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 22, 2014, 12:27 PM EDT
Wizards take a more subtle approach than some of the others we’ve seen.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
Rookies Doug McDermott and Marcus Smart make the cut to train with the National Team in Vegas.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:13 AM EDT
Vujacic is known for his time with the Lakers, and hasn’t played meaningful minutes since 2011.
Jul 22, 2014, 10:37 AM EDT
Kings go nuts after winning Summer League championship.
Jul 22, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT
Restricted free agent remains unsigned.
Jul 22, 2014, 9:20 AM EDT
Seattle won 1979 title before team moved to Oklahoma City
Jul 22, 2014, 8:42 AM EDT
The list includes Gorgui Dieng and Donatas Montiejunas.
Jul 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Carter denies LeBron’s advisors forced him back to Cleveland
Jul 22, 2014, 1:24 AM EDT
Ray McCallum dropped 29 and even threw in a Jordan shrug.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Would you rather have Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green?
Jul 21, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Hummel gets second NBA deal after spending season in Spain
Jul 21, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Former Colorado point guard out with ACL tear
Jul 21, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
Jazz point guard will help national team prepare for World Cup this summer
Donald Sterling reportedly meets with Steve Ballmer, which might accelerate Clippers sale (or do the complete opposite)
Jul 21, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Donald Sterling also reportedly met with Shelly Sterling for three hours
Jul 21, 2014, 6:54 PM EDT
The Suns are going to be a League Pass favorite next season.
Jul 21, 2014, 6:22 PM EDT
Cooper, who coaches WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, expected to make full recovery
Jul 21, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT
Celtics fans are asking “why?” Good question.
Jul 21, 2014, 4:58 PM EDT
You doubted Kobe?
Jul 21, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Former No. 6 pick by the Wizards signs in Turkey
Jul 21, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Of course, George thinks the Pacers can regain their form and be a threat next season in the East.
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