The Oklahoma City Thunder opened the offseason with a huge blow, losing the franchise’s best player since moving from Seattle. Russell Westbrook not demanding a trade and extending his contract saved the team from beginning a rebuilding process.
Basically, Westbrook bought Sam Presti one more season to put pieces around him in order to convince him to stay. By showing his faith with the team this summer, Westbrook probably hints that he wants to remain with the team once he has the option to opt out at the end of the 2017-2018 season, instead of becoming a free agent in 2017. It’s now up to Presti to put Westbrook, who became something of a unanimous top 5 NBA player last season and his popularity will rise as he presents the anti-Kevin Durant. A player for the NBA and its fans to love and cherish his success, if he does take the Thunder into at least the conference semifinals.
What does Westbrook have around to help him?
Steven Adams looks ready for minutes. He did very well in the playoffs, and the Thunder didn’t feel too bothered with trading away Serge Ibaka, feeling they have just as good of a rim protector and leader in Adams, who’ll probably start playing around 30 minutes a night, unless Enes Kanter suddenly learns to defend. Adams has improved offensively, but he’s no Kanter, who remains a perplexing fit, especially now that Dion Waiters is gone. Where do the Thunder plug him?
Victor Oladipo won’t replace the production of Durant, but he probably gives the Thunder a constant at shooting guard after making too many changes in the position last season. The Orlando Magic thought he’d be a lot closer to Dwyane Wade by now, but Oladipo doesn’t have to be with the Thunder. He just needs to defend, and play some kind of counter next to Westbrook, being a less selfish player, and a much more committed defender.
Domantas Sabonis is an intriguing addition, with the Thunder hoping they can throw him in for 20-25 minutes a night and get something close to what Gonzaga got from him during his sophomore year. Sabonis doesn’t look like a player who’ll be great right away, but the power forward-center showed signs of being able to shoot from beyond the arc last season. If he figures out defense in the big leagues pretty quickly, the Thunder will have a solid and rather deep frontcourt.
The backcourt and perimeter is where they might be hurting. Anthony Morrow isn’t bad. Andre Roberson isn’t bad. Kyle Singler is awful. And what about Ronnie Price and Cameron Payne? The Thunder will rely heavily on Oladipo and Westbrook, which isn’t that bad, but it does mean that an injury to one of them, especially Westbrook, could send this team flying to the lottery pick for the second time in three years.
Best Case Scenario
Something that combines making the conference semifinals if not more, Kevin Durant not winning the championship with the Warriors (it would make SO many people in Oklahoma City delirious), and the Thunder setting themselves up to sign a meaningful free agent. It doesn’t have to be Blake Griffin as some are fantasizing about, but someone who puts the Thunder in line to contend for a title (they’re not there right now), and makes it worthwhile for Westbrook to stay on the team.
Worst Case Scenario
Durant wins a championship with the Warriors. the Thunder don’t make the playoffs (it can happen) and Westbrook demands a trade, which means the Thunder blow up the team, and become the Seattle Supersonics of 2007.