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Thunder enter summer with one big goal: Get healthy

May 16, 2013, 2:36 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Durant walks with his head down after a teammate fouled a Memphis Grizzlies player in Game 5 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final playoffs in Oklahoma City. Reuters

It’s this simple: If Russell Westbrook were playing the Oklahoma City Thunder would be on their way to the NBA Finals.

Instead, there was disappintment as they fell in the second round to a very good Memphis Grizzlies team 4-1. This was not some blowout, Memphis was just +18 for the entire series. No game was decided by more than six points.

You don’t think a healthy Russell Westbrook changes that outcome?

Which is why, while there are things the Thunder need to deal with this summer on the roster, the only thing that really matters is getting healthy. Specifically, getting Russell Westbrook healthy and close to his old self.

Do that and the Thunder are title contenders again. This team won 60 games in the regular season and had the best margin of victory in the league. Healthy they are just fine.

There was a lot of “see, the Thunder could have used James Harden” talk during the playoffs. That talk needs to stop. For one, the Harden ship has sailed, move on. Second, they didn’t need him — they needed Westbrook. You saw it against Memphis — the Grizzlies could load up and make life difficult for Kevin Durant, take away his comfort zone, and the Thunder didn’t have a good second scoring option. Westbrook solves that problem in a big way. Whatever you think of the Harden trade it’s this simple: Without Westbrook the Thunder were not winning a title, regardless of the other moves.

So get healthy this summer, RW.

But there are a couple things the Thunder need to address this off-season.

First is Kevin Martin, who is an unrestricted free agent. He was a good fit with OKC, averaging 14 points a game and shooting better than 42 percent from three. He’s not Harden in terms playmaking but he spaces the floor as a scorer and provides value for them.

The question is how much are you willing to pay for that value. Martin made $12.4 million last season and a pay cut is coming, but how much? And how much are the Thunder willing to pay — they have $67 million on the books already for next season (because Serge Ibaka‘s extension kicks in), which has them flirting with the luxury tax line (likely to be $72 million next season). How much is Martin worth? Around $8-9 million for a few years?

One way to clear up some cap space would be to amnesty Kendrick Perkins, who is set to make just shy of $9 million next season. The fans in OKC want this, and the deal helps them on paper, but remember that when you amnesty a player you still have to pay him, he just comes off the official books. If your the Knicks or Lakers, that’s a sunk cost you can ignore, but for the Thunder that is still nearly $19 million over a couple years they have to pay whether Perkins plays in OKC or not. Whatever they do the Thunder need to get another solid big man defender this summer — Perkins was a liability at both ends in the playoffs, especially against the Grizzlies. He had a negative PER of -0.7 for the postseason, which is head-scratchingly bad. The Thunder need to consider a change next to  Ibaka up front.

The Thunder could use some depth, everyone could use more shooters and athletes and defenders. But the pieces are pretty much there with the Thunder. They have good role players — Reggie Jackson is a solid backup point guard, Thabo Sefolosha can defend on the wing, Nick Collison gives you solid minutes off the bench as a center. There are good players who can develop such as Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb.

This is a well-constructed roster. When healthy. That’s all they really need.

  1. eventhorizon04 - May 16, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    Get Westbrook healthy.
    Continue to develop Jackson, Perry Jones III, and Lamb.
    And amnesty Perkins, if for no other reason than to prevent Scott Brooks from playing him. Kendrick Perkins had more fouls (38) in the playoffs than points, assists, and blocks combined (36).
    And hope Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka continue to get better. They’re all under 25 years old.

  2. acdc363 - May 16, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    Completely disagree about Westbrook guaranteeing them a spot in the finals.

    • ntur1 - May 16, 2013 at 4:42 PM

      Hard to guarantee anything. The West is stacked. But, for the Memphis series, given the small differential in each game, if I had to bet on it, I would bet on Westbrook having been enough to make the difference between Thunder winning and losing that series.

  3. bucrightoff - May 16, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    Actually, its overly simplistic and very presumptious to suggest Westbrook guarantees them a Finals trip. Certainly gives them a better chance, but guaranteed? Not sure I’d agree with that

  4. Mr. Wright 212 - May 16, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    If Russell Westbrook played, they still would have lost to the Grizzlies. What are you people on? Reggie Jackson isn’t THAT much of a drop off from Russ, and they do the same things.

    • dgbk - May 16, 2013 at 3:24 PM

      Either you are related to Reggie Jackson or you are him. Yea they do the same things much in the sense Lebron James and shane battier do the same things. Westbrook is CLEARLY a better player and does everything better than jackson.

    • azarkhan - May 16, 2013 at 3:36 PM

      Yes, Westbrook and Jackson do the same things, like eat breakfast and drive to the game. But once the game starts, Westbrook is an All-Star and Jackson is a sub.

      • cmehustle - May 16, 2013 at 3:50 PM

        dude, I wish I could click on thumbs up a hundred times for that comment!

    • ntur1 - May 16, 2013 at 4:44 PM

      Jackson played well in the series, but is still no where near where Westbrook is. And, if Westbrook is healthy, you have BOTH Jackson and Westbrook–certainly handy when Martin (or others) decides to take a game or two off.
      It does look like Jackson may be good enough that, in about two years Thunder will no longer be able to afford him.

  5. thundersandpackers - May 16, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    Thunders it is as simple as this:
    GET RID OF PERKINS……………………………………………..

    • kb2408 - May 17, 2013 at 10:31 AM

      That AND bringing back “the Beard” should be goals, though the later won’t happen.

  6. usavebob - May 16, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    I agree that it is an oversimplification but it’s hard to defend the tandem of Westbrook and KD so oversimplified or not the outcome is likely a success. Yes Jackson played well and the gap in scoring wasn’t too wide. But, with Westbrook on the court, Memphis and others have many more obstacles including the foul trouble that Westbrook can get you into as well as the game changing plays he’s capable of.

    In my estimation the Thunder will not achieve elite status until the team stops watching Durant or Westbrook perform. Brooks is not a strategist; he’s a Player’s coach. until there is some consistent offensive scheme that includes enjoying the ball in the post to Ibaka, teams will defend and/or one or both of the tandem will have a bad night resulting in losses.

    Perkins is useless at this point and I’m sure Presti etal will not put up with his wife’s denigration of Brooks and/or KD. He’s gone. Need a body and an offensive rebounder (two separate people) and ball movement that results in 22= assists each game.

  7. twreck13 - May 16, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    I think this team really needs kaman, can score and Ibaka and collison are good defenders next to him

    • eventhorizon04 - May 16, 2013 at 3:37 PM

      For what it’s worth, Kaman earned $8 million this year with the Mavericks.
      So the Thunder could offer him a deal if he’s willing to take a slight “contender’s discount” if they amnesty Perkins. I say “slight” because the Heat tried to sign him to a near minimum deal a year ago, and he declined, so he’s going to going to be super-cheap.

      That being said, he would complement Ibaka well – Ibaka could cover faster members of opposing front-courts, provide help defense if Kaman got beat, and shoot mid-range jumpers.
      Kaman would help the Thunder by being a big-body that can play defense in the low-post, score in the low-post, and assist in rebounding a bit. Kaman’s overall rebounds went down to 5.6 this year, but that’s mainly due to a lack of minutes. His per-36 minutes rebounding total was a solid 9.8 rebounds, compared to Perkins 8.6 rebounds per-36 minutes.

      • eventhorizon04 - May 16, 2013 at 3:38 PM

        *so he’s not going to be super-cheap

    • ntur1 - May 16, 2013 at 4:45 PM

      I’d defintely agree to an exchange of Perkins for Kaman.

  8. aboogy123456 - May 16, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    The thunder could really use a post game, and it’s not coming from ibaka or perk. I think this could easily be accomplished if Durant worked hard on his post up game over the next couple of summers. It’s not easy, but Durant has the length and the talent to really improve and be elite in this area. Right now they have no inside presence and if Durant forced a double team in the post (like Carmelo does) then he would make his teammates better. Durant is great, but he would add another dimension to the offense if he didn’t resort to jacking up 3′s or long two pointers just because he can.

  9. azarkhan - May 16, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    Completely agree with the main points of the article. BTW, Russell Westbrook is a Hall of Fame player, like Kevin Durant. Nobody on the Thunder, including Reggie Jackson (Reggie who?), can take his place. He was 6th in scoring in the NBA in the regular season and 7th in assists. Plus he’s one of those dynamic players that can take over a game.

  10. aboogy123456 - May 16, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    I wouldn’t call this a well – constructed roster as the article states. I agree that they are so talented, but with the amount of talent that they have, they are still a flawed team. Look at how much money is invested in their frontcourt, but can either of those guys score? They need someone like harden who can create for others, and as good as Durant and Westbrook are, they don’t really play well together. An example of a well constructed roster is the grizzlies. They may not have as much talent as OKC, but each player has a defined role and they have very good balance.

    • ntur1 - May 16, 2013 at 4:48 PM

      Agree with a lot of what you said; and would like to see a post game. But, do think that Westbrook and Durant complement each other. Westbrook is like a bulldozer–full of energy, constantly moving full speed ahead–gives the energy. Durant prefers to pick and chose the spots he asserts himself in, and prefers 4th quarter to being forced to step up early. Westbrook–you can count on in the 1st and 3rd to step up. So, actually think that, in that respect they complement each other. A lot of people want Durant to shoot more and think Westbrook takes away from that, but Durant seems to prefer to shoot about what he did during the regular season.

  11. katra2logic - May 16, 2013 at 3:32 PM

    Like many, I predicted dire things the moment Hardin was traded. Whatever money the owner thought he was saving has now dissipated. OKC would most likely have had 7 or more home games if they had reached the finals. That would generate millions and millions of dollars, more than enough to pay Hardin.

    • cmehustle - May 16, 2013 at 3:53 PM

      You know Houston is paying him 58 million? I doubt they would make 58 million dollars from 7 more home games brother. Also remember they still have to pay Durant, Westbrook, and everyone else who pays for the Thunder. Im not sure you truly understand the financial workings of an NBA team. Oh and its Harden, not Hardin. Maybe you should do some research and then comment…

      • ntur1 - May 16, 2013 at 4:49 PM

        And, it isn’t just the 58 million (or whatever the max number would have been) it is the salary cap issuse which would have been a significant penalty. :(

      • zacksdad - May 16, 2013 at 5:24 PM

        Houston is paying him 5 year extension after this year, so the salary for this year was already fixed. He was talking about this years playoffs and how much more money OKC would have made, so you cannot consider the whole extension. While I do not totally agree with his statement, yours is not very financially sound either.

        BTW, OKC already had him signed for this year little less than 6 million. And actually it looks like the extension is 80 million not the 58 million you stated.

        Maybe you should do some research and then comment…

    • cmehustle - May 16, 2013 at 8:30 PM

      One thing I know for certain Zacky boy is that it would take more than 7 home playoff games to make enough to pay that man. Besides that the Harden ship has sailed already. He’s a Houston Rocket and people should move on by now. The Thunder will be OK, they have some young guys coming who Im not sure why the coach refuses to play. They also have a couple of first rounders, if they can find a couple diamonds out of the two picks from last season, and the two from this draft, watch out. Miamis run will not last, they just cannot keep that team together financially.

      • zacksdad - May 17, 2013 at 10:54 AM

        Well his logic was more sound than yours, I was just trying to point that out. If you actually read my full statement you would have read “While I do not totally agree with his statement”. So I do not agree with his statement that they would have 7 or more home games. They only had a possible of 8 more and they may have had less with Harden.

        But I was writing against your statement that they needed to make make all the money from the extension from just this years home playoff games. You were replying to the other guy about his ability to “understand the financial workings of an NBA team”, yet yours was worse than his.

        Then you also gave him a bad time because he misspelled Harden’s name and told him to “Maybe you should do some research and then comment…”. Yet in your own comment you missed the amount of money Harden is being paid.

        So I just saying when crack down on other commentators, maybe you need to look at your own before posting.

  12. mz1394 - May 16, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    Only an idiot would write that if Westbrook was healthy the thunder would be guaranteed a spot in the conference finals. There has been alot of all time dumb posts on this site but this one takes the cake BY FAR . Congrats to the author of this pathetic article.

    • cmehustle - May 16, 2013 at 3:55 PM

      Idk bro, these games were all pretty close. Yeah I know the Grizz won, and I think they’ll be in the finals. But I feel you, just having WB doesnt give the Thunder a guarantee by any means. I would have love to see this series with everyone healthy.

  13. patsfan15 - May 16, 2013 at 3:42 PM

    I dont think it’s that simple. Would the series still be going probably but it’s not a lock. Memphis is the best defensive team left in the playoffs and possibly the league. Memphis stymied LA in the first round and did the same to OKC injuries are a part of the story with every team and yes Memphis has had some luck withBlake Griffin not %100 and no Westbrook for OKC but I firmly believe Memphis can match up to just about any team in the West and maybe even the East. Just saying

  14. patfic15 - May 16, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    Whatever they do, I hope it involved losing Perkins. I would like to see Reggie at the point with Westbrook moving to the 2. The Kaman idea is a pretty good one. As long as Perkins is gone, its moving forward. KG you wanna come to OKC?

  15. aboogy123456 - May 16, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    The Thunder have bigger goals than to just get out of the western conference. If they are going to win a championship any time soon, they will need to do more than just get healthy. Westbrook will be healthy with a lot of time left in the summer so why is getting healthy their number one goal? Is there somebody else on the team that’s hurt?

  16. asublimeday - May 16, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    I’m not a thunder fan, but I think you just bulldozing the opinion that harden as a second scoring option changes this series is just bad journalism.

  17. asublimeday - May 16, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    Yes, Westbrook and Jackson do the same things, like eat breakfast and drive to the game. But once the game starts, Westbrook is an All-Star and Jackson is a sub.
    ——

    Winning comment of the day

    • kb2408 - May 17, 2013 at 10:33 AM

      Let’s not act like Jackson can’t be a starter in the league. I kinda like the idea of Westbrook at the 2. Jackson and Westbrook would be the quickest most explosive backcourt in the league.

  18. losanginsight - May 16, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    A half way decent big man would help. The C’s and PF’s on this team have no O.

  19. 1bucfan813 - May 16, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    Russell Westbrook was the key to the finals, not a championship! The Thunder are a whole different team when Westbrook is on the court. They have 2 ” true scorers ” they have the shot blocking and rebounding to make it. They lacked a veteran bench. Miami has the bench they need to repeat.

  20. tjstyles - May 16, 2013 at 7:45 PM

    For the Harden vs. Westbrook part of the post, I can agree with the “that ship sailed, move on” argument, but the second part confuses me a bit. Saying, “secondly, they didn’t need Harden; they needed someone to score besides Durant” is completely contradictory. For points per 48, Harden scored 32.5 vs. Westbrook’s 31.9 for the regular season. Harden scored MORE points than Westbrook per minute. On top of that, Harden scored 1.51 points per shot, while Westbrook only scored 1.24 points per shot. Both were above average for their positions, but Harden was more efficient. So, while I completely agree that what the Thunder needed was another guy who can score, I find it completely silly to imply that Harden is “not that guy” but Westbrook is. Now, Westbrook rebounds better, gets more assists, and their TOs, Steals and Blocks were virtually identical, so there are parts of Westbrooks’ game that surpass Harden’s. I am not trying to compare the two players to say one is “better” than the other. I am simply saying that if Westbrook would “guarantee the finals” for the Thunder, I find it hard to believe that Harden wouldn’t get them past the Grizzlies.

  21. loungefly74 - May 16, 2013 at 10:15 PM

    wow…”shoulda, woulda, coulda”…please child (channeling Ocho)…they lost. you never know what could happen next year…maybe Durant is out…who knows?…maybe the Lakers get everyone healthy and on the same page? maybe the Spurs continue their great streak of being a powerhouse? maybe the Grizz get better? point is…Thunder lost. another year without a ring. far as i’m concerned…they are the Oklahoma City Dan Marino’s…

  22. bnwpnw - May 17, 2013 at 1:03 AM

    SONICS CURSE!

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