Now that Josh Huestis has signed his long-awaited rookie contract the Oklahoma City Thunder roster appears set. A few familiar names like Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, and Reggie Jackson are gone and the team is going into the 2015-16 season with a partially reworked rotation and some big questions that have lowered the expectations of some writers, including ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton. In his recent post on the top teams in the Western Conference, the Thunder have dropped from "Tier 1" contenders to "Tier 2" hopefuls:
After injuries spoiled the Thunder's 2014-15 campaign, they should be back near the top of the Western Conference this season. The question is whether Oklahoma City's supporting cast is strong enough to support a healthy group of stars. The Thunder are short on two-way role players, with newcomers Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters failing to qualify because of their shortcomings in defense and efficient scoring, respectively.
The defending champion Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs sit atop Pelton's list. The Warriors return 98% of their playoff roster minutes and the Spurs add highly recruited Lamarcus Aldridge to a talented, yet aging, lineup commanded by arguably the best coach in the NBA, Gregg Popovich.
Welcome to Loud City's J.A. Sherman and I had a brief chat about Pelton's comments and I thought I would share them with our readers:
I think Pelton's argument is weak. He's basically saying that OKC has too many 1-way bench players. I mean, that's kind of why they're bench players, right?
Personally, if I had to rank the Thunder today, I would not put them in the top-tier at this point. In my opinion, there are too many unknowns now to move them ahead of any team Pelton placed above them but he is completely ignoring the elephant in the room, Billy Donovan.Obviously, expectations are high, but there is no way to know how successfully Billy D transitions to the pros until the Thunder take the court. The odds would seem to be in Billy D's favor, but any time a team goes into a season with a new coach there are questions. For example, can he motivate Kanter to work on his defense and get Waiters to make better decisions? How will the Thunder's core of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka respond to a different voice running the team? Remember, Donovan isn't the only member of the staff changing roles. Monty Williams has been running his own show for five years and Mo Cheeks has never taken a backseat to a college coach.
I think you're on point. It's not that I don't think they go into the season as the third best (although one could argue whether SA deserves to be in the top tier), but the rationale for it. The discussion in my mind is:1) KD's foot2) Donovan's ability to hit the ground runningIf KD is good, Russ falls into place, and if that happens, so do all the other pieces, I think. It then becomes a question of Donovan maximizing the talent that he has.
Durant's foot is one area I feel pretty good about. From everything I have read on the subject, KD has better than a 92% chance for a full recovery. For one thing, the timing of his latest surgery could not have been better. Although the announcement that he would need a bone graft to stimulate healing of the Jones Fracture he sustained in October could not have come at a worse time for his team, the extended off-season healing period was just what the doctor ordered. Secondly, I understand Mama Durant was at KD's side during the early recovery process making sure he was a good boy.... or else! What would we do without our Moms?One of Donovan's first challenges is earning his team's trust. Coming out of the college ranks, working with a new staff, and attempting to mesh new faces into an established core offer Donovan more than his fair share of hurdles but I think Pelton's post and those that will follow will work in Donovan's favor. In fact, if I were Billy Donovan, I would make sure they did.
"Here's what I think, when you're in a highly competitive situation, you hear the word commitment used. Ok? And I just believe this in my heart to be true.There's three types of commitment.The first commitment is a verbal commitment, someone says they're going to do something. Well anyone can, that's the easiest commitment.The next commitment is a physical commitment, you know? When you're physically committed to doing something.And then the third commitment is an emotional commitment and that's when you actually give of yourself to somebody else. That you are actually emotionally connected to somebody else and emotionally take responsibility to help others...to help somebody else develop and grow."- Billy Donovan, head coach, Oklahoma City Thunder
"I think I know my teammates, but getting to know them deeper, just knowing how to talk to guys and not looking at just the bad and try to focus on the good of everything from everybody. Just getting to know every single guy.
"I don’t think I did a great job of that so far since I’ve been in the league. I thought I did. But looking at myself, I can be a better teammate, a better friend to my teammates. And I learned that.
"That’s why I look at this last year as a blessing in disguise. I learned a lot about myself and about my team that I can help. I know it’s going to be ups and downs. I know I’m going to have my good and bad days. But I just try to limit the bad ones and try to be the best teammate and person I can be."
While writing this post I took a break and watched a movie called "The Good Lie". The story is about some kids orphaned by civil war in Sudan. Working together, they traveled on foot over a thousand miles to reach safety and eventually came to America as part of a program started by the US Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
On their way to the refugee camp, one boy, Theo, is captured by soldiers when he sacrificed his freedom so that his brothers and sister would be safe. Years later, when the survivors learn that Theo is alive, his brother Mamere returns and tries to bring Theo to America. When he fails to get any embassy to grant Theo a visa, Mamere gives his airline ticket and travel papers to his sick brother. When Theo protests that his gesture is a lie, Mamere tells him that he is repaying Theo for the personal sacrifice he made for him and his brothers and that it was a "good lie".
While the quest for a NBA championship pales when compared to a desperate thousand mile trek for survival the concept of a group or team achieving more than an individual is something every coach works very hard to instill in his/her players.
We have all heard the clichés about teamwork such as; together we stand, divided we fall, a house divided cannot stand, and of course, there is no 'I' in team. I have always liked this one, True... there is no "I" in team, but there is a "U" in suck.
The problem is those sayings are all tired. Donovan wants to bring something fresh and I believe he is succeeding. If KD's Orlando comments aren't a perfect example of Billy Donovan's emotional and most important level of commitment, I don't know what is and if the goal is to get as many players as possible on board, what better place to start than the face of the franchise?
With all due respect Kevin Pelton, my mind tells me you're right, but my heart says the Thunder is going to win it all.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
- African Proverb quoted at the end of "A Good Lie"