I was somewhat surprised how quickly some of the media wanted to bury the Thunder’s chances of ever winning a title after their Game 6 home loss to close out their season in the Western Conference Finals to the Spurs.
I believe people want finality. They want to make bold claims. And there really isn’t any damage done if you are wrong. The 24-hour news cycle spins too fast for everyone to remember what you said yesterday, let alone a week ago, a month ago, or a year ago.
But to me it’s silly to suggest a team with 2 of the best 10, and at times it appears 2 of the best 5 players in the world can’t win a title. As long as Durant and Westbrook are in OKC, then the Thunder have a chance to win the title. PERIOD.
Both of those guys are 25 years old. REPEAT. 25 years old. They have plenty of time.
OKC’s team around them just wasn’t good enough this season. Or it wasn’t mature enough. That will be the toughest task, figuring out which two of those statements is more accurate. Do they need time to grow, or do they need a small makeover?
Kendrick Perkins appears in need of phasing out, but based on how the team currently sits against the cap, there is no point in using the much talked about amnesty clause on him. Perhaps he’ll take a smaller role or even a backup role as Steven Adams steps forward. At the very least, perhaps he’s an expiring contract trade chip in the offseason or before the deadline next year.
OKC has the 21st and 29th picks in a deep draft. They have young talent in Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson, and Perry Jones III locked up for next season in cheap contracts. We know Jackson is either going to be the 6th man, or a starter in the backcourt. The other 3 players and 2 draft picks don’t have roles defined just yet.
Thabo Sefelosha, Caron Butler, and Derek Fisher are all free agents who seem unlikely to return. And that isn’t a bad thing. I could see the team trying to find another veteran though, either to start at shooting guard, or to come off the bench as a 6th man.
They have 5 young assets (and expiring deals for Perkins and Collison) they could transform into another piece to the puzzle. If they are looking, they’ll be looking at a guard to compliment Westbrook and Jackson and a forward to either play as a power foward next to Ibaka, or a small forward sliding Durant to the 4-spot in small ball lineups.
They have plenty of options, including standing pat. If they do, they’ll be counting on Jackson, Lamb, and Adams stepping up.
This is a team built for now and the future. The window is wide open. Durant’s contract comes up in 2 seasons from now. Westbrook has 3 years left on his. Oh, and Serge Ibaka is just 24 years old and has 3 years remaining on his deal. The next two years are important obviously, but there is no reason to think the Thunder can’t win titles in that time, and then beyond that.