The Oklahoma City Thunder is a franchise that moved from Seattle to start over.
Not only are they starting over with a new fan base in a new city, but they have a great core of young talent and a plethora of draft picks, and salary.
The core young players I referred to earlier are:
Kevin Durant, the team's very own superstar in the making—currently fourth in the NBA in scoring.
Russell Westbrook—point guard, and floor leader, also a leader for Rookie of the Year honors this year. The kid is a rising star, who can rise well above the rim to throw down.
The last of the "young three" is Jeff Green, who was drafted in the same class as Durant two years ago at number five to Boston, then later traded to OKC for Ray Allen. Green is a power forward who can fill up the scoring sheet, and is in the top 50 in the NBA in rebounding.
All three of these young stars are signed on at least past the 2012 season, all for under $8 million. When you have your core of building blocks all signed on for a bargain, this leaves cap space to go out a pursue the free-agent market, and with the summers ahead this will prove to be vital for their emergence.
Drafting will be very important for the Thunder to make the transition from bottom of the barrel to a playoff team, and a competitor for the future. With 5 picks, 3 in the first round in the next two drafts, the Thunder will have ample chances to take what they need from the NCAA and also make some moves.
First of all, before I get to the plan, I'm going to break down the team and who is on it, who is leaving and who should stay or who should go.
Their starting five is Russell Westbrook at the point, Desmond Mason/Kyle Weaver at the two-guard, Kevin Durant as small forward, Jeff Green as power forward and Nenad Kristic as their starting center.
It seems obvious that they lack a quality center, which is needed with all the trees in the West, and also are in dire need of a starting shooting guard. Which one is more important?
In my opinion it is the center spot, considering there will be ample shooting guards to pick up in the 2009 FA market.
According to ESPN.com, their offensive efficiency is in the bottom three in the league and their defensive efficiency is ranked 23rd overall. This not only means that they need to step it up on both ends, but mostly that they are not experienced and lack chemistry.
Although surprisingly, the Thunder are a top rebounding team in the league, ranked seventh overall in total rebounds per game. They are also in the top 10 in defensive rebounding and in the top five for offensive rebounds.
If they can supply a solid big man down low, this team will be able to control the paint with rebounding and be able to plug the lane with an athletic body.
This year the Thunder have a top-three projected pick. You can never be too sure with the lottery, but for odds sake, we will give them a top-three pick.
Hasheem Thabeet, 7'3'' center from the University of Connecticut is a perfect fit for the Thunder to select with their first-round pick. Thabeet is an above-average runner of the court who does a great job of getting initial post position by using his body wide and sealing off his defender
Thabeet is an absolute beast in the paint. He rebounds the ball on both ends of the floor and has a strict no-fly-zone in effect.
The Thunder also have the San Antonio Spurs' projected 26th-overall pick in the 2009 draft. With that pick and a little bit of luck, the Thunder could steal Tyler Hansbrough out of UNC.
Hansbrough has been slept on by everyone in the country, but with his big body and work ethic he would make a great back up for already young star Jeff Green.
With their final pick in 2009, it might be wise to take a gamble on another seven-footer, Jerome Jordan out of Tulsa. The kid needs some work but has potential to be an NBA pro.
With the 2009 Draft out of the way, the Thunder need to say bye-bye to some players. How about everyone eligible to leave, which includes Damien Wilkins, Desmond Mason, Malik Rose, Joe Smith, and Robert Swift.
Now that they have a probable Rookie of the Year point guard, a superstar in Durant, and quality young players like Thabeet and Green, the Thunder can enter free agency with some cards on the table, plus a lot of chips to toss in the pot.
First of all, they have to take care of your shooting guard problem. By letting Desmond Mason go, all you have is Kyle Weaver at the spot, and that just won’t fly.
The number-one player on their list should be unrestricted free agent Jamal Crawford. Crawford seems the perfect fit for this team, he can play his position well, and hit threes. He struggles some on defense but will be able to run the floor well with the team.
Second option is the Bulls' former swingman, Ben Gordon. Gordon is pretty much a mirror image of Crawford, so I guess either or will do just fine.
If the Thunder can’t sign any of those two players, then they need to go after a Marquis Daniels. But the main point is they must sign one of these three players.
Now they can enter the 2010 season with a roster that looks something like this—mind you, if everything goes as planned:
Point Guards: Russell Westbrook - Earl Watson - Chucky Atkins
Shooting Guards: Jamal Crawford - Kyle Weaver
Small Forwards: Kevin Durant - Thabo Sefolosha
Power Forwards: Jeff Green -Nick Collinson - Tyler Hansbrough
Center: Hasheem Thabeet - Nenad Kristic - Jerome Jordan
By moving Collinson to power forward, Hansbrough has a chance to play off Nick and learn how to play bigger and use his stregth down low. This also frees up possible minutes for Jerome Jordan to play. Getting second-round minutes is key in that player's development.
That is a respectable depth chart in the league today. The Thunder would have most every category covered. If the players take to the team well, put in the time over the summer, especially their two rookies, then this team will be respected—and might even push for a playoff spot.
Now, in all honestly a playoff spot is very unlikely, but it could be in the cards. With a solid starting five in place and some quality bench players, aside from Weaver and the questionable Hansbrough, Oklahoma City can enter the 2010 season with some leverage and not be forced to go after the superstar players.
The deal of the 2010 summer is going to come from Michael Redd, with all the money being thrown around to players like LeBron, Dirk, Wade, Bosh, and Amar'e. And Redd is going to get slept on and might be affordable as well.
Also another steal could come by the likes of still-young and still-maturing Amir Johnson. He would fit in perfectly behind Thabeet and Green, somewhere in that mix. Or T.J. Ford could come in to back up and help mentor Westbrook if Earl leaves.
The Thunder can have a very bright future, but the moves have to be made properly, and everything has to fall in place. It's normally not the lightning that frightens people in a storm, but the Thunder that comes after.