The Oklahoma City Thunder will have a couple of key things on their off-season checklist in order to continue to improve and challenge for an NBA title. They have lost experience in the form of Derek Fisher who has taken on the head coaching challenge in New York and seem likely to make tough calls on veterans Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler. With the potential exit of these key rotation pieces, there will be gaps that need to be filled and high on the list will be defense, perimeter shooting and scoring.
The Thunder bench was outscored by a whopping margin in their final game of the season, Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. The San Antonio Spurs had too many weapons and too much firepower as the Thunder eventually succumbed. By inserting Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup to help them bridge the gap on the defensive side of the ball and to help contain Tony Parker, the Thunder took away their bench spark and scoring potential.
Caron Butler wasn’t sighted in the final game and everyone else was essentially a non-factor offensively.
The Thunder now head into the off-season with some options. They will free up some roster spaces no doubt (Fisher has already opened up one) and will draft with picks 21 and 29 in the 2014 NBA Draft. In this draft especially, there is some talent that could provide OKC with some help – but the picks themselves could also be an asset to other teams looking to secure themselves a talented young player.
Sam Presti is a very smart GM and will entertain every feasible option with the goal of improving his side. You could tell from his exit interview that he felt they were on the right track but now needed to make a few more moves in order to compete and perhaps take the next step. Presti plays his cards very close to his chest though, so not a great deal of information will leak from the OKC camp until a deal has been struck.
Here are some of the options that Sam Prest and the Oklahoma City Thunder have at their disposal:
Draft the best available talent with picks 21 and 29.
This is very deep draft and Sam Presti knows how to secure himself a bargain having taken Reggie Jackson and Perry Jones III late in the first round of previous drafts. While the marquee talent will be off the board, there is a high chance of landing a fringe-lottery pick. The Thunder could target a shooting guard or a small forward with offensive capabilities and range on the jumpshot, or they could simply target the best available player regardless of position. Talent always falls to the end of the first round as teams take an “educated gamble” and find themselves reaching for talent in the early parts of the draft. Would there be a piece that could come in and help the Thunder right away or would they still find themselves stuck behind players like Lamb and Jones who are fighting to break into the rotation?
Trade pick 21 (or 29 or both) and get a proven scorer / player
Word is already out on the grapevine that the Oklahoma City Thunder are dangling their draft picks in search of some perimeter defense and scoring. There has been plenty of talk, speculation and rumor around Iman Shumpert from the New York Knicks but nothing has eventuated as yet. The idea behind this move is to give the bench that “firepower” that was lacking this season. If Jackson is going to spend more time in the starting lineup (and that is no guarantee either) the bench needs some “teeth”. Jeremy Lamb will be given every opportunity and having stated he plans on focusing on improving his defense, he could have an immediate impact next season, but the Thunder can’t necessarily bank on that development. A number of teams will be trying to enter this draft, making the Thunder’s picks very tantalizing and valuable.
Bring their drafted talent to the United States and draft for the future
If you are unaware, the Oklahoma City Thunder still have two key pieces to their puzzle playing overseas. Tibor Pleiss was drafted by the Thunder in 2010 and is still playing overseas. The 7’2″ center who can shoot the ball, has great footwork and athleticism and is still only 24 years old could potentially find his way over on to the Thunder roster this season, but there are no guarantees. It has to work for OKC and it has to work with his current team. The Thunder already seem to be focusing on developing Steven Adams, so would bringing Pleiss over now be of any benefit? Considering Kendrick Perkins appears to be safe for another year, it is highly unlikely. They also drafted Alex Abrines in the second round last year and have watched closely as the raw 6’6″ shooting guard has developed overseas. He is probably a longer term project so it makes little sense that he would come across now without being able to contribute right away.
Draft a project and stash them overseas to develop
As mentioned above, the Thunder are not new to this method. There are also a couple of intriguing prospects that would fit this criteria for OKC. Kristaps Porzingis is a true 7 footer who can play the power forward position but is very raw. The Thunder could take the risk and nab him with pick 21 and then allow him to continue his development overseas. Jusuf Nuric is another big man (6’10″) who could wind up being a solid NBA pro but needs time to improve his game and increase his size and strength. Walter Tavares is a tantalizing 7’3″ prospect who would be a huge reach at 21 but not so much at 29. Presti and co could grab him and keep him in the wings until needed. There are plenty of options here too and the Thunder will no doubt be looking into all of them.
So there you have it. The Thunder have plenty of options at their disposal in order to improve the roster. While they will no doubt be looking at developing the talent they already have (Lamb, Jackson, Jones, Adams, Roberson) in order to surround their talented trio of Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka they have some quality assets to assist in building a championship caliber team.