Off-Season Grade: A
First and most importantly, the Thunder and Kevin Durant signed an extension that will keep their superstar in Oklahoma City for the foreseeable future. This alone should earn the team at least an "A" for the offseason. Plus, they once again refused to use their cap space by overspending for a free agent.
General manager Sam Presti continues to work his magic with building assets through the draft and maneuvering his picks to put Oklahoma City in a better situation on draft day (David Kahn: takes notes.) Presti took advantage of Miami wanting to clear as much cap space as possible by taking on Daequan Cook and in the process, moving up 14 spots in the draft. That 18th pick was then dealt to the Clippers for a future first-round pick which should have good value because, well, it's the Clippers'.
Presti then capitalized on New Orleans' desire to shed some salary by getting the final year of Morris Peterson's contract and turning a pair of picks in the 20s into the 11th pick which was used to select Cole Aldrich. With these moves, Presti continues to prove that he is one of the best general managers in the league and has a clear-cut plan as to how to build up a franchise.
There might not be a more likeable superstar in professional sports than Kevin Durant. He is humble and unassuming, and handles himself in a professional matter despite being just 22 years old. Coming off a phenomenal summer in which he was the go-to player on the U.S. team that won gold at the World Championships, Durant is expected to do more this season. Considering he became the youngster scoring leader in league history last year, that is saying something.
Also a key contributor to Team USA this summer was Russell Westbrook. Entering his third season in the NBA, Westbrook has become a dynamic NBA point guard due to his quickness and playmaking ability. If he can improve on his 22.1 percent from distance, he will be the perfect running mate for Durant.
With all the hype and attention Durant and Westbrook receive, Jeff Green sort of flies under the radar. He is not a true power forward but his versatility allows him to effective at that position. The former Georgetown Hoya should have more help inside this year with the addition of Aldrich and expected development of second-year man Serge Ibaka. Nenad Kristic and Nick Collison give head coach Scott Brooks experienced big men while Byron Mullens will spend more quality time with the bench this season.
The depth on the wing has also been upgraded with the additions of Peterson and Cook. Thabo Sefolosha returns to the starting lineup due to his defensive abilities. He will be pushed for minutes by James Harden who is coming off a solid but not spectacular rookie season. Another youngster, Eric Maynor, will relieve Westbrook at the point when he needs a blow.
Oklahoma City made a remarkable 27-game improvement last season by winning 50 games and giving the Lakers all they could handle in the first round of the playoffs. More progress is expected this season as it is very realistic that the Thunder could finish with the second-best record in the Western Conference. Whether or not they are mature enough to put together a postseason run and shock the world by making the NBA Finals just two years after losing 59 games is the question.
Looking Ahead to the Summer of 2011:
If history is any indication of the future, the Thunder will go nuts in free agency even though they will be freeing up more than $19 million with Collison, Morris Peterson and Kristic coming off their books. Presti has done a phenomenal job of building this team through the draft and will begin to reward those young players whose rookie contracts are coming to an end. Most notably is Green who will be a restricted free agent next summer. Expect Oklahoma City to try and reach an extension with him during the season or match any offer he receives unless some team massively overpays for his services. They will also likely jump the gun and begin talking extension with Westbrook who will become a restricted free agent in 2012.