Oct 7, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT
Last season: The Thunder finished the regular season with a record of 60-22, which was good for the number one playoff seed in the Western Conference.
Thanks to the unfortunate knee injury that occurred in Game 2 of the team’s first round playoff series against the Rockets, however, OKC quite literally limped to the finish line, and was overmatched by a Memphis Grizzlies team in the second round that took care of them easily in five games.
Signature highlight from last season: The play that was most impactful was, of course, Westbrook’s injury in the playoffs. But let’s keep it positive here, and with too many ridiculous Kevin Durant highlights to choose from, let’s go with this explosive dunk from Westbrook on the break that he threw down over Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
Key player changes: OKC didn’t make any additions that would lead you to believe the roster this year is better than it was a season ago, and lost it’s only reliable scorer from the bench unit in free agency.
- IN: Rookies Steven Adams (drafted with the 10th overall pick) and Andre Roberson (drafted with the 26th overall pick by Minnesota, then dealt to OKC on draft night) are the only new faces with guaranteed contracts in place for the coming season.
- OUT: Kevin Martin was allowed to leave in free agency, and although he got more from the Timberwolves than he would have been worth to the Thunder (especially when retaining him would’ve meant entering luxury tax territory), his loss will be noticed, especially in the early part of the season. Ronnie Brewer was a midseason acquisition, but he didn’t have much impact and ended up signing with the Rockets this summer.
Keys to the Thunder’s season:
1) The health of Russell Westbrook: We know Westbrook is going to miss at least the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season following an additional knee surgery that took place just recently. What we don’t know is how long it’ll be before he returns to form as one of the most dynamic and explosive players in the game today.
The timeline of Westbrook’s ascent back to the player he once was is going to make all the difference in how the Thunder’s regular season plays out. The team is obviously looking at playing deep into the postseason, after finishing with 60 wins last year and making it to the Finals in the season before that. But in the midst of a crowded Western Conference stacked with at least six powerful teams, finishing lower in the standings will make the desired playoff results that much more difficult to achieve.
2) The development of the bench: OKC traded away James Harden before the beginning of last season, and while history is not going to look kindly on the deal from the Thunder’s perspective, at least they got a semi-serviceable scorer in Kevin Martin in return who could fill that role off the bench. With Martin now gone in free agency (and with no one added to replace him), the Thunder are going to need to get production from the reserve unit somewhere if they’re going to be able to compete with the league’s elite teams.
The hope is that Reggie Jackson, who saw heavy minutes during the playoffs and performed better than expected, can continue to develop into a reliable contributor that he’s already shown signs of proving to be. But it would be nice if Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Liggins or one of the freshly-drafted rookies could contribute as well, and there’s just no guarantee that they’ll come along as quickly as the Thunder need them to in order to remove some of the burden from the starters’ shoulders.
3) Kevin Durant, MVP? This could be the year that Kevin Durant unseats LeBron James as league MVP, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost on the list could be voter fatigue — we all know that James is considered to be the game’s best player, but if the Heat coast a little during the regular season and Durant is forced to put up ridiculous numbers to keep his team in the hunt while Westbrook is out, it would be easy to see him quickly becoming the favorite to take home the award if those making the call are looking to give it to someone besides James.
Durant is capable of dominating offensively, and will be expected to do so with his All-Star teammate sidelined. He could take on an even bigger role as the season progresses depending on Westbrook’s recovery and whether or not he gets much help from his teammates. If he puts up MVP-caliber numbers, there’s no reason the Thunder can’t be right where they need to be by the time the season concludes, despite all of the apparent challenges.
Why you should watch the Thunder: Durant and Westbrook are arguably two of the league’s top-five players. Beyond that, the intrigue with this Thunder team runs deep. Can Durant carry them to a high place in the regular season standings, or will the team collapse under heavy expectations, and due to Westbrook’s injury and the lack of a capable bench? There’s drama here, and that’s exciting.
Prediction: 53-29, good for a top-five finish in the West. Durant will need to come through with that MVP season for the Thunder to be in the championship conversation, especially in a deeper-than-usual Western Conference. While he’s certainly capable of that, the questions surrounding Westbrook and the reserve unit are too plentiful for the team to warrant anything more than a forecast of a similar outcome as it experienced a season ago — a second round playoff loss.
LeBron James leads long list of players wishing Paul George the best after suffering serious USA Basketball injury
Aug 2, 2014, 12:07 AM EDT
LeBron, like most NBA players, had nothing but get-well wishes for Paul George following what appeared to be a serious injury.
Aug 2, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Rose looking as athletic as ever.
Paul George leaves USA Basketball Showcase with severe lower leg injury, remainder of scrimmage canceled
Aug 1, 2014, 10:51 PM EDT
Gruesome injury suffered by George causes remainder of scrimmage to be canceled.
Aug 1, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Only six NBA players have no-trade clauses, and Parker wasn’t eligible under the circumstances.
Aug 1, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
New uniforms for the national team.
Aug 1, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Damian Lillard also wanted Williams back in Portland
Aug 1, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Magic Johnson takes parting shot at Mike D’Antoni
Aug 1, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT
Rumor had suggested Brewer could replace Kevin Martin or J.J. Barea in deal
Aug 1, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Chicago added Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott this summer
Aug 1, 2014, 4:14 PM EDT
New York had only minimum contract available
Aug 1, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
If true, Corey Brewer would be a nice get for the Cavaliers.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
It’s no Heat-Cavaliers, but it’ll do
Aug 1, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Parker’s max extension: three years, $43,335,938
Aug 1, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
Aug 1, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Wade is trying to drop pounds to make life easier on his knees. We’ll see how much that helps.
Aug 1, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
That will go away in three months
Aug 1, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
“So when I say I felt disrespected, I just felt like the way I played the game of basketball wasn’t appreciated.” —Isaiah Thomas referring to Sacramento management.
Aug 1, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Why is the Pacers’ star choosing LeBron James’ team?
Report: Greg Monroe ‘doesn’t really have a great interest in going back and playing with the Pistons’
Aug 1, 2014, 10:29 AM EDT
Pistons have reportedly talked sign-and-trade with Hawks, Suns and Blazers (but Portland is out)
Aug 1, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT
Finally, San Antonio basketball fans have a reason to be proud
- Paul George leaves USA Basketball Showcase with severe lower leg injury, remainder of scrimmage canceled 60
- Rumor: Corey Brewer to Cleveland now part of Kevin Love trade talk 24
- Tony Parker signs (another) contract extension with Spurs 10
- Bulls owner issues statement refuting rift between Bulls front office, Derrick Rose 23
- Anthony Davis steps into spotlight, is Team USA’s lynchpin 18
- Referee Violet Palmer comes out publicly as gay 49
- Report: Cavaliers last team standing in Kevin Love trade talks 89