As most of us expected, the Thunder's predictably tame free agency came and went like a proverbial "fart in the wind." The additions of Anthony Morrow, Sebastian Telfair, and Grant Jerrett put OKC at their full 15-man roster for the start of the 2014-15 season.
Really?! They're already maxed out?
Yep. Did you forget about Josh Huestis? Because I did. Unfortunately, Thunder GM Sam Presti chose Huestis with the 29th pick instead of trading back and potentially snagging both Huestis and Semaj Christon in the 2nd Round. Because of this head-scratching decision, Huestis's contract is guaranteed. So, Presti decided to waste a 1st Round pick and the Thunder's precious little dinero on a player who will essentially be the 15th man. That's... weird. The only thing weirder would be if the Thunder had a project--I mean "player" like Huestis with a similarly limited skillset already on their roster. Uh. Well. Hmm. To borrow the unofficial motto from my buddy's bachelor party weekend: "Let's get weird!" However, the Bro Code won't allow me to elaborate on this any further.
Seriously though, if Huestis came face to face with his basketball-clone Andre Roberson, the encounter could create a time paradox that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe!
If you're keeping score at home, that's my second "Back to the Future" reference in my last two columns. Also, I know Roberson and Huestis played together in Summer League this year. But I'm not convinced that their encounter wasn't a fluke.
The Thunder lost a handful of integral players from last year's rotation: Tuff Juice joined the Bad Boys - which might be the best thing I've ever written. Thabo Sefolosha joined the Hollywood Hawks--I mean "Atlanta" Hawks (the ATL produces way more movies than LA these days because of tax incentives). Derek Fisher had a procedure to surgically implant Phil Jackson's arm elbow-deep up his... Sorry. That was mean. I love me some D. Fish. What I meant to say was: Derek Fisher is the new
puppet "coach" of Phil Jackson's New York Knicks. And lastly, Kendrick Perkins finally got amnestied.
My bad. I know the Perkins/amnesty thing is a sore subject with most Thunder fans. If you can forgive me, let's keep going because there are some important questions that need to be answered. Such as...
How will next season's starting lineup shake out? What is the 2nd Unit's main rotation?
First, let's take a gander at the available personnel. In alphabetical order, here's the Thunder's backcourt depth chart: Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson, Sebastian Telfair, Russell Westbrook. That's 6 players.
The frontcourt depth chart (in alphabetical order): Steven Adams, Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Grant Jerrett, Perry Jones, Mitch McGary, Kendrick Perkins. That's 8 players.
6 + 8 = 15
Wait. No it doesn't. Hey, if I would've been good at math do you really think I would've moved to Los Angeles to become a rock star? I mean, yeah, I probably would have. But whatever. How did I screw up the numbers? Who did I forget?
Then who's left...?
Oh. Right. Josh Huestis. I forgot about him again.
That's enough ragging on the Huestis pick for one day. But it appears the Thunder would prefer to have the rookie from Stanford ride the pine instead of the NBA's tallest cheerleader, aka Hasheem Thabeet. Or... not.
BREAKING NEWS: the Thunder apparently had a groundbreaking move up their sleeve all along that will make Huestis the FIRST EVER domestic draft-and-stash player. Click HERE for the deets.
Well, it looks like Presti outsmarted us all again. Or... not. At this rate, we probably won't know if Huestis is a good player for about 5 years. Either way, I love the forward-thinking by the Thunder organization. Still not sure I love drafting Roberson's basketball-twin. I'm serious, keep him and Huestis away from each other.
Back to the Thunder's lineup: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka are obviously starting, but with Thabo long gone and the emergence of Steven Adams, there could potentially be two spots up for grabs. So let's first take a look at what seems to be the Thunder's "likely" starting lineup next season...
In the voice of Mr. Horse from "The Ren & Stimpy Show": No, sir, I don't like it.
To be clear: the Thunder has had a lot of success with a similar lineup. But Roberson is Thabo lite. I mean, he can't shoot at all. This dude's shot is "brown paper bag" ugly. In other words: he's a 3-and-D player without the 3. And it's hard to imagine him ever developing a reliable 3-pointer - unless Shawn Marion teaches Andre how to make his fugly shooting motion work somehow.
In my first Loud City column, I made a big stink about the Thunder being the ONLY team that consistently starts two players with a combined scoring average of less than 10 points a game. I'm now calling this strategy the "Thabo Rule" and I'm outlawing it (in my dreams) because it makes Durant and Westbrook have to work way too hard on the offensive end. This problem remains hidden during the regular season, but in the playoffs? Yikes. It also makes the Thunder's offense EVEN MORE predictable (in case you didn't know, the "all caps" was a jab at Scott Brooks).
Here's the thing: I fully expect Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka to comeback better next season. They always do. But Roberson is a counterfeit Thabo Sefolosha, and Perkins will be 365 days less athletic than he was at the start of the 2013-14 season. It feels like the "bad" outweighs the "good" in this scenario. In fact, it feels like the Thunder's starting 5 has taken a step backwards. This is no bueno.
For the record: I would've been just fine with this lineup...
But that ain't happenin'. So let's examine the lineup that most Thunder fans want to see...
Hold on. Before everyone gets too excited, think about the atrocious 2nd Unit this creates...
Telfair/Lamb or Jones or Roberson/Morrow/Collison/Perkins
You may as well rename this team the 2012-13 Trailblazers, i.e., a stellar starting 5 with a weak-ass bench. And if you remember correctly, they didn't make the Playoffs and they almost lost LaMarcus Aldridge in the process. No thanks.
Sure, there are pros and cons to Jackson in the starting lineup. But if the Thunder had any intention of starting him then you'd think they would've spent the "Morrow money" on someone like Jameer Nelson or Shaun Livingston instead. The signing of Sebastian Telfair reeks of 3rd string point guard - not of primary backup PG.
Jackson is the backup PG/6th Man again. It's just all there is to it, so let's move on to the Thunder fans' 2nd favorite lineup...
I don't hate it. But again, I do hate the 2nd Unit...
Jackson/Jones or Roberson/Morrow/Collison/Perkins
I've gone on record saying that a small-market team like the Thunder can't afford a $9 million dollar backup center. And they still can't. But unfortunately, there is no combination of the 2nd Unit that works with Perkins in it.
My proposed solution to this dilemma? Skip the next couple paragraphs if you read my previous column cuz I'ma ‘bout to brutally beat a dead horse. My starting 5 would've been...
And the 2nd Unit would've been...
Jackson/Lamb or Jones/Morrow/McGary/Collison
You swap Afflalo for Perk's expiring contract and the 21st pick (the Thunder could've still gotten McGary at 29). Or... screw it! Give the Magic Perk's expiring, Jeremy Lamb, and the 29th pick. Then your 2nd Unit is...
Jackson/Jones or Roberson/Morrow/McGary/Collison
The new and improved starting 5 would've been good enough to make this 2nd unit serviceable. Right? Or did I just create another 2012-13 Blazers scenario?
In summation: Perkins in the 2nd unit feels like a disaster. Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka are usually able to compensate for Perk's offensive ineptitude, but that's asking too much out of Jackson, Lamb, and Collison. So, for the rest of this column I'm begrudgingly keeping Perkins as the starting center.
You know what means, right? It means the Ivory Towers (Collison and Adams) are back in action this coming season! Doesn't that sound like a WWF tag team from the 1980's?! Nick "The Last Sonic" Collison and "Stone Cold" Steven Adams ... The Ivory Towers! Their backstory: Nick competed in the Intercontinental division for years before he teamed up with the big Kiwi upstart - who dresses like Crocodile Dundee (Vince McMahon does not concern himself with little things like the differences between Aussies and Kiwis). Of course, Nick starts to inexplicably speak with a Kiwi accent. Then they win the Tag Team belts from the Hart Foundation. And then... Nick and Adams add Mitch "The Weed" McGary to the Ivory Towers, just like how Ax and Smash added Crush to Demolition.
Okay, I'm done. But since you'll never get however-long-it-took-you-to-read-the-above-paragraph of your life back, let's go ahead and discuss the Big White Dudes off the bench...
Nick Collison - He saw a decrease in usage as the season went on last year, but he had arthroscopic knee surgery just weeks after OKC was eliminated by the Spurs, so how healthy was he? Either way, he's still a tough and skilled role player with a high basketball IQ.
Steven Adams - Regardless whether he starts or comes off the bench again, Adams should get a lot more minutes next season. Also, according to Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK, Adams has been working on his low-post game, and he even showed an improved hook shot in Summer League. All very exciting stuff.
Mitch McGary - Speaking of Summer League, I was pleasantly surprised how well McGary played after missing most of his Sophomore year due to back surgery (and getting blazed too much). McGary might even steal a few minutes from Collison as the season goes on. Personally, I don't mind this one bit because it gets McGary much-needed experience while preserving Collison for the Playoffs.
Credit: Anthony Slater from NewsOK with the "Stone Cold" Steven Adams nickname.
Back to lineup stuff: since Perkins is starting again that removes Roberson from further "A-team" contention because of the Thabo Rule. Taking that into consideration, that only leaves three options for the starting shooting guard spot...
Is it crazy to have both of your Wing Players around 6'11"? Maybe. It probably isn't ideal when Jones gets switched onto the little fast guys like Ty Lawson or Eric Bledsoe, but Jones is such a freak athlete he might be able to hold his own. Jones also had a couple good games in Summer League and his 3-point shot continues to improve. But... I don't know. There's just something that doesn't feel right about Perry being in the starting lineup next season. And I'm gonna go with my gut on this one.
Bench: Jackson/Jones or Roberson/Morrow/Collison/Adams
I kinda like it. If Lamb has taken a step defensively, even a tiny one, then I like it more. Unfortunately, there was no evidence from the Summer League to substantiate this, but then again, it is the Summer League. Fortunately, Lamb has never lacked effort on the defensive end, so if he keeps working at it then he has more than enough God-given athleticism to be a solid defender someday. Just not next season. That being said, the true deciding factor on this lineup's effectiveness doesn't come down to Lamb, it comes down to the two superstars. My main criticism of Durant and Westbrook is that they need to play defense more consistently. Westbrook could be an elite defender if he put his mind to it. And KD could be pretty close to elite as well. My point: KD and Russ have the ability to make this lineup work, because those two combined with Serge who has become a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and Perkins who is a low-post specialist, should be able to hide Lamb on defense most of the time.
The main thing I don't like about this lineup is that it leaves Jackson as the only B-teamer that can create his own shot and get to the basket. And that's a deal-breaker for me. Jackson isn't Carmelo Anthony, so using the Knicks's offensive strategy of "just throw the ball to Melo and let him figure it out" isn't gonna work for the Thunder's 2nd Unit.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my starting shooting guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder: Mr. Anthony Morrow. Settle down, I'm not giving him the "Mister" title to embellish my top choice. That's actually his Twitter handle: @MrAnthonyMorrow.
Speaking of Twitter... man, I finally signed up two weeks ago. I just figured I should share my occasional nuggets of B-Ball commentary with the Information Superhighway, rather than just my dad. The only problem: I have no idea how to use Twitter. Honestly, I can't even follow a conversation on it. It's pathetic. And yes, I know I'm about 7 years too late to "tweeting." And no, I don't still use MySpace. In conclusion: it might be worth "following me" just so you can watch as I fumble my way through learning how to use it: @tan_bean.
And thus ends the shameless self-promotion section of the column.
Bench: Jackson/Lamb/Jones or Roberson/Collison/Adams
I know most people expect Morrow to step in and basically get Derek Fisher/Daequan Cook's minutes, but I really think he should start. And here's why...
He's a veteran in his prime that has the ability to space the floor for KD and Russ better than anyone in the Thunder's 6-year history. But what about defensively? Scotty Brooks loves him some defense. Look, Morrow is nowhere near being a defensive stopper, but he's not any worse than Lamb on that end. Again, if KD and Russ step it up just a little bit this year then Morrow won't be a liability. Most importantly, this keeps Jackson and Lamb - two playmakers who can get their own shot - coming off the bench.
And just think... we're only a few months away from the 2014-15 season, which means we're only a few months away from finding out how wrong I am about all of this.