Over the last couple of seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been one of the few teams many have predicted to win a championship. Yet, despite their continued contender status, they have yet to follow through. As such, this offseason should have been one that the Oklahoma City Thunder took advantage of free agency splash. Instead, one could argue it was a complete failure.
This past season, Kevin Durant earned his first MVP and rightfully so. The problem is that it takes more than his talent to push Oklahoma City over the hump. Certainly, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are other parts to the Oklahoma City equation, but as the San Antonio Spurs proved this past June, it takes overall depth to take a team to a championship. Much like the Heat, their roster depth has continued to be a problem.
In order to fix their weaknesses, the Thunder need help. Earlier during the offseason, Oklahoma City was in talks with now-Chicago Bull, Pau Gasol. Despite an increasing age, Gasol would have given them everything they need that Perkins is not — consistent scoring and rebounding. Unfortunately, the Thunder have not been able to replace the potential in Gasol with another quality free agent asset.
Of the limited acquisitions the Thunder received this summer, shooting guard Anthony Morrow is the most significant. Morrow is a journeyman with stops in Golden State, New Jersey, Atlanta, Dallas and last year, New Orleans. While he showed a promising career in Golden State and New Jersey, where he averaged 12.1 ppg, he has slowed down considerably in recent years. Last season he averaged only 8.4 ppg. Though not stellar, Morrow could be an excellent contributor off the bench. The main question is whether or not Scott Brooks will use him to his potential or not.
Another acquisition for the Thunder is that of another journeyman, Sebastian Telfair, who has played for seven teams during his nine-year career. While he once had potential, Telfair has yet to truly shine. Worse yet is that Telfair has not played since the 2012-2013 season, where he averaged about a five ppg spread between the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors. As such, it would be surprising for Telfair to get much playing time.
Despite fairly successful postseasons, the Thunder have left themselves incredibly vulnerable, which is why it is confusing as to the lack of pick-ups during this season’s free agency period. Now, with the lack of solid free agency signings, it is questionable whether or not Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka can push past teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, and Dallas Mavericks.
The unfortunate truth behind the Thunder’s roster is that beyond their top three players, there is little help, starting at their center position. Kendrick Perkins was brought to the Thunder to make an impact, but most times, he is under 10 points, if not scoreless. More importantly, the Thunder need him to rebound the basketball, but 4.9 rpg is not enough. Due to his deficiencies, Perkins is utilized primarily for space and little else.
Elsewhere on the roster is Reggie Jackson, who has been in and out of the starting lineup to allow Russell Westbrook to be in his more comfortable position at shooting guard. Jackson is not bad. He averaged 13.1 ppg for the season, along with 4.1 apg. The problem with Jackson is he, simply, is not very consistent. However, one cannot fault the point guard too much, considering his role is not a consistent one on the team.
The true problem with the Thunder’s depth is when it comes to the bench. Thabo Sefolosha throughout the last few years was supposed to be the shooting guard to aid the tandem of Durant and Westbrook. The problem is he never panned out, to the point where he was hardly used in the playoffs. During last season, Sefolosha averaged a mere 6.3 ppg and 3.6 rpg. This, ultimately, resulted in the guard being traded in July for only a trade exception.
One strategy put on by coach Scott Brooks was the usage of aging veterans Caron Butler and Derek Fisher. Butler did an admirable job putting up 9.7 ppg, while also serving as one of the top defenders on the squad. The problem is that his age caught up to him, resulting in inconsistency. Fisher, on the other hand, looked about finished last season, when he averaged only 5.2 ppg. His only real contribution was the ability to hit the occasional needed three-pointer. Good news for the Thunder is that neither veteran is on the squad next year.
In terms of the other bench players, Jeremy Lamb is a guy who has replaced Sefolosha and, even further back, James Harden off the bench. Last season, Lamb, put up average numbers at 8.5 ppg at 19.7 mpg. While he did a decent job, Lamb needs to improve his game if Brooks allows him to. He put in mediocre numbers, but in reality, he should be the guy to come in as a spark off the bench, likely being the sixth man.
Rounding out the returning members of the bench from last year are Nick Collison (4.2 ppg and 3.2 rpg), Steven Adams (3.3 ppg and 4.1 rpg), Perry Jones (3.5 ppg) and Andre Roberson (1.9 ppg). As anyone can see, there is not much help on the bench, with many players averaging just a little over a basket a game. Worse yet is that the overall bench total at 30.9 ppg and, an astonishing low, 25.5 ppg in the playoffs. Comparatively, the starters averaged 74.5 ppg during the regular season and 77.1 ppg. As such, too much weight is on the shoulders of Durant and company in the starting lineup.
While the roster of Oklahoma City leaves little to be desired, eventually, blame has to fall on Brooks. During his tenure in Oklahoma City, he has had trouble implementing new players, particularly younger players not named Druant, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka, into the lineup. With rumors spreading that Durant may leave Oklahoma City soon in 2016, it is surprising that the Thunder kept Brooks. Year after year, Oklahoma City have been unable to make the playoffs. Certainly, injury and Harden leaving has played a part, but not all of it. Brooks needs to get his role players involved. Not only does it ease the pressure off of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka, but it helps having players who are comfortable if an unfortunate circumstance arises, such as Ibaka’s injury during this year’s playoffs. Without consistent role players, it would not be surprising for Durant to leave.
The Thunder have all the potential in the world, with two players in Durant and Westbrook, who are, arguably, two of the best players in the game today. However, as witnessed throughout the last four seasons, they have yet to prove that they can get over the hump without solid help. Considering how obvious their weaknesses are, it is dumbfounding as to why the Oklahoma City Thunder have, for the most part, been a failure this summer in free agency. They received little in the likes of acquisitions. As a result, unless a miracle happens, the Thunder may be looking at disappointment yet again.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey