There have been quite a few teams that have been hurt by all the player movement by the stars this summer. One of the teams that have benefited from all the drama is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
We know they are up and coming, talented, and gave Los Angeles all they wanted in their first round playoff series last year. We know they have one of the top five players in the league in Kevin Durant, but they just moved up from their eighth seed in the playoffs last year without playing a game.
Let's look at their own division.
The big news there is where will Carmelo Anthony end up. Even if he stays with Denver this year the cloud of his impending free agency will be over that franchise until Anthony gets traded or leaves. Either way Denver will not be as good as they were last year because Anthony's heart won't be in it.
The Northwest Division is the toughest in the west, and when Denver comes down a notch, (and they will) Oklahoma will come up. If Anthony ends up going to the east coast it will be even better for the Thunder.
Another team that will suffer from free agency is the Phoenix Suns. The loss of Amar'e Stoudemire hurts them up front and they don't really have a way to replace what he gives them on the offensive end on the blocks and on the break.
They won't completely fall apart, but they won't get back to the conference finals either. Steve Nash will only be able to do so much. Oklahoma will benefit from that and move up more in the win column. Keep in mind that the Thunder will be better just because they are young and now have some playoff experience.
There is no substitute for that.
Individually they will be better as well. Durant took a big step this past year and will look to dominate and elevate his game even more.
It is scary, but he can and probably get better. Dare we say that he may surpass Anthony in the player rankings. Russell Westbrook is one of those tough and fearless young players that can dominate a game from the defensive, and offensive ends. He is dangerous in the open court as a passer and scorer, and can lock you down defensively.
Westbrook is still getting better as well.
For a point guard he grabs a lot of rebounds and it is very conceivable that he can be a triple double threat on a regular basis ala Jason Kidd. His versatility makes him indispensable since he his capable of playing both guard positions well.
Even if Jeff Green doesn't get much better than he is now, Oklahoma is still in good shape. They do need some size in their front court if they are going to deal with the Lakers over a seven game series. Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison are not enough if Oklahoma has aspirations of dethroning L.A.
One of the teams that could be a surprise coming out of the west this year is the Houston Rockets.
Yao Ming is back, and if he can stay healthy, the Rockets will be good. Add to that they have a chance to get Anthony, and they could really make a big jump. A lot of things have to go right for Houston, and I don't think Yao can be counted on to stay healthy over the course of a season.
Houston is very deep though, and will be a factor.
The Thunder finished with the same record last season as Portland, and they have their own issues. Rudy Fernandez doesn't want to be in Portland next season and is at a stand-off with management. They are deep and talented but seem to under perform in big situations. Portland will be in the mix, but they are not on the up-swing, like the Thunder.
Let's not forget New Orleans, and the fact that Chris Paul wants out of there as well.
They will not be a factor this year even with a healthy Paul. Surprisingly that doesn't leave many teams in the west ahead of Oklahoma. I look for them to make the next progression in becoming a great team and finish in the middle of the pack in the west.
Free agency will have a positive effect on where they finish, plus the fact that they will be better collectively. Watch out.
Can you hear the Thunder in the distance? I can.