The Oklahoma City Thunder's offseason began sooner than expected after the Memphis Grizzlies eliminated them in the Western Conference semifinals.
Russell Westbrook's meniscus injury damaged OKC's NBA title hopes more than most expected, and now the focus is on regrouping and contending in 2013-14.
What major roster moves will be made, and who will step up to help Kevin Durant and Westbrook?
More importantly, what is this team's ceiling come playoff time next spring?
Find out as we preview the Thunder's 2013-14 campaign.
Kevin Martin gave the Oklahoma City Thunder solid production in 2012-13, scoring 14 points per game on 45 percent shooting after coming over in the James Harden trade.
Unfortunately, he's going to be one of the most coveted wings in the 2013 draft class, and that could get a little pricey. Sam Presti will be hesitant to commit to a contract involving double-digit millions per year.
On the bright side, the Thunder have some promising young talent developing, and a little cash to spend on the kind of team they want moving forward.
Reggie Jackson averaged 13.9 points and 3.6 assists on 48 percent shooting in the 2013 postseason, exhibiting playmaking skills that will earn him a substantial role on the 2013-14 squad.
But he's not the only one who will see more opportunities.
Rookies Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III didn't see much NBA action in 2012-13, but there are signs pointing towards legitimate roles for them next season.
It won't include starting or sixth-man duties. However, both of them will see more minutes and grow more comfortable as the campaign progresses.
Lamb is clearly ready for a healthy dose of the big leagues after excelling in the D-League this spring, and Jones has plenty of physical tools and an eagerness to prove he's better than his draft status would suggest.
Jones will look to build on his regular-season finale, in which he notched 14 points and nine boards.
The production of these two won't change the complexion of the Northwest Division. It will give extra support to the regular rotation, though.
Scott Brooks' troops surrendered 96.5 points per game in 2012-13, good for 10th in the association.
Expect them to achieve similar, if not better results in 2013-14.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have improved as elite defenders, both physically and mentally. Having the stars of the team excel defensively is half the battle.
Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will continue to protect the paint like it's a treasure chest, and Nick Collison will bring his usual energy off the bench.
I don't foresee a top-five unit, but OKC will hold opponents to the mid-90s.
One area that OKC could significantly upgrade in 2013-14 is its distribution.
Much like every other phase of the game, the superstar duo is getting better at distributing the ball and putting teammates in good position.
Even more critical is the facilitation skills of players like Reggie Jackson, who will undertake a sizable chunk of point responsibilities.
Also, Serge Ibaka needs improvement in this area, so his development as a high-post passer could make or break the Thunder's quest to dish 23-plus dimes per night.
Both Los Angeles clubs will be re-loaded and ready to make strong regular-season pushes, and we can't sleep on teams like the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies.
When the dust settles, however, the Thunder will flirt with 60 wins and come away with the top seed in the Western Conference.
Kevin Durant and Co. will be too driven to put themselves in the best possible position to make a 2014 title run. A big part of that is securing home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs at least.
It's going to be an intense winter in 2013-14, with at least four teams aiming at the top spot. Scott Brooks' group will make sure they pile up the most W's.
This is the part where we remember how good Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are together.
Yes, they lost James Harden, but the supporting cast has taken its lumps for a year and is better suited to support the All-Star pair in their quest for NBA hardware.
The Los Angeles Clippers and other challengers won't make it easy on OKC, but this group is battle tested. It's also hungry, as the disappointment of the 2013 finish won't be easily forgotten.
Don't be surprised if the Thunder are battling deep into June and playing for a league title.
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