May 16, 2013, 2:36 PM EDT
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.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
It’s the memory of a lifetime… even if you get embarrassed.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Mark Madsen and Paul Pressey also reportedly candidates for Byron Scott’s staff
Jul 31, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT
Watch this and remember why you love basketball.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
Wall raising expectations after Wizards met last season’s playoff goal
Jul 31, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT
Jul 31, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Does China really know what it’s getting here?
Jul 31, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
As tight as he is with Kidd, do you really think Payton would choose Milwaukee over Los Angeles?
Jul 31, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
Milwaukee, with Damien Inglis in limbo, now facing roster crunch
Jul 31, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Like most “feuds,” once two rational people sit down and talk for a minute, everything dissipates.
Jul 31, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
That means he’s signing with the Wizards, right?
Jul 31, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Barring another move, Toronto down to one roster spot for Lucas Nogueira or DeAndre Daniels
Jul 31, 2014, 10:41 AM EDT
“We think he’s one of the top players in the league and we need for him to be that five that nobody has.” —Mike Krzyzewski on Anthony Davis
Jul 31, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Palmer to marry celebrity hair stylist Tanya Stine
Jul 31, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Former Oregon State standout impresses with shot-blocking ability
Jul 31, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Jeremy Lin in a full-blown dance number. You know you want to see that.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Hawks forward, now trying out for Team USA World Cup team, has come a long way
Jul 31, 2014, 12:04 AM EDT
A LeBron James-Kevin Love combo seems increasingly inevitable
Jul 30, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
“His unique skill set makes him one of the best players in the game today.” —Pat Riley on Chris Bosh, who still is overpaid.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Pat Riley got beat in free agency, and he doesn’t take losing well.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Scott, not Mike Brown, would have followed Phil Jackson
- Anthony Davis steps into spotlight, is Team USA’s lynchpin 16
- Referee Violet Palmer comes out publicly as gay 39
- Report: Cavaliers last team standing in Kevin Love trade talks 85
- Pat Riley says he didn’t think LeBron was leaving, Heat can turn around quickly 56
- Coach K on Rose: “Derrick’s played great, not good, and hasn’t held anything back” 30
- Report: Anthony Bennett pulled from pro-am by agent, possibly due to his inclusion in Kevin Love trade talks 43
- Report: Sixers fighting against immediate changes to NBA Draft Lottery system 59
- Team USA going small ball, but how many bigs do they keep on the bench? 4