Predicting Which OKC Thunder Players Will Not Be Back Next Season
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The Oklahoma City Thunder are well on their way towards another deep playoff run this season, and that's largely due to the talented, cohesive roster GM Sam Presti has built up.
OKC has one of the best mixes of young stars, veteran role players and intriguing prospects in the league, which gives them a chance to compete year-in-and-out.
However, no roster stays exactly the same from year-to-year, and the Thunder's lineup will surely go under a few changes during this offseason.
Don't expect a complete overhaul, but these next few guys will most likely be suiting up for a new team in 2013-14.
Listen, Derek Fisher is one of a handful of veteran NBA players who can lay claim to being on five different championship teams and has proven to be an adequate outside shooter during his long career.
However, while he still can get hot from deep and put up points in a hurry (see Thursday's game against the San Antonio Spurs), he's become a defensive liability when OKC tries to use him in small-ball lineups.
NewsOK.com's Berry Tramel points out that when the Thunder play small ball with Fisher at the 2-guard, their plus/minus is just plus-8.6. On the other hand, when the Thunder goes small but don't use Fisher, that number jumps up to plus-16.2.
That's a pretty huge swing, and most of it has to do with the fact that the Thunder can't protect Fisher when they have him playing alongside Kevin Martin at small forward.
Playing that small lineup means that your players have to be quick and use their speed to defend. Those are two things Fisher's 38-year-old body just can't do anymore.
Look for Oklahoma City to let Fisher walk next year, and use a guy like Ronnie Brewer to give them insane defensive flexibility when they play small.
True, Brewer doesn't possess much of an outside shot, but he can guard three or four positions, giving the Thunder the versatility needed to play quality small ball defense.
With him in the lineup, the team would be able to switch on almost every screen and frustrate opponents by taking away the pick and roll.
Unlike Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin's departure from the team would have nothing to do with production.
In fact, Martin's play off the bench has been exceptional for the Thunder, as his shooting percentages are at a career high. He doesn't possess the playmaking ability James Harden does, but his efficient scoring has made the loss of The Beaded One minimal.
In fact, Martin's in an elite company this season, because, as Rob Mahoney of SI.com points out, Martin is one of just four players who own a true shooting percentage above 60, while boasting a usage rate higher than 20 percent.
The three other guys? LeBron James, Kevin Durant and James Harden.
Unfortunately, his contract is coming up once the season is over, and Oklahoma City might not be able to afford the sharpshooter's services any longer.
Ideally, Martin would take a huge pay cut, coming down from his current $12 million per year to somewhere around what Thabo Sefolosha makes (about $4 million a season, for those scoring at home). However, because of how well he's played this season, he's likely to ask for around $7 million annually.
Spending that kind of money on their sixth man might not be completely out of the question for the Thunder brass, but they could decide to look to their bench instead.
Jeremy Lamb was a lottery selection for a reason last year, and he can score in bunches when given the chance. Interestingly enough, mock draft sites like draftexpress.com make a favorable comparison between Lamb and Martin.
That isn't to say that Lamb could come in and immediately be as effective as Martin, but he does possess a similar skill set as a scorer. In addition, he would provide an upgrade defensively, because he has elite athleticism and a long frame.
Obviously, if the Thunder can afford to keep Martin, they should do so. However, Lamb offers a younger, cheaper and more athletic option if they do decide that the price tag is too high.
Admittedly, this one might be a little wishful thinking on my part.
It's not that Kendrick Perkins isn't a great fit for the Oklahoma City Thunder; in fact, I would argue that, while he doesn't show up on the stat sheet often, his defensive presence is a major factor in what makes this team so great.
Because of that, it would take something extraordinary for Oklahoma City to amnesty Perkins during the coming summer.
That something is Alex Len, center for the Maryland Terrapins.
Len is the most offensively polished big man in the coming draft and would give the Thunder the one thing they truly lack, inside scoring.
Of course, it's tough to know if he'll still be available when OKC's draft pick comes up, but considering the Thunder currently own the eighth overall pick, it's not out of the realm of possibility.
Len isn't quite the defender Perkins is in the post; however, given his above-average athleticism for a 7-footer and the fact that he was a solid rim-protector in college, that should come with time.
If the Thunder can bring in a guy with Len's offensive skill set and pair him up with an elite defender like Serge Ibaka, why wouldn't they?
Len's ascension to stardom is far from a sure thing, but if he can even scrape his ceiling, he represents an upgrade for the Thunder at the center position.
It's nothing against Kendrick Perkins and, if his contract wasn't so bloated, it would great to keep him around to help Len's development on defense. Unfortunately, he makes way too much money, and cutting ties with the big man might be the best thing the Thunder can do this offseason, especially if they sign a future stud like Alex Len.
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