Many expected the Oklahoma City Thunder to reach the NBA Finals this year. Well, they did, but in doing so, they demonstrated that they are still not "there" yet, and when I say "there," I mean being a great team. They are very good, but not yet great.
The Thunder fell in five games to the Miami Heat, and it really is no secret as to how that happened.
First of all and most importantly, they do not have a big man who can score the ball consistently, and that puts an awful amount of pressure on Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden to light it up. The trio didn't do that against the Heat, as Durant and Westbrook were a bit fickle and Harden was just downright horrendous.
Second of all, outside of the three aforementioned wings, Oklahoma City does not have much else in the way of offense. The Thunder have so little depth offensively that they have to bring Harden off the bench to give the second unit a legitimate threat. This weakness was exposed by Miami, as when Harden couldn't get it going throughout the series, OKC suffered miserably.
Those are the two things that need to change for Oklahoma City if it wants to win a title next season.
It all starts with getting someone who can score up front, and that is obviously not an easy thing to do, as big men, especially ones that are reliable offensively, do not grow on trees. The Thunder could look to someone like free agent Chris Kaman, as he is a decent low post threat who can also shoot the basketball rather well. It doesn't sound like much, but he is probably the most realistic option at this point.
What OKC could do, however, is put Harden on the trade block and see what kind of interest he generates. There have already been rumors that the Charlotte Bobcats were considering dealing the No. 2 pick for him, but you have to wonder how much validity those rumors had to begin with. The question is, how much did Harden's value drop after his dismal Finals performance?
Yes, I understand it is a rather small sample size, especially when you take into account how effective Harden was through the first three rounds of the playoffs, but you can't tell me that front offices will not look at the way Harden played against the Heat when determining how much they would be willing to surrender for his services. That said, he is still only 22 years old, so I would imagine the Thunder could get a nice haul for him should they attempt to deal him.
As for adding depth, that shouldn't be that big of an issue. There are always solid, affordable role players available in the offseason, and all Oklahoma City needs to do is add a couple to legitimately bolster its bench. One name to keep an eye on is Jamal Crawford, although given that OKC already has enough problems paying its players, I'm not sure they would be willing to meet his price tag.
The Thunder also have a decision to make with Kendrick Perkins. Perkins is clearly not the same player he was before tearing his ACL in the 2010 Finals with the Boston Celtics, and it was recently reported that he was playing with a torn groin muscle in the postseason. Oklahoma City is paying the center a decent sum of money, and with all of the cash it already has locked into Durant and Westbrook and potential multi-year deals with Harden and Serge Ibaka looming, you have to wonder if OKC considers amnestying Perkins.
I think it's pretty clear that the Thunder are very, very close to being the No. 1 team in the NBA. However, adding a legitimate frontcourt scorer and some depth would go a long way in helping them realize that. Durant, Westbrook and Harden cannot carry the load all by themselves, and Derek Fisher is not the guy to rectify that problem.
I feel it is also important to point this out: A lot of people like to get on Westbrook's case for shooting the ball too much and not having a "true point guard" mentality. Well, now that you witnessed the finals, can you blame him? Oklahoma City needs his scoring, as evidenced in Game 4 when his 43 points almost single-handedly won the game for the Thunder.
Many advocated trading Westbrook to the Celtics for Rajon Rondo, but if OKC would have done that, then its offense would have been in even worse shape, as, although Rondo has proven he can score the basketball, he does not provide consistent offense.
If Oklahoma City adds a couple of more pieces this offseason and Westbrook still exhibits a shoot-first mentality next season, then maybe his detractors will have a legitimate argument, but with the way the Thunder are currently constructed, he really doesn't have much of a choice. He has to look for his own shot, as it's not like guys like Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha or Nick Collison are going to pick up the scoring load.
As good as OKC is, it is definitely a flawed team. The good news? It was able to make it to the Finals with those flaws, so with a couple of tweaks, the Thunder could develop into an unstoppable force.
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