2011 NBA Offseason: Oklahoma City Thunder

Written by Paul Banks of the Washington Times, David Kay and Peter Christian of the The Sports Bank. Send Paul an e-mail here: paulb05 AT hotmail DOT com.
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Oklahoma City Thunder (Last Year: 55-27)

2011 NBA Draft Team Grade:

Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti has a great draft track record so it is hard to be critical of this pick. Reggie Jackson didn’t work out for any teams due to an injury and was a bit of an unknown after a solid junior season at Boston College. His addition now gives the Thunder five point guards so expect another domino to fall that will likely result in Nate Robinson or maybe Eric Maynor being dealt. Until that happens, I am not in love with this pick. (Team Grade: Don’t Get It)

Live 2011 NBA Draft Grades:

24. Reggie Jackson, PG, Boston College
Unless Oklahoma City feels Jackson can beat out Eric Maynor for the backup point guard spot, I am not sure how he fits onto a Thunder team that has a lot of backcourt talent. There were a lot of rumors about Jackson receiving a promise and apparently that was true so they must really like him. I however, am not quite as sold. (Pick Grade: Don’t get it)

*** 2011 NBA Offseason Needs and Free Agents listed below this comment box. ***

2010-11 Season Summary:
If there is a blueprint to follow in how to build a NBA team, the Oklahoma City Thunder are it. Through making smart draft picks, not blowing money in free agency, finding key role players and building a true team with terrific chemistry, the Thunder have quickly arrived as one of the top squads in the NBA.

Every title-contending team needs a superstar to build around, and in Oklahoma City that has been Kevin Durant. The former Texas Longhorn became the league’s youngest scoring champion last season and followed that up by defending his crown this year. He has proven to be everything that a team could ask for in a young superstar and might be the most likable player in the league.

Every Batman needs a Robin, and that is what Russell Westbrook has become, though he tried to throw the bat signal up in the postseason late in games rather than letting Durant do his thing. Still, Westbrook made some major strides this season adding a more reliable outside shot to his repertoire.

In hopes of adding more pieces to the puzzle, the Thunder completed a major trade prior to the deadline, sending Jeff Green to Boston for a true bruising big man in Kendrick Perkins. The former Celtic did not have a great final stretch of the season in Oklahoma City, but he was signed to an extension to hopefully be their equalizer in the middle.

Second-year players Sege Ibaka and James Harden also played valuable roles for the Thunder. Ibaka brought great energy to the floor while Harden blossomed into the team’s sixth man, playing exceptionally well in the postseason. Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Eric Maynor all effectively fit into their roles, as did Nazr Mohammed who was also acquired at the trade deadline.

So in two seasons, the Thunder have improved by 32 games and gone from not even close, to sniffing the postseason, to losing to the eventual NBA Champs in the Western Conference Finals. Their young core is in place and growing together. With time, patience, and maybe a couple of tweaks to their roster, Oklahoma City should once again be competing for the top dog spot in the Western Conference.

2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:

C: Kendrick Perkins/Nazr Mohammed/Cole Aldrich/Byron Mullens

PF: Serge Ibaka/Nick Collison

SF: Kevin Durant

SG: Thabo Sefolosha/James Harden/*Daequan Cook

PG: Russell Westbrook/Eric Maynor/Nate Robinson/Royal Ivey

NBA Free Agents:

*SG-Daequan Cook (RFA)

Offseason Transactions:
Thunder re-sign C Nazr Mohammed to 1-year, $3.75 million deal

*SG-Daequan Cook (RFA)

2010-11 Team Salary: Approximately $52.9 million

NBA Offseason Needs:

1. Lock Up Westbrook: Russell Westbrook received a lot of heat, and deservedly so for trying to assert himself as the go-to scorer late in the playoff game rather than deferring to Kevin Durant. Still, Westbrook is a huge part of the Thunder’s bright future and one of the top point guards in the league. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract and will become a restricted free agent next summer. Like Oklahoma City did with Durant last summer, expect them to try and lock up Westbrook to an extension before he can hit the open market.

2. Backup for Kevin Durant: The Thunder has a solid young second unit but does not really have a true backup for Durant. Daequan Cook saw minutes at the three behind Durant but he is a restricted free agent. Also, in trading Jeff Green, the Thunder does not have a lot of versatility at forward. Look for it to address that hole in the offseason.

3. Veteran Big Man: The Thunder locked up Kendrick Perkins to a long-term extension but will likely lose Nazr Mohammed to free agency. While Oklahoma City has young players in Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens, I am not sure either will be counted on to be the regular backup. Plus, with Perkins’ recent injury history, it would make sense for the Thunder to add a reliable veteran big man.

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