and Westbrook. His psyche may have taken a little bit of a hit when his playing time decreased in the 2nd half of the season, but if he is smart, he’ll see that time for what it was: a learning moment. He has the offensive skillset to be a weapon on the Thunder. Defensively, he is a work in progress, but showed signs of effort when out there. His play in the 3rd round of the playoffs was encouraging for the team moving forward.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – You need to get stronger and work on your conditioning. Your play declined when you hit the “rookie” wall. Even though it was your 2nd year in the league, it was your first year consistently playing. Continue to work on refining your 3-point shot and work on the other aspects of your game, such as finishing through contact. Come prepared to play at least 25 mpg next season.

Kendrick Perkins – Center

perkins duncan thunder spurs

Season Averages – 62 games (62 starts) / 19.5 mins /3.4 pts /4.9 rebs /1.1 asts /0.5 blks /0.4 stls /6.32 PER

Season Review – When it comes to Perkins, most people have one of three feelings towards him: they either love him, hate him, or accept him for what he is. At this point, I’ve come to accept him for what he is: a hard nosed interior defender with little mobility that gives you hardly anything on the offensive end of the floor. For what he is good at, Perkins did extremely well this season. He (and Ibaka) anchored a defense that was consistently near the top of the league in terms of defense in the paint and defensive efficiency. Whatever he gave you offensively was just icing on the cake. Coach Brooks did a good job of masking Perkins’ deficiencies by keeping his playing time down when the match-up dictated it. In the playoffs, Perkins did a better job of getting involved offensively and was one of the best post defenders in the playoffs.

Salary for 2014-15 – $9,404,342

Future Outlook – As Perkins enters the last year of his contract, the team finds itself in a peculiar position. His replacement is already on the team (Adams) and is further along in his development than anyone thought he’d be at this point in his young career. But Perkins sort of had a career renaissance last season. He was still horrid offensively, but was very effective defensively. While Adams has progressed surprisingly fast, another season of tutelage may not be bad for his development. Starting Perkins may not be the popular choice, but it may be the wise choice.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – I will always admire your professionalism. In spite of what people say, you know yourself and you stick to your strengths (most of the time). Your role as “locker room alpha male”, or “silverback” as you like to call it, is great in terms of keeping everyone accountable. Keep answering those text messages from Durant in the evenings and rest up this off-season.

Andre Roberson – Guard/Forward

roberson splitter ibaka spurs thunder

Season Averages – 40 games (16 starts) / 10.0 mins /1.9 pts /2.4 rebs /0.4 asts /0.3 blks /0.5 stls /9.03 PER

Season Review – Roberson had one of the stranger rookie seasons I’ve seen. He looked like he was destined to spend most of the season in Tulsa. But injuries played a role in Roberson playing and starting in several games this season. His offensive game still needs a lot of work, but defensively, he was NBA-ready. His ability to cause havoc on the defensive end made him a favorite of Coach Brooks’ when the team got sluggish and needed a shot of effort. Even when Roberson started, he didn’t play much. But he showed signs of having an NBA-ready skill and could be a solid part of the rotation if the rest of his game comes around.

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,160,880

Future Outlook – On defense alone, Roberson has a place in the NBA. His long arms and athleticism make him a nuisance on that side of the ball. But if he ever wants to be a rotational player in the NBA, he’ll need to develop a consistent offensive skill. Be it a corner 3 or a slashing game, Roberson will have to put in work on that side of the ball this offseason.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – All in all, you had a pretty successful rookie campaign. But the thing about being successful in the NBA is that you can’t just concentrate on one side of the court. Even players that are considered to be great defensively but less than stellar offensively, have some sort of offensive skill. Work on your shot this offseason and watch film on where to position yourself on offense to get either easy baskets or slashing opportunities.

Thabo Sefolosha – Guard/Forward

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Averages – 61 games (61 starts) / 26 mins /6.3 pts /3.6 rebs /1.5 asts /0.3 blks /1.3 stls /10.42 PER

Season Review – Sefolosha is the main perimeter defender on the team. Whether it was a point guard or a wing, Sefolosha was usually assigned to the best perimeter player the opponent had. And for a little bit there, he seemed to be developing a consistent 3-point shot to his arsenal. In the two seasons before this one, he shot over 41% from long distance. But this season, maybe feeling the pressure of a contract year, his 3-point shooting regressed to 31.6%. But most surprisingly, his defense seemed to take a step back also. Sefolosha suffered from leg issues the last few seasons (plantar fasciitis, strained calf) and those seemed to be taking its toll on Sefolosha. In the playoffs, it became apparent that his lack of confidence on the offensive end and subpar display on the defensive end had become a deterrent. Sefolosha was benched in the Memphis and San Antonio series, essentially writing the obituary for his Thunder career.

Salary for 2014-15 – Unknown, as he is an unrestricted free agent.

Future Outlook – Sefolosha’s benching throughout the playoffs and his reminiscing nature during his exit interview pretty much seals his fate with the team. Sefolosha will more than likely be donning a new jersey next season. Here’s what scares me: Sefolosha can still be a disruptive force on the defensive end. It will be interesting to see if a team like Miami or San Antonio will take a chance on Sefolosha, strictly as a defensive stopper for the likes of Durant and Westbrook.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – I don’t know if you will be back next season, but I do want to thank you for your service in your time here. You brought it every night and gave full effort. That’s a great thing for young players to see. Good luck in your future endeavors, wherever that may be.

Hasheem Thabeet – Center

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns

Season Averages – 23 games / 8.3 mins /1.2 pts /1.7 rebs /0.0 asts /0.4 blks /0.2 stls /2.58 PER

Season Review – Thabeet seemed to take a step back this season as far as being a reserve center. He lost his back-up spot to rookie Steven Adams and never was able to find any consistent time in the rotation. He played mainly in blowouts. If anything, he’s a great locker room guy and has one of the most positive human beings you’ll ever meet.

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,250,000 (non-guaranteed)

Future Outlook – At this point, Thabeet is what he is. If you aren’t going to play much in the NBA, you might as well be the greatest, tallest cheerleader known to man. His infectious spirit seems to rub off on his teammates and his fashion sense is rivaled only by Russell Westbrook. But if the Thunder finds a cheaper player with more potential for the center position, you have to think they may let Thabeet go.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Thank you for being you. You may not play a lot, but your spirit is as important to chemistry as any offensive set Brooks runs. As far as this offseason, start working on your outside shot. It seems like every big man for the Thunder (sans Perkins) is working on his perimeter shooting.

Russell Westbrook – Guard

westbrook diaw thunder spurs

Season Averages – 46 games (46 starts) /30.7 mins /21.8 pts /5.7 rebs /6.9 asts /0.2 blks /1.9 stls /24.74 PER

Season Review – There’s one thing to be said about Russell: He doesn’t change his style of play, regardless of whether he’s coming back from injury or not. Westbrook missed almost half the season, but what the team missed when he was gone had nothing to do with his stats. When Westbrook is in the game, the team is nastier and more dangerous. Does Westbrook still have his “Russell being Russell” moments? Of course. But he’s learned to control those a bit better, and now dictates  the flow of the game more directly. His stats don’t reciprocate him impact on the game. Westbrook was probably the best point guard in league before he had to have a second arthroscopic surgery on December 26th. When he came back after the All-Star Break, he had a per game minutes restriction and didn’t play in one of the games in back to back situations. In the playoffs, the minutes restriction was lifted and it was like the shackles that were holding Westbrook back were broken.  He was, without question, the best point guard in the playoffs, and possibly, the second best player in the playoffs behind LeBron James by the time the Thunder were ousted.

Salary for 2014-15 – $15,719,063

Future Outlook – Much like Durant, Westbrook is one of the pillars of the franchise. The franchise goes as far as he (and Durant) takes them. Westbrook’s game was much more controlled after Game 5 of the Memphis series. If he can continue that type of play for an entire season, an MVP is not out of the question for Westbrook. In fact, Durant’s bid to repeat as MVP may have an extra hurdle to surpass next season: a teammate taking some of his votes.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Great job overcoming adversity this past year. These types of the things will not only make you stronger as a person, but will also make you appreciate the gift that you have. Nothing is a given. Everything has to be earned. Thank you for being the heart and personality of the team. Continue being you. Work on that 3-point shot and rest this off-season. Ice that knee whenever possible. We need a full season Russell next year.

This team is soooo close to putting it all together. The roster next season will be different, but all of the core will be back, and more than likely, will be better. While disappointing that the Thunder could not advance to the Finals, the fact is the San Antonio Spurs were a better team. Not by much, but enough to get past us. This team is currently paying their dues. Advancing to the Finals in 2012 may have been a blessing and a curse. A blessing because, hey, you’re in the Finals. But also a curse because I don’t think the team was mature enough to appreciate the moment. After the loss, most people thought it would be a given that the team would make it multiple Finals. But the team skipped many of the steps that most championship teams have to take to become a hardened championship contender. Well, I think we’ve felt the pain and the hurt that comes from coming up short season after season. From here on out, it’s championship or bust.

Five Thoughts from the Western Conference Finals

durant perkins duncan thunder spurs

With their loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder’s season was brought to an end. A little disappointing, but with everything the team faced this season, it could be viewed as a positive step moving forward. Before we head into the off-season, here are 5 thoughts about the series that was.

1. Serge Ibaka’s importance was on full display in this series

The first two games of the series tell the importance of Serge Ibaka. The Spurs dominated inside (averaged 60 points in the paint per game in those first two games) and punished the Thunder from outside when they collapsed (9 threes in both games). Granted, the Thunder’s perimeter defense was so bad, even a healthy Ibaka wouldn’t have helped in those two games. The Thunder were constantly switching on pick and rolls and were exploited when the switch presented a bad match-up. Add to that the fact that Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins don’t have the lateral quickness to keep up with PnR switches on quick guards, and you have a recipe for disaster. Even when the Thunder guards went under the screen, the defense, wary of its lack of a shot blocker, collapsed into the paint and left the Spurs’ shooters open from the outside.

But surprisingly, the offense suffered even more from Ibaka’s absence. Without the release valve that is Ibaka, the Thunder play-makers (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Reggie Jackson) were forced into either pick and rolling with Perkins, Collison, or the inexperienced Steven Adams, or playing isolation ball. Both of these options played into the Spurs’ strength as an experienced, coordinated defensive unit. The Spurs love to take away your first option and make your 2nd and 3rd options beat you. That’s why Ibaka is so important to the Thunder’s attack. A wing/big PnR involving Ibaka usually succeeds because the big defender will usually hedge towards the perimeter player. When that happens, Ibaka usually pops opens up for his deadly mid-range jumper. With Ibaka out of the picture, the Spurs big was able to hedge over onto the wing player as the big presented no threat of either rolling or popping out for a jumper. The Thunder trio shot only 43% (42-98) from the field in those first two games.

ibaka duncan spurs thunder

The Thunder’s success with Ibaka also lends credence to the decision to keep Ibaka and trade Harden. Now, the decision was a lot more complex than just Ibaka vs. Harden. The team tried to keep both. But with two max players already on the roster, the team couldn’t afford to pay a third max contract, Ibaka’s near max contract, and Perkins’ bloated contract. It would have been cap suicide and, eventually, one (or two) of those 5, would have been forced to leave via trade. Also, the team couldn’t afford to pay that much money for someone who only plays one side of the floor. So the decision, while difficult, seems to have been the correct one. Ibaka’s value to this team as a two way player would have probably outweighed Harden’s value as a secondary/tertiary scorer.

2. Experienced team ball trumps isolation ball most of the time.

It worked one time, in 2012. But for the most part, an experienced group that runs an offensive system usually beats the team whose offensive system depends on the greatness of a small amount of its parts. I’ve gone over it, ad nauseam, about how the lack of an offensive system dooms the Thunder when A) the defense is good enough to key in on the main components of the Thunder’s offense and B) when the Thunder’s supporting cast doesn’t provide enough.

Royce Young, of ESPN and DailyThunder.com, discussed how, in the 6-game series, the Spurs averaged 334.8 passes per game, while the Thunder only averaged 252.3. Does this tell the whole story? Of course not. But the more passes you throw, the more the defense moves around. That is the staple of the Spurs offense. It’s designed to have the defenders follow the ball, until someone without the ball gets open or until the defense is spaced out enough to allow penetration. The Thunder, on the other hand, relied on the ability of Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson to create things in isolation situations. When they received little to no help from the supporting cast, which happened a lot in this series, those three players were left to work things out on their own.

3. Russell Westbrook is not scared of the moment.

Not only in this series, but throughout the playoffs, Westbrook proved that he was not scared of the moment. He showed up, time and time again, for the Thunder when they needed him the most. Be it a late game steal or some “ice-water in the veins” free throws, Westbrook showed that the closing act for the Thunder was not just a one man show.

I always worried about Westbrook’s clutchness prior to this season. Be it the lack of opportunities or just the wild, unpredictable nature of his play, I never thought that Westbrook had the discipline to be clutch. And while a lot of his clutchness was within the realm of chaos, when Westbrook did it, there was a sense of calmness about it.

4. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are still pretty damn good.

I don’t know what wizard or voodoo witch doctor these two have visited throughout the years, but their play is still as good now as it was 10 years ago. They may not be able to sustain their style of play in the world of “4 games in 5 nights,” but if they are given days of rest, they can perform like it is 2004. Some of the credit definitely goes to the players and their disciplined off-season training regiments. Duncan has picked up boxing in the off-season and has slimmed down as he has aged to take the wear off his knees and ankles. And Manu, I have no idea what Manu does, but the weight he continues to lose on his head, apparently has a positive effect on his play.

duncan ginobili spurs

A lot of the credit, though, goes to their coach, Gregg Popovich, and how he manages their minutes. Pop does a great job of resting his players (young and old, mind you) throughout the season. He could care less about how the NBA views his player rest habits and more about the bottom line, which is to be rested when it comes time for the postseason. Also, Popovich is not into miraculous comebacks. If his team is losing by a sizeable amount, Popovich will not hesitate to pull his starters for an entire quarter to rest them for the next game.

All of these factors made it appear like Duncan and Ginobili were a lot more rested throughout the course of the game than the young Thunder. It was no more apparent than in Game 6, when Duncan and Ginobili carried the Spurs throughout the 2nd half and into overtime, while Tony Parker was held out with a bum ankle.

5. Its hard getting back to the promised land.

It almost feels like the Thunder are the Israelites wondering around in the wilderness for 40 years in the book of Numbers. We’ve reached the promised land before, but didn’t do what we needed to do to stay there. Instead, we’ve spent that last 2 seasons trying our hardest to get back. Obstacles have gotten in our way, namely injuries and lack of depth/experience.  I have no doubt that we will one day get back to the promised land, but the journey, can feel extremely long and tortuous. In the end, hopefully, it’ll all be worth it.