The summer of Kevin Durant has arrived, and nervous times await in Oklahoma City whilst he mulls his options. That's not all that's happening though, as the franchise welcomes new faces to town and says goodbye to mainstays like Serge Ibaka as it seeks to take the final step towards an NBA Title.
Welcome to Loud City has conducted a roundtable with some of it's writers, getting some insight into the month or so ahead and beyond.
1. What's your opinion on Kevin Durant's free agency? How will it play out?
Adam Joseph: it's going to be very frustrating until a decision is made. I can't rule out his departure, though I do feel he will stay. The Thunder offer an exciting young core that's just been upgraded thanks to the trade with Orlando, and Russell Westbrook is the best running mate in basketball. They were so close to the NBA Finals it doesn't make sense to leave now. On every level, staying at least another year seems likely. Don't rule out a long-term deal though.
J.A. Sherman: The 1+1 is the most obvious Occam's Razor, but here is my own personal take. It is difficult to find a compelling reason why Durant would not remain for one more year, which would aggregate all of the things that tend to matter most to superstars: his legacy, his competitiveness, his championship aspirations, and of course his bank account. So why take the meetings when free agency negotiation begins in a few days? My theory - it is not for this year, but for next year. I think this coming year is a foregone conclusion, but what KD wants to know is, if after next season, where his team will be as fully loaded as it could ever be and a clear title contender, win or lose, what is his next move? What team is building a future that he'd like to be a part of, if his era in OKC is over? That's why I think Durant is taking meetings now, to save himself the trouble of doing this all again next summer.
R.K. Anthony: The overall feeling is that OKC is the frontrunner in the KD sweepstakes and I think that is accurate. My gut tells me he does a two year deal with a player option on year two, but I can see where he might be enticed to a max 5 year deal even though there may be more potential money in the two year plan with the salary cap growing. The allure of the long term contract would be putting the free agency thing behind him and then allowing the team to use the extra dollars to retain or add the pieces needed to get him the championship he desires. Michael Jordan did the same thing in his day, Tim Duncan in more modern times, and the real money starts flowing in when a player can negotiate with sponsors with a ring on his finger. Jordan doesn't own the Hornets from money he made on a player's contract.
Brandon Jefferson: I believe that KD will be in OKC for the 2016-17 NBA season. As the year played out the Thunder proved to Durant that they are one of the four elite teams in the NBA (along with Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs). While pitches from the Spurs and Warriors will sound enticing the fact that both teams will have to make their overall roster depth weaker to add KD will be what ultimately keeps Kevin with us. The Thunder have a ready made title contender and Thunder general manager, Sam Presti, has shown that he is going to be proactive in keeping this team competitive and youthful. With the addition of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis the Thunder have gotten both better and younger. Last, but not least, no other team has a Russell Westbrook. And if there's one player will run through a wall to play 82-plus games with its Russ.
2. Grade the Serge Ibaka to Orlando trade from OKC's perspective
Joseph: B+. Losing Ibaka is a huge risk, but gaining Oladipo, Ilyasova and the potential of Sabonis is the best possible outcome. Speaking purely from a Thunder standpoint, the team has to be stoked to get the haul they got. Nobody expected the trade, and nobody expected the Thunder to get that much for Ibaka's last year. Perhaps the Magic weren't aware of his unhappiness, but it's a great deal for Oklahoma City. His flexibility in smaller lineups and rim protection isn't easily replaced though, Serge was one of a kind.
Sherman: I give the move a solid B+. Those who have watched Ibaka over the years are probably less willing to recognize what they see now and are holding onto what once was with the hope that the future finds the past. And haven't the Bulls been in the same boat with Derrick Rose? Ibaka, from 2012-2014, was a true unicorn who could change entire games with his defensive abilities. He had the one thing defensively that coaches dream about - he put the fear into offenses that they simply could not attack the rim against him.
Sadly, that fear doesn't exist anymore. To be sure Ibaka is actually better defensively in a lot of ways, able to guard the post straight up as well as cover open space, but that intimidation factor isn't there anymore, and it is in part what kept him in the DPOY running for years. He's still very, very good, but we know what his ceiling is; Ibaka isn't going to get materially better in the remainder of his career.
Because of this, Presti sold him at high value in order to obtain an elusive 2-way shooting guard as well as power forward pieces that will hopefully be good enough to maintain the Thunder's defensive integrity. There is a lot of promise in the pieces he got. Is there downside? You bet. Ibaka could become one of the best power forwards in the east, and OKC's defense could suffer greatly. But for what OKC could lose vs what they gain, it's hard to argue against the trade.
Anthony: Ibaka was the Spurs killer and that is scary. The question is whether the downward trend in his numbers was an indicator it was time to move on or just a bump in the road.
There has been a lot of discussion that Serge's numbers tailed off this season because he didn't mesh with Donovan's system or was mishandled. That leaves the question about the year before in which he was the team's number two option for most of the season in a system he was well versed in. Overall, I think this trade grade gets an A+. Oladipo for Serge could be viewed as an even swap, but picking up Sabonis, a lottery level big as a bonus makes this trade a slam dunk. We will all miss Serge, but life goes on.
Jefferson: I think the grade at the moment is a B-. It was above market return for Ibaka, who will be a free agent in 2017, however it did break up the Thunder's core that has spent seven seasons together. Ibaka had a down year during the regular season, but showed his value against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. His ability to stretch the floor, while being the best interior defender on the court will be missed for OKC. With all that said Victor Oladipo becomes the best two-way guard in Oklahoma City history the moment he puts on the Thunder jersey for the first time. He isn't anywhere near the offensive threat James Harden was, but he is leaps and bounds better than Harden as a defender. Oladipo's ability to guard on the perimeter, rebound from the guard position and penetrate the lane will be a welcomed addition for a team that mostly relied on KD and Russ to create offense. If Oladipo remains as hot as he was from the perimeter from January on--39 percent from three during that stretch--his acquisition will have a huge impact on the team. Sabonis also has the type of gritty game that will make him a Steven Adams-lite in terms of just pissing off the opposing team because of how hard he plays. Sabonis' ability to play on the block and his basketball IQ and passing will be great fits for Billy Donovan's offense both now and in the future.
3. Will Steven Adams & Andre Roberson Sign Extensions Before the October Deadline?
Joseph: If they are thinking ahead with the salary cap jump and what their market value will be next summer if they perform next season, no. But with their respective loyalty to the franchise, there is the chance Presti gets them to sign early. Adams can capitalize on his amazing postseason and cash in, or bet on himself to reproduce the same numbers or better with Ibaka gone. Roberson can do either, his best parts of the Spurs/Warriors series mean he could sign early or like Adams bet on himself. If Durant stays, I'd be willing to assume these two sign on early as well.
Sherman: I think if Presti and Adams can come to the mutual agreement that Funaki is the 3rd most important player in OKC franchise history, then they can make something happen. Roberson is a bigger question mark, because unlike Adams, who is rounding into a fantastic 2-way center in a league bereft of them, Robes needs a system to fit into for the time being. You can't plug-and-play him just anywhere, just like you couldn't do that with Tony Allen. Because of this, I think Robes knows that he needs OKC more than they need him today, so the temptation to come to an early agreement seems smart. And yet...Robes already took a pay cut from the Thunder in the first year of his career. I think he's going to be wary about repeating that decision, especially since he'll now be negotiating over millions instead of a couple hundred thousand.
Anthony: Adams, yes. Robes? Maybe. Though his shot improved, Robes isn't soup yet. Eight for twenty from the free throw line in the playoffs, forty percent, is ugly. He hit some big shots in the post season but his mechanics still looks like he is releasing a balloon rather than shooting a basketball. The addition of Oladipo, while viewed as having a big effect on the Thunder's decision about Waiters, may play a larger role in how Presti approaches the Roberson contract.
Jefferson: I doubt Roberson signs anything, especially after see the millions that get tossed around to lesser players in free agency this year. Also, with the addition of Oladipo he isn't as crucial as a piece as he was on last year's roster. However, I do think the Thunder should do all in their power to retain Roberson whether it's an extension in October or matching any offers he will get as a restricted free agent. Adams I am more positive they can get something done with. Either of these moves will be put on the backburner until Durant resigns with the team. However, with his rapid development and his age (22 years old) I'm sure Presti and the front office will offer him a max extension and not think twice.
4. Which player/players won’t be on the roster come opening night?
Joseph: Randy Foye. I'm just not sure he's worth reinvesting in with the way the roster is shaping up. Cameron Payne might be entrusted to take his minutes or at least be given the opportunity to do so. Though I don't expect the roster to stay as is anyway regardless of whether Durant stays or not. There are probably too many rotation players for minutes, I expect Presti to package them into slight upgrades and/or assets.
Sherman: Randy Foye is the easy answer, especially since if OKC for some reason finds themselves in need of a 3rd string guard, there will be other guys out there that they can grab for spot duty. Dion Waiters is the bigger question, and I think that rests on two things - 1) how does the rest of the league value him after a strong post-season but a pretty up-and-down regular season? and 2) what Billy Donovan wants to do with Victor Oladipo. If Donovan sees Oladipo as a dynamite 2nd unit leader that can make OKC's bench look like the Warriors, then Waiters becomes redundant and his confidence will tank along with his minutes. But if Oladipo becomes the starting shooting guard and Roberson moves to the bench to play power forward? Then Dion still makes sense, especially playing along side Cameron Payne.
Anthony: I don't think Foye will be back. He filled a need, that need is over. Same with Nazr. I think the odds are fifty/fifty on Morrow, though if it were me Morrow would stay and Singler would be gone so fast he wouldn't hear the door slam behind him. I think Sabonis may start the season in the D-League, but I don't think he will be there long. Waiters if the price is too high to keep him and KD if he has a complete brain cramp and fails to realize he is walking away from the opportunity to become a legend.
Jefferson: Dion Waiters and Mitch McGary. I think someone gives Dion more money than he can say no to (cough, Philadelphia, cough). Dion was great in the postseason and seemed to finally accept his role with the Thunder by season's end. His ability to guard anyone in Golden State's "Death Lineup" was huge and will be missed if he does end up elsewhere. In McGary's case it's been unrealized potential that has kept him back. He looked on course after getting into the rotation as a rookie due to injuries, but he ultimately lost out on that role after suffering a concussion in preseason and never got back in shape leading to him taking a prolonged leave of absence during the season. That leave of absence will probably be permanent especially with the addition of Sabonis in the draft.
5. Who is most likely to demand a trade mid-season, ‘Reggie Jackson’ style?
Joseph: I'm going the alternate route here. Nobody. Sam Presti has done a stunning job of creating a culture of selflessness and family in Oklahoma City, and I think the last of that is gone. Sure Enes Kanter of Utah days could return and Dion Waiters is volatile, but the Thunder have done a brilliant job of making them happy by winning. If that continues, there should be no need for such drastic action.
Sherman: Nick Collison, who has been nothing but trouble since day one.
Anthony: Mitch McGary.
Jefferson: From reading other reactionary pieces on the Serge trade it seemed like he was the main candidate to pull a Reggie Jackson move. With him now in Orlando I don't think there's anyone on the roster that will ask out of Oklahoma City this season. With that said I believe Enes Kanter is the most likely player to be moved next if Presti deems a trade necessary. It will be interesting whether Donovan keeps Kanter in his Sixth Man role next year with Ibaka elsewhere now.
6. If Golden State, San Antonio or Cleveland make big moves, do you see OKC responding?
Joseph: It’s not hard to see the Warriors hitting a home run this summer even if he's not named Kevin Durant and the Spurs are always going to be the Spurs. But I don't believe Presti is reactionary in that way and hasn't been in the past. If the roster stays as currently constructed, it has the potential to improve with one of the most impressive collection of young talent in the league alongside their two superstars. There's no reason for a panic move.
Sherman: Putting aside the big move that would be Kevin Durant, the Warriors are at an interesting dividing line in their current run. Injuries derail everyone during a title run, but we especially saw what happened when a team that relies on its bench suddenly doesn't have one, and next year, GS's bench may not look nearly as formidable. If they miss on Durant, I could see them landing Al Horford, which would help greatly. I'm not sure any other player helps.
The Spurs are still the Spurs, meaning that their biggest question mark is still their guard play. Over the years they've balanced out their defensive weaknesses at the PG position by getting great offensive play from Tony Parker, but that balance doesn't exist anymore. That puts them behind the Thunder and Warriors, no matter how good Kawhi Leonard becomes. Mike Conley helps for sure, but Russell Westbrook has a field day against Conley on most nights. That's a problem they still need to solve.
For the Cavs, I think they still need to figure out if Kevin Love is part of their long term plans. He was almost unplayable in the Finals (although did have a few great moments down the stretch). Could THEY flip him for Horford or Whiteside?
Anthony: Well yeah, if either of them can entice KD away it will force Presti to make a move, but if not, I think Presti made his big move on draft night. If KD stays, which is what Presti is counting on, the moves between now and next season will be around KD's new deal.
Jefferson: I see both teams making moves. The Spurs will be hard on the hunt for Mike Conley Jr. and any other veterans that will help improve their team. OKC proved they had some weaknesses in rebounding and that their guards were getting old. With the Warriors, owner Joe Lacob is already promising to change basketball again with his aggressive approach to the offseason. They've been linked to both KD and Dirk Nowitizki already and I'm sure they will be chasing many more high profile names too.