30 Teams in 30 Days: Oklahoma City Thunder
2007-2008 in Review
Western Conference Seed: 15
Summer of 2008
Key Additions: Russell Westbrook (via draft), Desmond Mason (via trade), Joe Smith (via trade), D.J. White (via draft), Kyle Weaver (via trade).
Key Losses: Luke Ridnour (via trade), Donyell Marshall (waived), Francisco Elson (via free agency), Mickael Gelabale (via free agency).
It’s a sad time for basketball die-hards in the Seattle area, but what’s done is done. It’s time to accept the fact that the Seattle SuperSonics are no longer—for the time being, at least. The successful, 41-year-old franchise has now evolved to the Thunder of Oklahoma City.
New era, new location, and some new faces added to the roster.
Perhaps the most promising addition to the roster was obtained on draft night, as UCLA guard Russell Westbrook was taken fourth overall. The 6’3’’ assassin is best-known for his tenacity, perimeter defense, athleticism, and high energy.
Westbrook may not be a prototypical point guard, but he’s one heck of a basketball player—and a versatile one at that. His defensive abilities should complement the team's needs, and give Kevin Durant a very formidable running mate in the backcourt for a long period of time.
With the 24th-overall pick, the organization elected to take a flyer on high-upside forward Serge Ibaka, who has signed a three-year deal over in Spain. Only time will tell what the future holds for Ibaka in the NBA, but at a long 6’10’’, he’s got the physical tools and athleticism to succeed.
Rookies Kyle Weaver (38th overall) and D.J. White (29th overall) were also separately acquired via trade, and each have four years of college experience under their belt. Weaver is known for his perimeter defense, activity, and versatility, while White’s length and relentlessness has earned him respect from many lurkers. Both should have spots in the NBA for a long time, barring anything out of the ordinary transpiring.
In mid-August, Oklahoma City involved themselves in a three-team trade with Cleveland and Milwaukee in order to repair the logjam at point guard. In doing so, the team shipped Luke Ridnour and Adrian Griffin to Milwaukee in exchange for Desmond Mason and Cleveland’s Joe Smith.
This deal sent Ridnour out of town, relieving P.J. Carlesimo of a headache regarding playing time distribution from the point guard position. In addition, it adds a much-needed upgrade on the wing behind Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.
Desmond Mason, who was ironically drafted 17th overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2000 and was a part of the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets from 2005-2007, will give the team an experienced and stable intangibles guy off the bench. Joe Smith, whose contract will expire at season’s end, will also provide another veteran presence to help groom and mentor the young talent on board.
To put a close to the newborn franchise’s initial offseason, injury-riddled center Robert Swift was retained on a short-term deal. The seven-footer has only appeared in a total of 71 games (23.7 per season) since being drafted by Seattle in 2004, due to a plethora of knee injuries, including a torn ACL that kept him out the entire '06-07 season.
At least he’s got the hair and the "bad-mother [shut yo mouth]" look going for him, though, huh?
C: Nick Collison / Johan Petro / Mouhamed Sene / Robert Swift
PF: Chris Wilcox / Joe Smith / D.J. White
SF: Jeff Green / Desmond Mason
SG: Kevin Durant / Damien Wilkins / Kyle Weaver
PG: Earl Watson / Russell Westbrook
Biggest Strength: Young Talent
The Thunder have a long way to go before they are a competitive Western Conference basketball team, but they’ve got loads of potential just waiting to be tapped.
Within the past two years, they’ve obtained three top five draft picks (Kevin Durant and Jeff Green in 2007, Russell Westbrook in 2008), and have just two players on the roster in the over-30 age group.
Should this young core pan out and continue to grow as a unit, the Thunder could be an excellent team for the next decade or so.
Biggest Weakness: Defense
Last season, the Sonics were 29th in assists allowed (24.4 APG), 28th in three-point defense (38.5 percent), 27th in points allowed (106.3 PPG), 26th in rebounds given up (44.1), 25th in turnovers forced per game (13.2), 23rd in steals (6.47 SPG), and tied for 20th in opponent’s field goal percentage (46.1 percent).
Those numbers speak for themselves.
X-Factor: Chris Wilcox
The only thing Oklahoma City has resembling a low-post scoring threat is Chris Wilcox, who conveniently happens to be approaching a contract year. If he can return to 2005 post-All-Star form, meaning production in the vicinity of 14 to 15 points and eight to nine rebounds per game, the Thunder may be able to exceed the expectations of the average fan.
What to Expect In 2008-2009
Barring significant “jumps” from multiple youngsters on this roster, the first regular-season Oklahoma City Thunder campaign should come in abysmal fashion—at least as far as the win column is concerned. Once again, this team is loaded with promising young talent, and they won’t fail to entertain fans, but they simply aren’t ready to compete with the big boys just yet.
Fifth in Northwest Division
15th in Western Conference
Coming Soon: Orlando Magic
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