Ibaka got paid, Harden didn’t…..drama?
In: Eric Maynor (missed 2011-12 after knee surgery)…rookies Perry Jones, Hollis Thompson…Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins.
Out: Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed (CHI), Royal Ivey (PHI), Ryan Reid.
PG Russell Westbrook Eric Maynor
SG Thabo Sefolosha James Harden, Daequan Cook, Reggie Jackson
SF Kevin Durant Perry Jones (r), Lazar Hayward, Hollis Thompson (r)
PF Serge Ibaka Nick Collison
C Kendrick Perkins Cole Aldrich, Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton
Offseason Recap: The big question following the team’s loss to Miami in the Finals wasn’t who they’d add to the roster this summer…it was, if the team would be able to keep both James Harden & Serge Ibaka (both 2013 free agents). This is a small market team that’s already paying stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook big money. Well, the team decided not to wait till next year…they locked up Ibaka with a four-year, $48 million extension in August. James Harden, though still talking to the team about his deal, seems to be left out in the cold. The sides have until opening night to get a deal done but it’s unlikely. James will probably wait till next summer to try and get the most $ possible. Meanwhile, GM Sam Presti did quite possibly the best one can do with a late 1st round draft pick as Perry Jones (III) of Baylor fell to them at #28. He’s a long, talented forward that’ll back-up KD as well as play some PF when the team downsizes. As for point guard, the team got an upgrade by default. Eric Maynor, who missed almost all of last season after a knee injury, is back and healthy. Derek Fisher gave the team a lot but visibly faded in the Finals. ‘E-Money’ will be a big addition to this group…not only on the court but in the locker room. As for back-up center, the additions of Thabeet and Orton (if nothing else) provide some well-known names from NCAA seasons’ past. Since Kendrick Perkins will miss the preseason after having surgery on both his wrist and his groin, these two (and Cole Aldrich) will get plenty of run in October.
Strengths: They have two of the top 10 players in the NBA in Durant and Westbrook. They also have the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in Harden. Lastly, the cohesion they’ve built together over the past few seasons is huge. If only they had the big pockets to keep up with, let’s say, a team like the Lakers.
Weaknesses: Scott Brooks started out Media Day admitting that his team was not a good passing team last year…ya think? They were last in the league w/ 18.5 assists per game at. They still feature a score-first PG (Westbrook) while the team’s best passer (Harden) is still coming off the bench…but they can realistically inch up to the middle of the pack in this category. There’s just too much offensive talent not to.
Despite all of the talent and versatility on this team, they’re still a group that relies on the perimeter game. Other than Westbrook’s drives and the occasional Ibaka put-back, this team is shooting jumpers all night. If a squad like Miami, with Bosh at center, can exploit you on the inside…you know you got a problem. I also think team chemistry, though a strength in year’s past, may start to become a weakness next season…..
Prediction: How will Ibaka play now that he has the pressure of big money coming his way? Will the fact that Harden didn’t get the same luv this offseason hurt the chemistry of this group? Coming off the bench was all good last season, but this will be a contract year for James. I can’t wait to see how this team continues to grow as the business of basketball steps in. Lastly, Russell proved in the playoffs that he’s not a #2 guy but rather a #1-A to Kevin (see Game 4 vs Heat). One of the major reasons Miami went all the way last season was that Dwyane Wade acquiesced the #1 spot to Lebron. No locker room of contenders has ever had 2 equal superstars…there can only be 1 alpha dog (Shaq >Kobe, Duncan>Robinson, etc).
The Thunder have improved each of the the past four seasons. The loss to Miami was all about growing pains…it’s part of the process. However, while OKC did things ‘the right way’ and grew from within a certain team out west (wearing purp n’ yellow) appears to have leap-frogged them in the course of one month. I hate to do this, but in my mind it’s already set out west: Lakers vs. Thunder in the conference finals. L.A. is old school, playing inside-out….OKC is new school, winning without a big presence down low (hey, it worked for the Heat). But as long as Sefolosha is in the game to guard Kobe, Steve Nash has a place to hide on defense (Thabo isn’t a threat). Plus, Dwight is back there to clean up all the mistakes. That leaves MWP on KD and the tandem of Howard-Gasol vs Perkins-Ibaka…..Mike Brown has to like his chances. Scott Brooks, who I think is a way better coach, will have to be perfect to beat the new L.A. lineup…..Lakers in 6.