As an avid Oklahoma City Thunder and general basketball fan, it comes across my timeline every now and then. How the Thunder have gotten worse, how they haven’t been active in the off-season, how they are no longer the best out West, how they cannot replace the output of Martin (and Harden the year before) and plenty more. Stories of how the mighty have fallen, how we have taken ourselves out of contention, how we need to make major moves etc.
I am here to represent for the now-considered “underdog”.
Apologies to those of you who are already firmly entrenched in the belief of the “sustainable success” model utilised by the Oklahoma City Thunder. I also apologise to those who know what I know – that the Thunder are still every bit as dangerous as they have been the past two seasons. This is for the haters, the non-believers or the uneducated. Let’s go!
Firstly, please get over the Harden trade. This was a financial decision that allowed James to pursue a max deal that we were unable and a little unwilling to provide. Yes we would have been better if he stayed but that wouldn’t have been fair to all involved – including the fans (more on this later).
Secondly, letting Kevin Martin (Harden’s replacement) walk will not impact the upcoming season from the Thunder half as much as you all think (I will show you how shortly).
Finally, understand that amnestying Kendrick Perkins was not the best idea and we will ride it out for the next two years and make do with it. Yes it is a substantial contract but amnestying him still leaves us in the market for a centre and I would ask just who you think we would be able to get cheap enough to stay out of the tax realm and who will fit with the lineup. Trust me – it’s hard to find.
We all see LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh team up for a ring. We think “Hey, OKC had a superior trio but they traded Harden” and they never look at the fact LBJ, Wade and Bosh are a lot older and had already made heaps of coin before joining forces, taking a paycut and achieving success. We condemn the franchise for the move but we never think of the financial aspect of the decision. “Sure Harden, you are a superstar in this league and although this will be just your 2nd NBA contract, can we pay you less than market value to appease the fans?” Sounds ludicrous.
Since we couldn’t offer Harden the max (without going into the luxury tax and therefore hitting the repeater tax FAR too early in the careers of our young stars) we traded him and got the most value we could in return. While people also think that remuneration just walked out the door, Martin was at best a stop gap while Jeremy Lamb developed. Last I checked we still had Lamb (who had a stellar Summer League campaign) and we also netted Steve Adams and a $6.6mil trade exception.
Not so silly after all – is it? Especially since we got to sign Ibaka and avoid the luxury tax.
Now Kevin Martin fit in fairly well in OKC – no doubt. While he was not Harden, he did a pretty good impersonation, playing a pivotal role off the bench, knocking down open shots and getting to the foul line. We all thought he may sign on with OKC on the cheap for the chance at a ring, however when his asking price was too high, we got the best deal possible (sign and trade with Minnesota). It also allowed an opportunity for some young guards to develop into a bigger role. (Both Lamb and Reggie Jackson benefit from the departure of Martin).
It was just the other day when my twitter feed was full of people asking just how OKC plan on scoring now with the loss of Martin. After I stopped laughing, I thought about it. Do people actually believe that OKC’s potent offence is far less potent with Martin balling for the Timberwolves? He averaged 14ppg for us! Yes he was counted on a lot in the second unit, he had the ability to keep the scoreboard ticking over through long range bombs and free throws, but he averaged just 14ppg.
Serge Ibaka improved last season. He went from scoring 9ppg to 13ppg. I would expect further growth in his game this season too. Reggie Jackson showed flashes of brilliance after taking over from an injured Westbrook in the playoffs. I would imagine that he can also add to his 5ppg from last year. Then we add Lamb who after scoring 18ppg in the Summer League seems ready to contribute. I don’t expect Harden or Martin numbers, but I do expect a fair increase from his 3ppg in limited action last year.
I am no rocket scientist, but to me, I think we can find those 14ppg.
Let’s say Kevin Durant is back around his average and scoring 28ppg. Then let’s add 1ppg to Westbrooks game (now 24ppg). Ibaka will get better so let’s add 4ppg to him (16ppg). Based on previous performances and career trajectory – I think this is a fairly accurate assessment. Now, let’s put in Thabo’s 7ppg, Fisher’s 5ppg, Perk’s 4ppg and Collison’s 5 hustle points per game. Working total – 89ppg. The Thunder last year averaged 105.7ppg as a team – so we still need to find 16.7ppg. Enter Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb (not even including any bonus output we get from Perry Jones III, DeAndre Liggins etc). Can Jackson average 10ppg? Certainly. Can we bank on 6.7ppg from Lamb? Judging from what I have seen – yes.
You see, as much as it appears the Thunder have been losing out each off-season, the fact remains is that the Thunder are pretty darn good. They can cop these losses and still move forward. Through the draft and develop strategy employed by the franchise, we have players ready to take the next step right on our depth chart. It also means that for years to come, we will still have some financial flexibility and THEN, when we decide Russ and KD are in their prime and our Championship window is in full effect, then we can go crazy and spend some extra dollars. Not for the past season or two (let’s face it Miami are definitely the best team in the league) but in the future when those teams are declining (like the Celtics, Lakers etc) the Thunder can rise up and assume the mantle as the best. Not just out west either – the best in the league. THIS is why signing Harden to a full max deal would have made it difficult for the franchise and ultimately the fans, in the future.
The other bonus is team chemistry. We have kept a fairly similar roster for a number of years now. The team grows together, learns and develops together. We don’t hit training camp trying to work out where we all fit – we already know.
ESPN forecast had the Thunder as the #1 seed out West. After reviewing the current state of affairs, I have to agree. Contrary to popular belief.
Plus, it’s always more fun rooting for the underdog.
Article by Mark Bruty (@markbruty)
Mark is a huge Oklahoma City Thunder and basketball fan. Has followed the game for close to 30 years and in that time has seen a great deal of basketball action. Loved the Sonics, especially when Gary Payton was running things. You can follow him on Twitter and let him know all your thoughts on the Oklahoma City Thunder @markbruty