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Oklahoma City Thunder preview: Championship or bust

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Six writers with inside knowledge give the lowdown on crucial questions for the Thunder this season.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, we here at WTLC participate in the SB Nation/CelticsBlog run NBA Blogger previews. This year, we were able to get a ton of our writers to weigh in. Czech it out!

Team Name: Oklahoma City Thunder

Last Year's Record: 59-23

Key Losses: Thabo Sefolosha, Caron Butler, Derek Fisher

Key Additions: Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary, Sebastian Telfair, Josh Huestis

1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?

The Thunder are not particularly known for shocking the world with outrageous acquisitions. However, this offseason may be a big step in OKC's pursuit of a championship. While they lost the veteran 3 and D player in Thabo Sefolosha, the short lived inconsistent shooter in Caron Butler, and a fan favorite in Derek Fisher, OKC may have actually improved with their new acquisitions. Anthony Morrow will fill his notorious three point specialist role to add spacing and more room for KD and Westbrook to do their work. Mitch McGary was drafted 21st overall and he put on a show for the spectators at Orlando Summer League. McGary can emerge into a solid all around forward right from the get-go. Other minor additions include Sebastian Telfair (I bet you haven't heard that name in a while), Josh Huestis, and Semaj Christon. Huestis and Christon will spend some time on the OKC Blue D League Team, but they have the ability to become reliable role players. -Justin Danziger

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

What makes this lineup so great is the experience.  Most of these guys have been playing with each other for years now.  The Thunder excel in scoring, defense, locker room chemistry, among other things.  They have been so close to the Promised Land so many times that they are used to that energetic environment.  It is about time that things start to click. -Justin Danziger

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, instantly a top-tier offense by themselves, pave the way for the Thunder. And they're matched by the team's defense, a web of sheer wingspan centered by Serge Ibaka's presence in the middle. This has rarely been a team lauded for its creativity, but they've gathered great players and made themselves a great team out of it. -Kevin Yeung

Defense. It is one of the main reasons of the Thunder’s success in the league. The team contains a defensive minded coach with high athleticism players who can play great defense. -Ali AlShowaikh

When you talk about the Thunder, you have to mention chemistry and star-power. The Thunder have three all-star caliber players while also surrounding them with pretty good role players. Reggie Jackson is still improving, Steven Adams should be much improved in his second season, while guys like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones get another year under their belts. All in all, the team’s biggest strengths are: Having Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. -Juan Toribio

Again, the guys touched on the biggest things, so I would just emphasize the chemistry. Perkins, in particular, always seems to go back to his championship Boston team, and how those guys sold out for one another and were always willing to make the right play for the team. You have two guys in Westbrook and Durant who could beat most teams on their own, but it ultimately comes down to how much they are willing to use their ridiculous talent to benefit the entire roster, something they’ve both made great strides in over the years and should continue to do in the future. The Thunder is a team now that, aside from San Antonio, has more playoff experience than any other roster in the league. That’s something they will need to use to their advantage when things get serious come April. -Chris Hanneke

Generating points via live-ball turnovers. This is the one thing that I think, year in and year out, the Thunder do by far the best at in the NBA. The evidence might be small in the stat sheet, but I believe the demoralizing nature of the steal and score does more to help the team than most would think. Sefolosha's departure may see this department take a hit. However, if Lamb, Roberson, or Jones manages to get minutes, they may be able to pick up the slack. -Zeb Benbrook

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

It's little things holding this team back now. They failed to get much of any consistent three-point shooting around Durant and Westbrook last season, and the supporting cast in general was inconsistent. Steven Adams, Nick Collison, Roberson, Morrow, Lamb and others will play an important role in determining whether or not the Thunder can gut it out against other similarly star-studded teams. -Kevin Yeung

There are two aspects in my opinion that are preventing the Thunder from acquiring a championship. The team doesn’t have a reliable shooter on its roster that can remove the scoring pressure from Westbrook and Durant by scoring consistently and being reliable. Also, the center position is weak on the team as well, and this why we rarely see the post presence involved in the Thunder’s offense. However, we shall never struggle from these issues in the upcoming 2014-2015 season. -Ali AlShowaikh

There are not many weaknesses on this roster, but the lack of offensive center is crucial. Both Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins struggle to score and pass. While they excel in protecting the rim and setting screens, an important ingredient to a winning formula is versatile big man. Another problem the team will have is to find the right starting shooting guard. That is on Scott Brooks, though. Andre Roberson says his shot has improved and he is the closest thing we've got to Thabo so he might be the right choice. -Justin Danziger

I think bench production is the biggest weakness for this team. During the playoffs there were games where the Thunder had absolutely no production from their bench and that can’t be the case if OKC wants to take that next step. Reggie Jackson was the only true bench scorer for the team last season and he was up-and-down all season. The Thunder will be relying on a lot of young players this season to come up with the scoring when Durant and Westbrook are taking a breather. -Juan Toribio

The inability to trust one another. That’s a harsh answer and, as I just said, they have made great strides over the years in improving that part of their identity. Still, the problem persists that when things get tough, it becomes the Durant and Westbrook show. I’m probably contradicting my past self because I’ve almost always been a believer that those two should be given free reign to do whatever they want. But where the Thunder have always struggled on the biggest stage is in trusting that each and every guy will come up when called upon. Some of that may be due to youth, some may be due to coaching, but as it’s expectations continue to rise with this team, those excuses won’t cut it anymore. Maybe that means trusting Jeremy Lamb to take 10 threes in a big game. Maybe that means handing the point guard duties off to Jackson in crunch time and playing Westbrook off the ball in a big game the way they used to with James Harden. Maybe that means riding Steven Adams, or Nick Collison, or any other big man that is making the necessary hustle plays. It seems simple to just say "Do what the Spurs do," but they continue to be the shining example of that "next man up" mentality. The stars will always shine, but if those stars can find a way to trust the role players no matter how high the stakes, it can pay huge dividends. -Chris Hanneke

A lack of offensive structure. This has been a complaint for years, but I think that the Thunder's thin playbook has accounted for a significant number of losses. Also, in general, the Thunder take too long to get into their offensive sets, make too few passes, and set lazy screens. This is made up for by OKC's humongous amount of offensive talent on most nights, though. -Zeb Benbrook

4. What are the goals for this team?

Championship or bust. This team has two of the NBA's very best players, and the third member of their core isn't too shabby either. They've eclipsed a .700 win percentage for three straight seasons, and regular season success doesn't feel like much of an accomplishment anymore. The time is now for this team to win a championship, and anything but that is a disappointment. -Kevin Yeung

To bring a championship to Oklahoma City and remain steady in terms of being in the top seeds of the league. -Ali AlShowaikh

Ultimately, to win a championship. it has been a goal for the past three or four years. They've got the mindset and roster, what about performance? -Justin Danziger

The Thunder made the NBA Finals in 2012, the made the Western Conference Finals last season, so the only thing left for them to do is win an NBA title. -Juan Toribio

RINGZZZ -Chris Hanneke

Obviously, a 'Ship is #1. Besides that, I'd like to see Ibaka or Reggie make the All-Star team, Durant and Westbrook to finish All-NBA, and for Adams to average a double-double. -Zeb Benbrook

5. Writer's Choice

How real are the concerns of Kevin Durant leaving in 2016?

For the Thunder, who kept a low profile this summer, Durant's free agency in 2016 seemed to be the topic that came up the most. Over in Washington, Wizards fans are already priming themselves for their team's chance to make a run at him. Who knows exactly how happy Durant is in Oklahoma City, but he hasn't won it all with the Thunder yet. A championship will go a long way toward keeping Durant's morale up, and the Thunder still have a pretty good shot at getting theirs. But the summer of 2016 is a bit too close for comfort. -Kevin Yeung

Now or never. Nothing is guaranteed since Kevin Durant is going to test free agency in 2016 although he made it clear about his future when he had an interview with USA TODAY Sports, but everything is possible. Beside that, we no longer need to worry a lot about the Shooting guard and center spot as the problem is basically resolved. That said, the team also has a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Therefore, this is their biggest opportunity to get the business done especially that the majority of the players are currently at their highest peak. -Ali AlShowaikh

How much of an impact will the new acquisitions make?

Mitch McGary was spectacular in Orlando and after speaking with him, it seems as though his back is healed. McGary can basically do it all. He can shoot, defend, and rebound. But the two things that are keeping me optimistic are his passing and dribbling abilities. Numerous times we saw Mitch run the break and finish himself or make a jaw dropping pass. He is energetic and a leader and I truly believe he will be praised for his rookie season. Anthony Morrow is another key acquisition. He is a marksman from behind the arc and will add some spacing because wiggle room is key when you've got guys like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. These new acquisitions can make significant impacts on the season. -Justin Danziger

The impact of the following acquisition might not be huge. However, it is going to be noticeable especially in the shooting guard spot. As the Thunder obtained Anthony Morrow, they are going to have a consistent reliable shooter who can help Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in lifting the scoring pressure. The team also acquired Mitch McGary who did a tremendous job in the summer league. He’ll do a great job on the floor in terms of setting screens, pick and rolls, getting Durant open for Westbrook, add the post presence, and increase the team’s points from the paint. He shall emerge quickly as he has a very high potentiality, and he shall be a wonderful player as a back up for Ibaka. -Ali AlShowaikh

Which player do the Thunder need to take the next step in order to make it back to The Finals?

I don’t think there’s any question that the answer is Reggie Jackson. Reggie was magnificent at times, but then he had a week or two in where he looked really average. Consistency is what Jackson needs to work on this season, and the Thunder are going to need it. If the Thunder can trot out a consistent and efficient Reggie Jackson to go along Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka and Adams, the sky is the limit for the 2014-2015 Oklahoma City Thunder. -Juan Toribio

Is this the year Russell Westbrook takes the Best Point Guard in Basketball title?

Full disclosure: I actually already think it’s his, so I’m biased in answering this. Still, the general consensus is that Chris Paul is still the king, no matter how one-sided his matchup with Westbrook was in last year's playoffs. Beyond that, there are arguments for plenty of others ahead of Westbrook. You can knock his percentages all you want, but just take a look at his numbers from the postseason and how many other guys in history have ever contributed in that many ways, that effectively (hint: only two). He’s not perfect, and as I mentioned, he has plenty of room to grow in how he shares the ball. But if those games on the biggest stage are any indication, you’re talking about a once-in-a-lifetime talent, who just so happens to be fully healthy now. The crown is his for the taking. -Chris Hanneke

Does Anthony Morrow take this offense to the next level, or do his  deficiencies take the bite out of OKC's defense?

I'd tend to think the former. I think it's important to remember that along with losing Sefolosha, the Thunder were also able to drop Caron Butler and Derek Fisher. Those players were defensive albatrosses, and it's easy to see how Morrow's offensive presence alone will give the Thunder more quality minutes. Furthermore, the Thunder will always remain a big and long team, with Morrow and Telfair really being the only two exceptions on the roster. Given Reggie's murky status, it's entirely possible that this may be the Thunder's best shot at a ship. So far, the acquisitions have given us nothing but promise. -Zeb Benbrook

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