The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in the unenviable position of being one of the better teams in the NBA, but not quite good enough to win it all. OKC made an unceremonious exit from the playoffs after losing to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals Saturday night, and they are tired of it. Wouldn't you be too? This team has been in the playoffs the last 5 years with three of the past four in the Western Conference Finals. But what exactly can they do to take the team to the next level? No surprise here, it's going to take hard work, dedication and some new faces on the court.
Almost everyone will agree that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the top 10 players in the league today. And their team record looks like they have 2 of the top 10 players, but obviously that isn't enough.
This is going to be a crucial offseason in taking the next step. It certainly seems like Fisher is on his way out the door, and from the Thunder's point of view that isn't a bad thing. He provided veteran leadership from the experience he gained winning multiple rings, but his days of real contributions are behind him. It also seems like the team could be parting ways with Thabo Sefolosha. Head coach Scott Brooks decided to sit him in favor of Reggie Jackson a lot during this playoff run and that speaks volumes to how they could handle things now. Jackson was a guy they drafted and developed and they place an emphasis on that. He's long, athletic and can play multiple positions, he really has the potential to be the starting SG on the first day of next season. Steven Adams is another bright spot on their roster. I loved the way he stepped up against the Clippers. He put in some real minutes under the spotlight and I think at times his rebounding made the difference. He was the one providing the inside presence that the team needed. I think everyone knows he's coming for Perkins minutes. Being named to NBA Second Team All-Rookie was a much deserved honor.
If Jackson moves to the starting SG OKC still needs to address the issue of depth. Even though we all saw how much of a difference Ibaka made in the series against the Spurs when he came back, what makes just as much of an issue is fatigue. Durant and Westbrook played way too many minutes in the postseason. There was more than one game where they were visibly gassed at the end and shots were hitting the front of the rim. The difference in the playoffs is being able to tighten up your defense and get consecutive stops late and score on the other end. A coach has to be able to rest his star guys so that they have fresh legs at crunch time. The good news is they have two first round picks and, depending on where the tax comes in, $5 - $7 million to use in free agency.
As heartbreaking as things have been at times you still have to remember this; OKC has a very young roster. Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka are all 25 or under, they have a lot of productive years left in the league. Among top NBA analysts it's widely believed that one day Durant will replace James as the consensus best player in the league. Not only that, Adams is a rookie and Jackson only has two years in the NBA. This team has a very young core of players they are putting together and from that prospective the future is something to be really excited about. The NBA is a star-driven league, but the irony is it takes more than that to win a title. The question will be whether or not they make the right moves to shore up the few, but glaring, holes they have.