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Assessing the Thunder’s summer priorities in 2016

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Heading into the summer of Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder face the biggest offseason in the history of their franchise.

If all goes well this summer, the Thunder's 2017 season looks very good.
If all goes well this summer, the Thunder's 2017 season looks very good.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to move on from the pain of the postseason. While some might not be ready, enough time has now passed between the Oklahoma City Thunder’s elimination from the 2016 NBA Playoffs and what looks to be the inevitable crowning of the Warriors as 2-time defending champs to starting moving on to perhaps the most challenging summer in the history of the franchise. In other words, it is the Summer of Kevin Durant.

Whilst many within the city and organization feel strongly, it will be around four weeks before anyone truly knows what will take place. Meanwhile, Sam Presti sat down with the media recently to give his exit interview to the media. Presti covered all angles in typically elaborate and eloquent fashion, and now can focus on tasks ahead.

Where should his energies be focused though? Here is the team checklist, in part inspired by Anthony Slater at The Olkahoman.

1. Keeping KD In OKC

The undisputed number one priority, and one the entire balance of the franchise rests upon. It’s very likely Durant spends at least another year in Oklahoma City. The majority of the season the chatter around Durant had been the star forward signing a two year deal, with a player option he’d almost use in twelve months' time.

There are financial reasons for doing this of course, which are:

  • Leave for another team: 4 years, $110.9 million
  • Long term OKC deal this summer: 5 years, $150.2 million
  • Long term OKC deal next summer: 5 years, $208.1 million

It’s not difficult to see the motivation to sign short term and do this all again next year. However, Durant is not your normal athlete. Whilst LeBron James was making "the Decision" years ago, Durant was quietly tweeting his five year extension (without a player option) on social media.

Whilst KD has changed in the last five years, that’s who the franchise’s greatest ever player is. He may take meetings to examine his options, but his teammates remain confident that there is no better place for him. Perhaps Serge Ibaka said it best:

"Where he going to go? Tell me. After what we did in the playoffs this year, where? If he gonna go somewhere, where?"

Presti believes he has made his case over the last nine seasons. On July 1st and beyond, we’ll find out whether he was right. Make no mistake though, this decision stands head and shoulders above the rest.

2. Stay With What Works?

Billy Donovan may have struck gold in the postseason when his experimenting finally paid off. After a somewhat rocky start in the Dallas Mavericks series, the San Antonio Spurs blew out the Thunder in game one to cause serious concern about their ability as a contender.

Oklahoma City turned it around though, and the rest is history. Despite their heartbreak in the end, the Thunder were sensational and incredibly versatile, going big against the Spurs and beating them up inside, then going small against the Warriors and still beating them up all over the place. It was a joy to watch.

However, there are still tweaks that potentially need to be made. Outside shooting regressed to the regular season standard in the final three games against the Warriors, and they need more help on the outside. Does that mean finding a deal for Enes Kanter that returns a wing player? Perhaps it’s worth considering.

These are questions Sam Presti will be asking himself heading into the summer. Can he pull something huge off in the trade market?

3. What To Do With Dion?

The Waiters conundrum wasn't expected to be such a high priority, but the Playoffs changed all of that. Waiters' hounding on-ball defense, showing himself capable of guarding both scoring guards (Klay Thompson) and post players (LaMarcus Aldridge) was a feature of the Thunder's improved defense in the post-season. He is still a streaky shooter, but in the playoffs, Waiters hit 38 percent of his threes including 40 percent against the Mavericks and 44 percent against the Spurs.

Whilst he struggled alongside most of the role players in the Thunder's final three losses to the Warriors, his performances through the most important part of Oklahoma City's season guaranteed he will be handsomely rewarded this summer with free agency looming.

The question now is deciding what Waiters is worth, and more specifically what he is worth to the Thunder. Presti is not one to overpay (now there's Enes Kanter but consider losing him for nothing before you do), and it's doubtful he will be drawn into doing the same for Waiters. However he has stated his affection for his new home, which could have an impact:

Now we will see whether the millions available this summer can tempt him away, or whether the Thunder can make him stay. At the right price, which is hopefully around $12-13 million they should do just that.

4. Will A-Mo Stay?

Anthony Morrow's career in Oklahoma City has never quite taken off. Despite mastering his quick release three and performing some impressive celebrations after hitting them, he hasn't been able to carve out a vital role on the court.

Morrow is on a bargain contract for a role player with an elite skill, earning $3.5 million next season. The only condition on that last year of his deal is that it's non-guaranteed. The Thunder have until the 15th of July to waive him or it becomes fully guaranteed.

That's very unlikely to happen, and it shouldn't either. The journeyman is a terrific glue guy, teammate, and is loved by the team, particularly the likes of Kevin Durant. There seems very little reason to waive him at this point, especially because he is a solution to a big Thunder problem (see point #2).

5. Is It Extension Time?

Steven Adams and Andre Roberson are heading for restricted free agency next summer. Their value to the team has always been a given of course, but their respectively amazing postseasons have changed their value.

Adams was the breakout star of the Playoffs, and his agent will be rubbing his hands with glee heading into negotiations. He was effective in every series, and seemed to get better as the Playoffs progressed:

  • First Round (Mavericks): 27.6mpg, 9.2ppg, 62 percent shooting, 7.6rpg, 0.6bpg.
  • Semi Finals (Spurs): 35.8mpg, 11.0ppg, 70 percent shooting, 11.8rpg, 1.0bpg.
  • Conference Finals (Warriors): 28.5mpg, 10.0ppg, 53 percent shooting, 8.9rpg, 0.7bpg.

Adams was so good he drew the praise of national analysts, as he and Enes Kanter beat up the Spurs and sent them home in the second round. Match-ups dictated that he played less against the Warriors, but his defensive impact for the Thunder means they can easily survive when Serge Ibaka sits.

Like Adams, Roberson's coming out party came in the Thunder's biggest games of the season against the Spurs and Warriors. In the closing game against the Spurs and through the entire Warriors series, Roberson averaged 9.6ppg, 7.4rpg, 1.1apg, 1.4spg, 1.3bpg.

More importantly, Billy Donovan carved out an important offensive role and placed confidence in Roberson to perform it. Slashing, cutting, screening and taking open shots made for him, he shot 53 percent overall and 48 percent from three on 2.9 attempts per game.

If he can sustain anything close to that going forward, the Thunder's future at shooting guard looks incredibly promising. It would not be surprising at all to see Presti commence negotiations and tie both players up early, now it remains to be seen what price it will take to do so.

6. Can They Convince Albrines?

Don't recognize the name? Alex Albrines is the recent Euroleague Rising Star, and some other names of winners include Rudy Fernández, Danilo Gallinari, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Mirotić. The Thunder own the rights to him, but he's been hesitant (like Rubio was) to make the switch to the NBA.

The Spaniard also reportedly has a high buyout with his Spanish employers at Barcelona and the fact he's seemingly not keen on moving anytime soon, it's not likely he comes over next season. He's a 42 percent three point shooter and could add some badly needed perimeter shooting. Can the lure of an NBA title convince him to make the jump?

7. Does Sam Presti Trade Into The Draft?

Sam Presti is really good at the NBA Draft. He loves it, and has made sensational picks over the years. Sure there have been a few horrible choices, but for every bad choice there's been a very good one.

The Thunder don't have a heap of assets though, and any that are of value should not be traded just to gain a draft pick. Oklahoma City are in win now mode, and it's unlikely they'll pick up a player ready to contribute.

For the first time since their relocation, the Thunder won't be making any picks come June 23rd.

8. Continue Development Focus

One of the Thunder's best assets is their ability to improve their own homegrown players. They've built themselves upon solid internal development of young players. In Josh Huestis, Cameron Payne, and Mitch McGary, they have three young players who aren't currently solid parts of the rotation.

However, not only can they be, but they probably should be. Huestis showed flashes in a few sparse minutes late in the season, with potential on both ends of the floor. He has a long way to go though, but fans got excited when they saw things like this:

Payne meanwhile is expected to eventually fill the role Randy Foye is currently filling, and will be expected to do so next season. His development must be defensively, as that end of the court has kept him off the floor in key games. He performs superb dances pregame, but he has an important offseason of work ahead of him.

The fun loving McGary has superb potential, and demonstrated that late in 2014-15 when playing regular rotation minutes. His health and focus are concerns, as well as his ability to interpret defensive schemes and instructions. If salary cap concerns in the future force them to trade Enes Kanter, could McGary fill that void? It's certainly possible.

What an incredibly huge summer the franchise faces. Whilst Kevin Durant defines the summer, beyond him there are many potential questions and reasons for optimism. That is a long way away of course but if all goes well, the Thunder will feel exceptionally good about their title chances in 2017.