The Oklahoma City Thunder took the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals. If an OKC fan saw this headline last February, they would be thrilled. So, the notion that this team “choked” is not really true. The NBA’s Western Conference was supposed to be a two team race between Golden State and the San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder were able to dismantle the Spurs in six games and seemed like they were well on their way to a much-anticipated NBA Finals appearance; until the Warriors woke up. The Warriors ended up hitting shots and made more adjustments but that is a different story, for another time. The basketball world saw what the Thunder can be when they are hitting on all cylinders: an offensive juggernaut who have active defenders at all five positions. They were unable to beat the winningest regular season team of all-time; and now they look to the future.
Oklahoma City Off-season
The Kevin Durant Question
The first issue on Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s plate has to be resigning a select few players. The obvious name is Kevin Durant. Durant will be courted by every team in the league, but only a select few will have a chance to get in the room and speak to him. The move that makes the most sense for Durant financially has to be him signing a two-year deal with an opt out after year one. This will get him to the ten-year mark in the NBA, therefore, bumping his max contract from 30% to 35% of the cap. The cap is also supposed to jump from $90 million to $105 million in the 2017 off-season. This is a huge jump in money that Durant will have to at least think about. The money involved here could be a $50 million difference. He was also just one win away from a title appearance. He has a team that played no one under the age of 27 in the Game 7. He gets to play with another top-7 player in the league in Russell Westbrook. What more could he want? While he certainly has plenty of options, this makes the most sense financially for Durant.
Durant is not the only free agent that the Thunder need to worry about though. Dion Waiters will, more than likely, decline the teams qualifying offer, and the Thunder also have Randy Foye as an unrestricted free agent. They have $22 million in cap room and $41 million in luxury tax space. Durant would take up most of that but would leave about $15 million to offer these players, or sign others.
The Thunder could use a backup point guard and another wing player. Many analysts believe that Cameron Payne, the rookie from Murray State, could fill that role nicely. That leaves a fair amount of money to fill out the last few roster spots. The Thunder could spend about $12 million to resign Waiters (that’s what a playoff bump and rising salary cap does) or try and go after a different name. They badly need a 3-and-D player because Andre Roberson can’t shoot to save his life and Waiters is, well, Waiters. This is easier said than done in the current NBA with many teams looking for this type of player, but the Thunder need another one to effectively play small ball. Some interesting names within the price range include Jared Dudley and Luol Deng. Deng may be a little pricey for the Thunder but he quietly had an excellent season for the Miami Heat, and fits the bill. Dudley would fit on basically every team but he can play small ball 4 and wants to play for a winning team. Players like Kent Bazemore and Nicholas Batum are excellent fits, but out of their price range. They could come into play should Durant leave.
Billy Donovan has answered the lingering coach question and has outdone what Scott Brooks was able to do. He figured out a very difficult concept called “staggering”, in which one of his best two players is always on the court. He was also able to figure out how to play two non-shooters (Roberson and Steven Adams) effectively. He even out-coached Gregg Popovich in the 2nd round. For the time being, coaching is not a pressing issue for Presti. The Thunder will need to find a new assistant coach after the tragic situation Monty Williams is dealing with has led to him deciding to take some time away from the team.
Oklahoma City’s franchise is in Durant’s hands and, if he comes back, then Chesapeake Energy Arena should be rocking this time next year. If not, the Thunder won’t self-destruct but a hole will be left that will need to be filled.