State of the Cap: Oklahoma City Thunder
By: Josh Redetzke
20011/12 Payroll: $53.6 million
Highlights: Oklahoma City has been doing so many things right in compiling their team that it’s scary (for the rest of the league, that is). Of course, it all starts with their superstar centerpiece, Kevin Durant. Numbers don’t get much better than his. Durant was the scoring champ, averaging 27.7 per game. He added 6.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.1 steals, shot 46.2%, 88% from the fould line, and a respectable 35% on three pointers. He was also healthy and helped lead his young team to the Western Conference Finals. If that isn’t worth a max contract, I don’t know what is. As opposed to other league stars, like LeBron, Durant signed his five year, $82 million extension without any cries for attention, staying with a small market team in a city that isn’t exactly a hotbed destination for the free agent prima donnas of the world. LeBron used to be the most likable, marketable star in the league. That mantle now belongs to Kevin Durant and this franchise couldn’t be prouder.
On the other end of the financial spectrum is forward-center Serge Ibaka. At just $1.2 and $2.2 million the next two years, Ibaka is an incredible bargain for the Thunder and could be an even bigger one next season as his game continues to grow. Ibaka averaged 9.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game last season, tied for second in the league. He was also an excellent finisher around the rim, dunking with power whenever he got the ball close. Ibaka is the interior defender that this team will need during their championship runs. If he can add more consistency and polish his offense, he can be an All-Star one day.
Russell Westbrook is another major piece of the puzzle who will soon expect a very big pay day, but he still has one more year left on his rookie contract for $5 million and he is more than worthy of that price. Westbrook was one of just two players in the league to average more than 20 points and 8 assists (Deron Williams being the other) and he also had nearly 2 steals per game. He isn’t perfect, however. Westbrook led the league in turnovers and sometimes tries to force his shots rather than be more patient and keep the offense flowing. That being said, he is still one of the best point guards in the league and experience might help him curb those nasty turnovers. If he can do that, the sky is the limit for him.
Lowlights: The Thunder don’t really have any horrible contracts on the roster, but the deal for Kendrick Perkins could end up being problematic. It was easy to see why they wanted Perkins. He plays excellent defense at center, he brings championship experience and attitude, and he is only 26 so he fits into the team’s young core. But Perkins has four years and $32.4 million left on his contract, which means he needs to play well to earn his keep and I’m not sure if he will be up to that task. He missed a lot of time last season dealing with injuries and his 17 game stint with the Thunder produced a somewhat mediocre 5.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, where his experience was supposed to help, his numbers were even worse, just 4.5 points and 6 boards per game. In all fairness, a full training camp and regular season will certainly help Perkins, but to earn his contract, he will need to produce more on the court next year.
Nate Robinson is a fun guy to watch and a fun guy to listen to, unless you are the one cutting him a paycheck. The former slam dunk champ barely existed in Oklahoma City, playing just 10 minutes during their entire playoff run. That won’t stop him from collecting $4.5 million next season to be to an expensive cheerleader. He’ll need to find a consistent jump shot if he expects to become a sparkplug off the bench again.
The Future: The Oklahoma City Thunder are primed to make many more playoff runs like the one they pulled off last season. Durant is locked up long term. Their entire core is under contract for next season. Besides Westbrook, most of them are signed for another two years. James Harden has two more years on his rookie contract and if he can continue to make strides in his game, he could be the player that pushes this team over the top. At times, he can provide a very potent scoring punch coming off the bench, but he lacks consistency. An improved Harden, along with the valuable experience they gained during the playoffs, will make the Thunder one of the most unstoppable teams in the Western Conference.
One source of skepticism comes from Russell Westbrook. People have started to wonder if he is the kind of point guard this team needs. Westbrook tends to look for his shot and sometimes forgets to be a distributor (although 8.2 assists per game is nothing to sneeze at). Westbrook will also be very expensive, so perhaps a veteran, pass-first point guard would be better for this team’s immediate future. I say now is not the time for any kind of panic move. The team was just one step away from the NBA Finals. There is no need to make a major change to a team that can already win a title. Westbrook is too good to get rid of at this point so just stay the course and give this core another chance. They have a superstar, they have some nice complimentary talent to surround Durant, and they have decent role players in Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, and Nazr Mohammed. All the tools are there for another run at a title so don’t overthink it. Let them play!
I still would love to see OKC getting another big man, especially for when Perkins or Ibaka has fould trouble. I thought Aldrich was going to be that person when they got him in the draft but now I have no clue what his future holds. They need that extra big man (like a Taj Gibson) or maybe they could trade for a PF who could score and rebound a little bit (like a Paul Milsap or Luis Scola). Still though, this team is going to be fun for the next decade if they keep all their pieces together