The season is upon us, so let's take a look back at the Thunder's off-season highlights.
Fastest Growing Credit Line
We're about a month away from the Oct. 31 deadline that decides whether or not Reggie Jackson will become a restricted free agent next summer. Obviously, in a perfect world, the Thunder and Jackson would find a common middle ground to satisfy Jackson without crippling the payroll and agree on an extension before things get that far. However, with Eric Bledsoe signing quite the lucrative offer from Phoenix on Wednesday, that's looking more and more unlikely.
It's hard to blame Jackson for wanting to at least test the market, especially given how much Bledsoe earned after going through a similar process. Of course, the big difference with Jackson is that he is on a perennial title contender, one with a lot of money tied up in its star-studded starting five, without nearly as much wiggle room for what will, for all intents and purposes, be a sixth man for the duration of the new contract.
And while the conversation is rightly centering on the financial terms, that last part may end up being the key to the entire process. Unlike in the James Harden scenario, when the starting shooting guard spot could have obviously been handed over, Jackson would have to accept his role as being sixth man for as long as Westbrook is on the team and healthy - which, ideally, would be for at least the duration of a new deal. Jackson has not been shy about saying that he wants a starting role, and while the Thunder played well enough in the postseason playing Jackson at the 2-spot, it wasn't a perfect match and may not be the ideal formula for championship basketball.
Restricted free agency is looking more and more likely, and the irony of it is that the more Jackson contributes in a potential championship run, the harder it will be to maintain him once other teams get the chance to make him offers.
Jackson holds all of the cards, and pretty soon, he might be holding all of the money.
One of the problems with the "Thunder Way" (if you will) is that it fosters a culture of incredibly professional, humble young men. I say that's a problem because while it's obviously a great thing when you're talking about winning championships, it's not so much when you just want to laugh at a guy.
Jeremy Lamb's Instagram is the casual Friday for an increasingly business-oriented Thunder organization. In a summer that seemed so focused on Kevin Durant's brand, Russell Westbrook's sartorial endeavors, Serge Ibaka's global crusade against world hunger (ok, that's actually really awesome), heck, even Perry Jones - usually goofy in his own right - took to posting more videos of him actually working on basketball skills (yawn), Lamb's Instagram stayed playful.
The point is that Jeremy Lamb is a giant goofball, and even though it could end up being a major issue in how he handles the role of being a major piece to a championship puzzle, it sure makes the offseason a lot more bearable.
The particular one I wanted to reference shattered records in my own home for most-watched video of all time. It's since been deleted for what I'm assuming the Thunder police deemed "too much fun," but just know it involved Jeremy Lamb meeting a coyote, which he pronounced "kai-oh-tuh."
Never stop being you, Jeremy.
Keep Doing You Award
I know I just said "never stop being you" to Jeremy Lamb, and he may now be confused why he isn't receiving this award, but it's because his boss is even better at just staying his lane and not caring in the least what you or I think. And you know what? He shouldn't! Bash the Harden trade, call his bosses cheap, say he's a cheater for finding loopholes in the D-League, just don't say that Sam Presti hasn't built a championship team.
This summer came and went the same way pretty much every summer has come and gone in Oklahoma City. The season ended with the Thunder looking to be one step behind on the championship formula. Only, instead of going out and making some drastic move, Presti bided his time, threw out a couple feelers to see what sort of options he had, and ultimately settled on bringing in just one guy in free agency - Anthony Morrow.
After the initial joy that the Thunder finally signed someone subsided, the typical backlash then followed. Guys like Bill Simmons (note: it's almost ALWAYS Bill Simmons) went on to say things along the lines of: You were a game away from the Finals and your solution is Anthony Morrow?!
Look, I live 1,318 miles away from the Chesapeake Energy Arena, so I feel like I have a pretty decent gauge on the outsider's perspective, and I get where guys like Simmons are coming from in having those feelings. I also understand that the RINGZZZ crowd will never give the Thunder their due credit until they get, well, a ring.
Still, the Thunder have been held to an impossibly high standard given the fact that they have two of the three or four best players in basketball on their team. Consider then that Dwyane Wade and Lebron James proved that being super talented can indeed result in championships, and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant's failure to win one thus far seems like a giant letdown.
Nevertheless, how many GMs would have pressed the panic button and made a big, headline-grabbing move, only to have it blow up in their face and jeopardize the entire franchise? It happens every year, and it's why so many GMs lose their jobs. Meanwhile, Presti's model of sustained success has resulted in just that. Simply by standing by and settling on just Anthony Morrow - the one that's been to the Conference Finals three times in four years and was a Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka injury away from likely achieving even more - he's kept the championship core intact, and enters the 2014-15 season with a favorite to win an NBA title once again
While Jeremy keeps Instagramming, you can keep hanging up the phones, Sam, and keep doing you. The Thunder's title chances depend on it.
I don't know if we'll look back in 10 years and talk about that time the Thunder almost landed Pau Gasol for 10 cents on the dollar or not. It was a pipe dream from the start, and yet just enough information kept getting leaked to make you think it may happen after all.
To pretend Gasol wouldn't have helped is naïve, but it's also important to maintain that perspective that it was a pipe dream from the start. You're talking about one of the best centers of this decade, one that could score and rebound better than anyone that's ever worn a Thunder uniform especially. Getting him would have been a major steal.
At the end of the day, Presti and the Thunder only had so much to work with. Could they have worked something out to make the salaries work? Yeah, and it probably would have involved dumping Kendrick Perkins, something Thunder fans would probably rejoice over. That, again, is a major risk, and it assumes the talks ever got that far.
We'll probably never know how close Gasol was to actually wearing a Thunder jersey, but not having him doesn't change the fact that, again, the Thunder are still a championship contender.
Let us just consider ourselves sooooo lucky he didn't sign with the Spurs, though. Man.
I stole this award from the Down to Dunk crew. In listening to their days-long preview podcast (great work, guys!) they were talking about Durant's offseason by calling it "weird." It was refreshing to hear because I had been feeling the same way about it, but wasn't totally sure if I was alone and overreacting.
Let's go over the big things:
1) Lebron James decides on a Cleveland homecoming, leading to nonstop 2016 speculation because it's 2014 and we have Twitter and podcasts and everyone just wants to talk about what could happen. Durant wisely defers any questions about it, which is good. As I've said before, 2016 is so far away that there's no way he has any idea what he wants to do and it's stupid to even guess when he doesn't even know himself. OK, cool.
2) Under Armour emerges as potential new sponsor for KD, with his Nike contract set to expire. This comes on the heels of a bunch of cool Nike ads showcasing his KD VII's, including a campaign designed to show the Slim Reaper side of KD, calling him the BADD35T. It means a lot of touring for Nike, while simultaneously being courted by Under Armour.
Oh hey, Under Armour's headquarters are in Maryland, which is where KD is from! ALL SIGNS POINT TO HOMECOMING!
Also leaning in Under Armour's favor? The $300 million they reportedly offered KD to make the switch.
3) Meanwhile, with all of this going on, Durant is playing with Team USA and preparing for the FIBA World Cup. In a scrimmage in Las Vegas, Durant watches Paul George literally snap his leg in half. He claims George's injury doesn't have an impact on the decision, but regardless, he pulls out of the competition shortly thereafter, citing mental exhaustion.
It was all actually totally understandable. No one had played more minutes over the past five seasons, not to mention all of the pickup games, the Olympics, the Nike tours... the guy had been a basketball machine basically ever since he became a star. It was hard to blame him for wanting a month or two to just relax and get away from all of it for a little bit.
4) Then, Nike matches Under Armour's offer and KD is all set to remain a Nike man for life.
5) To further expand his brand, Durant signs an endorsement deal with Orange Leaf frozen yogurt, an Oklahoma City-based frozen yogurt chain that offered Durant equity in the company.
That more or less brings us to today.
I mean, was he just trolling every at this point? Like, hey, I'm gonna sign with an obscure OKC brand just to throw them off the whole Maryland scent?
Those are just the highlights, too. There were also the random assistants with vague ties to KD signing with the Wizards, Drake recruiting him to Toronto, Derek Fisher saying some stuff, and probably other things I'm forgetting.
Through all of it, the attention seems to have shifted from Kevin Durant the basketball player to Kevin Durant the brand. Maybe that's what he wanted all along. It's no secret that Lebron James is as savvy a businessman as he is a basketball player, and maybe KD started thinking about setting himself up for the bigger picture as well.
You hear it all the time, how today's athlete is different than the ones even from 10 years ago. How you sell yourself is a major part of being a superstar, and Durant seems as aware of that as anyone.
I keep going back to the best part of last season, and maybe my favorite sports moment ever, was Kevin Durant's MVP speech. We haven't seen such a transparent, heartfelt display of emotion from a major public figure maybe ever. Further, we have no reason to think he won't come out just as great, if not even better, when it comes time to lace them up this season.
Still, the more he tweets out pictures eating his Kind Bar, or drinking his Sparkling Ice, the more it feels like we are seeing the transformation of Kevin Durant the humble superstar into Kevin Durant the branded athlete.
Another weird part about KD's summer is that Russell Westbrook did a lot of the same stuff: He pulled out of the FIBA World Cup - except to rest his knee, rather than his mind - and went on a summer-long tour to promote his own brand. Only for some reason, Westbrook's summer came across as totally awesome and cool, and not weird at all.
Westbrook's Barney's line is crazy, outrageous, and almost definitely out of your price range. Westbrook's frames, though more affordable, are equally outlandish. They are also totally and completely Russ, aren't they?
The coolest part about Russell Westbrook isn't the fact that he can wear velvet loafers, capri pants, patterned, not-properly-sized shirts and funky glasses, all while being a freak athlete that can drop a triple-double on any given night. The coolest part is that he knows you think he's weird, and he does it anyway.
Westbrook's entire career has consisted on people trying to put him in a box. Out of college, he was supposed to be a shooting guard. Even upon entering the NBA, he was supposed to shoot less and play point guard the way that point guards have always played. Those ideas, no matter how antiquated, still persist today.
That's what makes his fashion statements so cool. They don't make sense. A lot of times they aren't cool at all. Damn if he doesn't sell them, though.
On top of that, Westbrook proposed to his longtime girlfriend. That's not much beyond just a neat story to follow, at least on its surface. There's something cool, though, about the fact that, throughout his rise to superstardom, where he went from a fringe prospect to a bona fide celebrity with a Barney's line, that he didn't sell out those closest to him.
There's certain stereotypes that go along with so many famous people, and Westbrook's high-profile fashionista lifestyle, coupled with his humble home life, shattered all of them.
Whether it was his trips to Fashion Week, his humble marriage proposal, or the fact that he did it on the heels of one the most historic postseasons we've ever seen from a point guard, Russell Westbrook wins the offseason.