NBA Free Agency season kicked off with a bang Sunday evening as it became apparent that the majority of teams in the league will look significantly different headed into the 2019-20 season.
Superstars moved to new teams, role players got paid big money, and despite the apparent breakdown of the Golden State dynasty, the Western Conference looks as strong as it ever has, and Kawhi Leonard has not even announced who he will be playing for come October.
In the middle of all the chaos, the Oklahoma City Thunder has not made much of a splash due to being heavily over salary cap and deep into the luxury tax. OKC managed to sign free agents Mike Muscala and Alec Burks—both likely to minimum deals—while also re-signing backup Nerlens Noel.
Abdel Nader and Deonte Burton have non-guaranteed contracts for next season, but they will likely become guaranteed, and Raymond Felton will likely return on a minimum deal, as well, which would ultimately set the roster for opening night for the Thunder, unless a trade occurs, which is definitely still a possibility. That doesn’t even take into consideration the possibility of rookie Darius Bazley making the roster.
Despite the fact that a number of teams in the Western Conference have improved their rosters greatly in the offseason while Oklahoma City has made small moves only, the West is still a wide open race.
According to Odds Shark, the Los Angeles Lakers are the favorites to win the NBA title next season as rumors continue to swirl that Kawhi Leonard is going to join Lebron James and Anthony Davis.
After the Lakers (+300), there are a number of teams ahead of the Thunder, including the Golden State Warriors (+1000), the Houston Rockets (+1000), the Denver Nuggets (+1600), the Los Angeles Clippers (+1600), the Utah Jazz (+2000), and the Portland Trail Blazers (+2500). Finally, with the 8th-best odds in the West, the Thunder comes in at +2800 odds.
Despite the Lakers being the heavy favorite in the West, let us not forget that back in October, the Toronto Raptors were a +1400—5th-best odds in the league—to win the 2019 NBA Finals. After three first-round exits, the Oklahoma City Thunder has to make some changes, even if it is internal development, if they want to make a deep playoff run and have a chance at a title.
Part of the problem with the Thunder’s past three playoffs performances was the lack of consistent performances from the bench. While guys like Muscala and Burks are not going to come off the bench and offer double-digit scoring every single night, both are capable of knocking down a few threes here and there, which is a luxury OKC has not had in quite some time. After finishing in the bottom 10 in the NBA in three-point percentage in each of the last three seasons, shooting has to be made a priority ahead of next season.
Another one of OKC’s recent issues in the playoffs has been staying healthy. Losing Andre Roberson to injury midway through the 2017-18 season initiated a steep decline in the Thunder’s ability to defend, and after Paul George injured his shoulder around the All-Star Break during this last season, OKC was simply not the same. If George and Roberson can both return to the upcoming season healthy—and stay that way all year—then perhaps Oklahoma City can become the defensive powerhouse that we have seen glimpses of over the last couple of seasons.
All in all, the Thunder’s playoff failures cannot be pinpointed to one issue like poor shooting, injuries, or even bad coaching. It’s a collective of those—and others—and OKC has to do better. If the Thunder can improve these areas, and maybe get a little lucky, they could find themselves playing basketball well into next June.
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