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.
Jul 7, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT
The one-year deal keeps their cap space alive next summer to chase Kevin Durant.
Jul 7, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Dallas had a good July, too.
Jul 7, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
The Knicks and Magic essentially swap reserve centers.
Jul 7, 2015, 4:35 PM EDT
“Listen, we had one priority this summer, and that was to re-sign DJ, and we missed out on that.” — J.J. Redick on the Clippers summer.
Jul 7, 2015, 4:10 PM EDT
The Bulls are getting the band back together.
Jul 7, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
The Lakers were not free agency losers like some think.
Jul 7, 2015, 3:06 PM EDT
Look for the Warriors to waive Wallace using the stretch provision.
Jul 7, 2015, 2:44 PM EDT
Julius Randle, L.A.’s first round pick last year, missed the Summer League opener due to a contract issue.
Jul 7, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT
Exum looked great, the injury did not.
Jul 7, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year signed a free agent deal with the Lakers.
Dwyane Wade cites his scoring average when asked how long he’ll continue to play: ‘I think I’ll stay around a while’
Jul 7, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Wade was the third leading scorer in the East last season, but missed 20 games due to a combination rest and injury.
Jul 7, 2015, 11:31 AM EDT
Teams aren’t allowed to discuss deals during the moratorium period, which is still going on.
Jul 7, 2015, 10:52 AM EDT
KG will be back for a record 21st NBA season.
Jul 7, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT
Cleveland just added Mo Williams, but Smith (and Matthew Dellavedova) will likely be back.
Jul 7, 2015, 9:55 AM EDT
The 12th overall pick hasn’t practiced with the Jazz, and remains unsigned. But the GM says “No worries.”
Jul 7, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
Okafor had some impressive moments.
Jul 7, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
This is the kind of thing that all that new television revenue should go to.
Jul 7, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
All I have ever argued about LeBron’s legacy is that you can’t compare it right now to Magic or Jordan or Bird or whoever because he’s still playing at the peak of his game.
Jul 7, 2015, 12:17 AM EDT
Bonner claims a Spurs strength-and-conditioning coach supports the theory
Jul 6, 2015, 11:04 PM EDT
This rookie knows how to finish at the rim.
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- PBT Podcast: Free agency’s winners and losers 0
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- Report: Kevin Garnett to re-sign with Timberwolves 15
- Report: Mo Williams signing with Cavaliers for most of their MLE 23
- Report: Cavaliers, Clippers discussing Jamal Crawford for Brendan Haywood trade 26
- Reports: David West agrees to veteran minimum deal to play for Spurs 80