Like we are currently seeing in the NFL, the 2011 NBA off-season is up in the air with a lockout looming. Free agency could be delayed and completely restructured depending on the new agreement reached by the owners and players. Still, The Sports Bank continues to break down all thirty NBA teams to see what areas they need to address in the off-season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have almost cemented their status as true NBA title contenders and do not have a ton of pressing needs this off-season. One thing that should be on their agenda though, signing Russell Westbrook to a long-term extension.
By: David Kay
Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27 last season)
’10-’11 Season in Review:
If there is a blueprint to follow in how to build a NBA team; the Oklahoma City Thunder are it. Through smart draft picks, not blowing money in free agency, finding key role players, and building a true team with terrific chemistry, the Thunder have quickly arrived as one of the top teams in the NBA.
Every title contending team needs a superstar to build around and in OKC that has been Kevin Durant. The former Texas Longhorn became the league’s youngest scoring champion last season and followed that up by defending his crown this year. He has proven to be everything that a team could ask for in a young superstar and might be the most likable player in the league.
Every Batman needs a Robin, and that is what Russell Westbrook has become, though he tried to throw the bat signal up in the post-season late in games rather than letting Durant do his thing. Still, Westbrook made some major strides this season adding a more reliable outside shot to his repertoire.
In hopes of adding more pieces to the puzzle, the Thunder completed a major trade prior to the deadline, sending Jeff Green to Boston for a true, bruising big man in Kendrick Perkins. The former Celtic did not have a great final stretch of the season in OKC, but he was signed to an extension to hopefully be their equalizer in the middle.
Second year players Sege Ibaka and James Harden also played valuable roles for the Thunder. Ibaka brought great energy to the floor while Harden blossomed into the team’s sixth man, playing exceptionally well in the post-season. Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha, and Eric Maynor all effectively fit into their roles as did Nazr Mohammed who was also acquired at the trade deadline.
So in two seasons, the Thunder have improved by 32 games and gone from not even close to sniffing the post-season to losing to the eventual NBA Champs in the Western Conference Finals. Their young core is in place and growing together. With time, patience, and maybe a couple of tweaks to their roster, Oklahoma City should once again be competing for the top dog spot in the Western Conference.
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Kendrick Perkins/Cole Aldrich/Byron Mullens
PF: Serge Ibaka/Nick Collison
SF: Kevin Durant
SG: Thabo Sefolosha/James Harden/*Daequan Cook
PG: Russell Westbrook/Eric Maynor/Nate Robinson/Royal Ivey
*SG-Daequan Cool (RFA)
C-Nazr Mohammed (UFA)
’11-’12 Team Salary: Approximately $49.1 million
1. Lock-Up Westbrook:
Russell Westbrook received a lot of heat, and deservedly so, for trying to assert himself as the go-to scorer late in the playoff game rather than deferring to Kevin Durant. Still, Westbrook is a huge part of the Thunder’s bright future and one of the top point guards in the league. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract and will become a restricted free agent next summer. Like OKC did with Durant last summer, expect them to try and lock up Westbrook to an extension before he can hit the open market.
2. Back-up for Kevin Durant:
The Thunder have a solid young second unit but do not really have a true back-up for Durant. Daequan Cook saw minutes at the three behind Durant but he is a restricted free agent. Also, in trading Jeff Green the Thunder do not have a lot of versatility at forward. Look for them to address that hole in the off-season.
3. Veteran Big Man:
The Thunder did lock up Kendrick Perkins to a long-term extension but will likely lose Nazr Mohammed to free agency. While OKC has young players in Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens, I am not sure either will be counted on to be the regular back-up. Plus, with Perkins’ recent injury history, it would make sense for the Thunder to add a reliable veteran big man.
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CHECK OUT THE SPORTS BANK’S 2011 NBA MOCK DRAFT
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.