Believe it or not, the NBA's regular season is four weeks away. To get you ready, Crossover Chronicles will be profiling a team each day for the next few weeks. This week is the Northwest Division. Today is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
2011-12 Record: 47-19, lost NBA Finals
Key Losses: Derek Fisher (free agent), Nazr Mohammed (signed with Chicago), Royal Ivey (signed with Philadelphia)
Key Acquisitions: Perry Jones (draft), Hasheem Thabeet (signed from Houston), DeAndre Liggins (signed from Orlando)
|Russell Westbrook||Thabo Sefolosha||Kevin Durant||Serge Ibaka||Kendrick Perkins|
|Eric Maynor||Daequan Cook||James Harden||Nick Collison||Cole Aldrich|
|Reggie Jackson||DeAndre Liggins||Lazar Hayward||Perry Jones||Hasheem Thabeet|
It is easy to see what is good about the Thunder. Kevin Durant has blossomed into a perennial MVP candidate and the best scorer in the NBA (sorry, Kobe). Russell Westbrook, despite the partially manufactured rift between Durant and the combo guard about who will get more shots, is a dynamic combo guard that seems to have only limitless potential in front of him.
This is a Thunder team that is thinking Finals again and does not care how young they might appear to be. Oklahoma City's time is now.
And of all the teams in the league, they have the brightest future and the belief that they not only will win one championship but multiple championships. As you can see in the capsule above, there was very little change in Oklahoma City. That continuity stands in stark contrast to the major changes made in Los Angeles or the mroe subtle changes made in Miami.
Sam Presti and Oklahoma City clearly believe in what the team is doing. Judging by the age of the key players, the window is wide open. the Thunder are not compromising their building strategy or their plan to get a title quickly. They believe they can build a dynasty. Other teams will have plenty to say about that, but after last year's masterful playoff performance and MVP-caliber season from Kevin Durant, who is to say they will not?
This team seems like it can only go up. The fortunate part for Oklahoma City fans is that the one direction to go after a loss in the Finals is a championship.
One can say change is a bad thing for a young roster. But one can also say stagnation is bad too.
The Finals were full of four extremely competitive games, and it is easy to say that Oklahoma City could have easily walked away with the title last year. The thing is, the team did not. The Thunder lost. No matter which way you cut it, the team they had last year was not a championship team. So can the team improve and grow without really any significant changes?
The easy answer is yes because of the youth on this team. But with so much change occurring in the Western Conference, the Thunder have to be a bit worried. The window may not be as open as it once appeared.
James Harden's free agency questions will continue to swirl around the team throughout the season. Without Harden, it is hard to tell what kind of bench Oklahoma City might have.
Further, despite his general lack of production, losing Derek Fisher's presence in the locker room could become a big deal if things get tough in the Playoffs. Sure, Durant and company have deep Playoff experience with two Western Conference Finals appearances under their belt. But often defending that title is much more difficult than winning it in the first place.
The Thunder should not be complacent this season. They have to find ways to improve and adapt to the new season. Now the targets are squarely on their back and that is a completely new experience for this squad. Most nights, they should be able to handle it. In April and May? That is another question.
Not trying to sound like Skip Bayless here, but eventually Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant may have that clash for power that everyone seems to be waiting for.
The two insist everything is fine between the two, and there is no reason to doubt them. Things get tricky however when you consider that the Thunder lack a true point guard for late-game situations or if they are forced to go small by stretch-4 lineups or LeBron-at-the-four lineups. Westbrook is still learning how to be a distributor and less of a scorer.
Oklahoma City still needs him to score and Scott Brooks has to make sure Westbrook does not change. When he tries to be too much of a passer, he is actually less effective. Brooks has to find a way to help Westbrook continue to tune out the criticisms and perceptions the media have about Westbrook.
But, he also has to make it clear that Kevin Durant is the top scorer on the team and needs the ball at critical times.
This is a difficult balance, one that Brooks has been able to manage successfully. At some point though, you feel like it all might topple off. Maybe it takes Harden becoming a free agent and leaving to do it (not that this will happen, but losses tend to bring out frustrations). The precarious balance many sense about the Thunder's offense — which devolves into one-on-one basketball too much focused on Westbrook and Durant — could be wobbly if Brooks does not continue to pull the strings correctly.
Oklahoma City's window is open. But for how long?
Have thoughts or predictions on the Thunder? Leave them in the comments below or drop us a line @CrossoverNBA on Twitter or join the discussion by hashtagging #ThunderDay. We will be back with a closer look at the Thunder throughout the day.