It's time for Welcome to Loud City's annual contribution to SB Nation's NBA Blogger Previews series! As usual, we've brought in a few different writers to answer the questions.
Team Name: Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Year's Record: 45-37
Key Losses: Perry Jones III, Jeremy Lamb, Coach Scott Brooks
Key Additions: Cameron Payne, Josh Huestis, Coach Billy Donovan
1. What significant moves were made this off-season?
Marina Mangiaracina: Most of the Thunder's moves came during last year's regular season, after a slew of injuries had devastated the team. All that really happened in the off-season was a couple of re-signings and a couple of goodbyes. Enes Kanter signed a 4 year $70 million deal with the Thunder, after OKC matched an offer from Portland. Kyle Singler also signed with the Thunder, on a much less glamorous 5 year, $25 million contract. Both Kanter and Singler figure to log significant minutes for OKC next season. On the goodbye front, both Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb were sent packing to Boston and Charlotte, respectively. In return for the trades, the Thunder received two second round picks and got to cut Luke Ridnour.
Additionally, the Thunder were able to pick up a couple of prospects for the future. The bigger name is Cameron Payne, the 14th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Payne figures to be a dynamic scoring point guard. The smaller name is Josh Huestis, whom was drafted 29th in 2014. Huestis is a defense-first wing that spent last year with the Oklahoma City Blue.
2. What are the Thunder's biggest strengths?
Marina: Offense, straight up. The Thunder can realistically roll out a lineup of Westbrook-Morrow-Durant-Ibaka-Kanter. That's insane! No lineup in the NBA can compete with that amount of firepower. And that's forgetting the offensive weapons of Waiters and McGary, whom are capable of scoring over 10 points per game as well. If the Thunder can find out how to share the ball amongst their scorers while playing at least passable defense, they're a lock for one of the West's top seeds.
R.K. Anthony: The obvious, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the length of time they have been together. Tthat is formidable. Another strength is a deeper bench with more experience. As devastating as the injuries were last season, it gave players like Dion Waiters and Anthony Morrow more meaningful minutes than they would have gotten otherwise and gives the Thunder an opportunity to be more flexible than they have been in the past. Finally, the maturity of Russell Westbrook. He has absolute proof he cannot do it alone. The game that stands out that most clearly makes the point was the late season loss to Indiana. Westbrook could not have performed much better than he did that night and it wasn't enough. No one on this planet is happier to see Kevin Durant back on the court than Russell Westbrook, it is going to be a fun year.
Justin Danziger: Chemistry. The core of this team has been together since 2008, and the chemistry they have built with each other will be OKC's biggest strength this year. The Thunder will also be relying on their star studded lineup and their depth. KD and Westbrook is arguably the most dominant duo in the NBA, that will get them far. But when it comes to playoff time, the amount of depth the Thunder have will be key.
Thomas Zhou: The superstars and their urgency to win big. Russell Westbrook has proven he can do everything on the court. Kevin Durant has fully recovered (at least according to him) after his 27-game season. The dynamic roster has built up enough hype even before the regular season begins. It has been three years since the Thunder made to the Finals and in what could be Durant’s last season in OKC, the Thunder must have amassed huge momentum.
3. What are the Thunder's biggest weaknesses?
Marina: For me, it's OKC's bench. Everyone thinks the bench is strong, but no one knows who's going to handle the ball yet. D.J. Augustin knows how to make smart decisions, and knows how to distribute the ball. But Augustin has been inefficient from the floor as of late. Dion Waiters is certainly an offensive talent, but there are doubts as to whether he can find the right shots. All of OKC's other bench players are going to rely upon ball movement to score, and KD and Westbrook will likely play mostly with starters. So it's going to be up to Augustin and Waiters to keep the bench in the thick of it, and that could hurt OKC in the long run.
R.K.: Two things stand out in my mind. The Enes Kanter question and the Billy Donovan factor. The Kanter question is my biggest concern. Here he goes into another year saying the thing he worked on most during the off-season was his defense. This has become an annual event and at some point you have to say "wolf". Utah did so last year and that is why he is in Oklahoma City. If his defense is still as rotten as it has been throughout his career he will be relegated to strictly a role player and we saw how much he liked that just prior to the February trade. Billy Donovan is a known quantity... at the college level. All the signs point to him making a successful transition to the next level, but the proof will have to come from the results we see on the floor, not the chat rooms.
Justin: It is hard to call this a weakness, but who should start? On one side, you've got the double-double machine Enes Kanter and on the other side is the hard nosed Steven Adams. This all boils down to: can Enes Kanter at least be acceptable on defense, because last year he wasn't. If I were Billy Donovan, I would roll with Steven Adams because I value rim protection over post scoring, especially on a team with two scoring machines.
Thomas: There will be many uncertainties. The transition from college to league is never guaranteed and that applies to both players and coaches. Billy Donovan is hired to bring instant success. His philosophy is expected to revitalize OKC immediately. And that puts a lot of pressure on him. I am also trying not to be too optimistic about Durant’s return. Let’s assume his ability is not discounted. Still, there will be a different system as well as a different Westbrook for him to adapt.
4. What are the goals for the Thunder?
Marina: Win a championship, get KD and Westbrook to commit here long term.
R.K.: I could spend a lot of time and energy going over little things like adjusting to a new system but the truth is that this team has done everything but win a championship. It is time to get that done.
Justin: It certainly isn't to ALMOST win the championship.
Thomas: Keeping Durant in OKC and at least advancing to the Western Conference finals. If a deep playoffs run bid falls short, chances are that Durant will leave the team that drafted him.
5. Answer your own question!
Marina: What separates this Thunder team from Thunder teams of the past?
KD and Westbrook are the leaders now. With the departure of faces like Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher, it's been up to the Thunder's stars to guide the team. Furthermore, the Thunder are much better from beyond the arc than they used to be. Most of the Thunder's big recent acquisition during last season (Waiters, Singler, Augustin, Novak, Kanter, Payne) have decent averages from beyond the arc. During the Thunder's strong playoff runs in 2012 and 2014, their three point percentage was middle of the pack. Certainly, this year's OKC team will rank in the league's top 10.
R.K.: Who should be the Thunder's starting five?
Penciling in Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka every night is a no-brainer. The last 2 spots are another matter entirely. My thoughts about who should take the floor for the opening tip at the other two positions may sound like a cop out, but I have already said one of the Thunder's strengths will be flexibility. Every championship team I can think of has established an identity that carried them all the way and I feel flexibility could be that identity for Oklahoma City. For example, go with Adams when you need a strong defensive anchor or Kanter when an opponent is vulnerable to his offensive skills. The same applies for the SG position. Go with the player that exploits the other team's weaknesses or neutralizes their strengths best.
Justin: Will KD sign with another team?
I am always the one who pushes off this question, but it is a legitimate one. And the answer is no. KD will definitely check out his options but I can't see him moving out of OKC...even if the Thunder don't go anywhere.
Thomas: What can be expected from Cameron Payne?
If he can learn the aggressiveness from Westbrook and the how to run offense in rhythm from D. J. Augustin, he can make an impact on the team even in limited minutes.
Where do you think OKC will end up after this season? Vote in the poll or drop a comment and let us know!