With their Game 6 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder head into one of the most important offseasons in recent team history. After head coach Scott Brooks showed his willingness to change his lineup during the playoffs, speculation surrounds the idea that the rotation will look different in 2014.
Adding to those ideas are Brooks’ statements in his postseason press conference, in which he said that spots on the starting five are available and that he is keeping his options over. With three key free agents and a few undesirable contracts, here is a look at what changes and similarities we may see suiting up for the Thunder next year
Kevin Durant – 2014 Salary: $19,997,513
Durant will enter the 2014 season as the reigning MVP for the first time in his career, and boy will he be trying to duplicate an incredible season. He averaged career highs in points per game (32) and assists per game (5.5), as well as posting 7.4 rebounds per game. He also had a streak of 41 straight games where he scored 25 or more points. He will try to duplicate these stats and also lead his team to an NBA title. His contract ends after the 2015-2016 season, so Sam Presti and the Thunder may start talking extensions after next season.
Russell Westbrook – 2014 Salary: $15,719,062
Even though Durant was the regular season MVP, it was Westbrook who was their postseason MVP. With Durant hitting some rough patches occasionally, Westbrook carried the team in multiple must-win games, consistently coming close to a triple double. Of course, that came with its fair share of bonehead moments, including the incredibly awful three point shot with less than 10 seconds left in overtime that effectively ended the Thunder’s season. If he can improve his maturity and cut down on the forced shots, he is capable of finishing in the top five in the MVP voting.
Serge Ibaka – 2014 Salary: $12,250,000
Nothing showed how much Ibaka means to his team more than the blowout losses to the Spurs in Games 1 and 2, where Tim Duncan and Tony Parker took advantage of his lack of presence in the post. He was once again named to the First Team All-NBA Defensive team. He is locked under contract for three more seasons.
Reggie Jackson – 2014 Salary: $2,325,680
Scott Brooks seems to have finally moved on from Thabo Sefolosha. Jackson replaced him as the starting two guard in the Spurs series, and he may be a perfect match with Russell Westbrook’s shoot-first mentality. He is also an extremely capable scorer and distributer, something that Sefolosha was not. The big question is whether he will remain the starter next year. He becomes a restricted free agent after this season, so it will be interesting to see if the Thunder will dish out the money needed to keep him around.
Nick Collison – 2014 Salary: $2,242,003
Collison bounced around the rotation, as he had games in the playoffs where he started and games where he didn’t play at all. He is entering the final year of his contract, but don’t expect this to be the end. As the only player left from the pre-Sam Presti Thunder, he will likely stick around to provide his excellent bench play.
Jeremy Lamb – 2014 Salary: $2,202,000
Lamb made great strides at the end of the season. While Brooks didn’t play him enough for him to develop much during the year, he saw more playing time as the season progressed. He is most likely the shooting guard of the future, and with his manageable contract he should be around for years to come.
Steven Adams – 2014 Salary: $2,184,960
Adams was fantastic at the end of the year, eventually surpassing Kendrick Perkins in playing time. He is physical, a good rebounder and blocker, and a capable scorer. If the Thunder amnesty Perkins (or even if they don’t), Adams may see himself starting at center next year.
Perry Jones – 2014 Salary: $1,129,200
Jones didn’t get a ton of playing time in the playoffs, but he looks to figure more into the rotation with some departures and another year of experience under his belt.
Andre Roberson – 2014 Salary: $773,920
Roberson will look to figure more into the rotation after a rookie year where he didn’t play any significant minutes, but it may be tough in a crowded Thunder frontcourt.
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Kendrick Perkins – 2014 Salary: $9,154,342
Let’s face it. Perkins is worth nowhere even remotely close to what he makes. As a player who should play no more than 15 minutes per game, he has seen a sharp decline in his athleticism and defensive game. With the emergence of Steven Adams and two first round draft picks to spend on a big man, Sam Presti may finally use his Amnesty Clause to free up the nine million dollars in cap space to sign a perimeter shooter that the Thunder so desperately need. However, the front office has not gotten rid of him yet, and using the amnesty on an expiring contract makes very little sense. He is a great locker room guy and will probably be back for his final year in a reduced role as he mentors Adams to become the next Thunder big man.
Caron Butler – Free Agent
Caron Butler signed with the Thunder because he wants to win a championship and thought the Thunder were his best shot at doing so. He is being paid the veteran’s minimum, making sure that resigning him won’t be a big cap hit. He really clicked with the team, and unless the Miami Heat can lure him away, he will most likely be back in Oklahoma City next year.
Probably Not Returning
Hasheem Thabeet – 2014 Salary: $1,250,000 Team Option
Thabeet has played nothing but garbage time, and with Steven Adams clearly slated as the center of the future, it is hard to imagine the team bringing him back at this price.
Definitely Not Returning
Thabo Sefolosha – Free Agent
Sefolosha fell out of the rotation completely in the playoffs, and his exit interview casted doubt on his future in Oklahoma. Scott Brooks seems to have moved on from his starting lineup of defensive players around Durant and Westbrook, realizing that they need other scoring threats around them to make them more effective. He has been great in a Thunder jersey, but we have seen the last of the Swiss Army Knife.
Derek Fisher – Retired
Fisher has retired to become the next head coach of the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson’s public pursuit of Fisher during the playoffs drew a fine from the NBA for tampering, but still led to a five year deal. He has had an incredible career and was a great influence for this young Thunder team. Nothing but respect for him and best wishes in the future.
With little room for much roster upheaval, the 2014-2015 Oklahoma City Thunder will most likely look very similar to this year’s team in terms of personnel. The big difference, however, will be the playing time. Scott Brooks seems to have finally embraced the fact that pairing three defensive-minded players with Durant and Westbrook will not win the Thunder a title. We may finally see a changing of the guard, the end of the defensive era as Brooks gives more minutes to the younger players. With their collective offensive capabilities, it is only a matter of time before we see this offense run wild.
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