The Oklahoma City Thunder are on the verge of contention, having reached their first Western Conference Finals this past season. With two young superstars, and the youngest roster in the league, the future is bright. A few things must get done before they can take home the Larry O'Brien trophy, and here they are.
The first order of business for the Thunder is to keep No. 14.
He only played in 43 games during the regular season, and his averages were meek by most standards: 13.9 MPG, 5.6 PPG and a PER of 12.84. Keep in mind that the average NBA player has a PER of 15.00.
So, why keep him?
First off, he wants to come back. No offense to the great people of Oklahoma City, but it's not a place where free agents are clamoring to go (read: Los Angeles).
Second, his numbers belie his usefulness. He's a below average defender, he's not great with the ball and he doesn't rebound well, but boy can he shoot the rock from behind the arc. He posted a 42.2 percent mark this season.
The next best Thunder shooter was just 38.5 percent from three (Eric Maynor), with Durant and Harden hovering around 35 percent.
Long story short, the Thunder can't shoot from distance; Daequan Cook can.
Finally, it was his first season in Oklahoma, and believe it or not, he's still young at age 24. A cheap shooter that works hard and knows his role is worth his weight in salary cap.
Thabo Sefolosha has started ahead of Harden the past two years, and with good reason: He's an experienced All-NBA defender at a position of strength in the west.
The Dallas Mavericks keep Jason Terry on the bench so that he can spark their second unit and finish games. They won a title that way, so it obviously works for them.
The Oklahoma City Thunder do not have that luxury. Their starting five in the postseason was Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.
Of that group, one can create his own shot (Westbrook), one can shoot the lights out (Durant) and one can inconsistently make 15-footers (Ibaka).
That's not enough offense in the playoffs. If Durant goes cold or Westbrook is corralled, the Thunder have to play from behind the whole game, something that happened far too often last year. While having Harden lead the backups maintains momentum, there has to be some momentum to maintain.
Start Harden, bring Sefolosha on early so that Harden can still finish games, and a huge problem for the Thunder will be solved.
If you're a Thunder fan like me, this scares you. Maynor was huge down the stretch and a calming presence off the bench. On a team this young, he is essentially a veteran leader.
The NBA Draft has created a problem: Reggie Jackson and Eric Maynor play the same position.
The Thunder were shopping Maynor around before the draft because they were looking to get Jonas Valanciunas, a scoring big man, but they didn't get him and took Reggie Jackson anyway.
Maynor is a starting caliber point guard, but can the Thunder get the right value for him? A scoring big man is still the need here. Remember, the Thunder won't be able to keep Maynor for much longer anyway under the new CBA (they still have to pay Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka).
Here's to hoping that Presti can make something happen.
There were a lot of names thrown around for the Thunder at pick 24: Kyle Singler, Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic. When a trade to get Valanciunas fell through, the Thunder grabbed Reggie Jackson.
The good? Jackson can score. He's a decent shooter, with a 42 percent mark from long range. His attacking mentality is something that could fuel the Thunder second unit.
The bad? Jackson got a promise from someone that he would be drafted, so he didn't work out with anyone fresh off of a knee injury. It's probably minor, but you never know.
If Eric Maynor stays (unlikely), Jackson will get no minutes. If Maynor moves, Jackson needs to find his role amongst the OKC blue quickly, because this is a team that is ready to compete now.
Note: Do not for a second think that this means the Thunder do not trust Westbrook. They do. This does not mean Jackson is the point guard of the future. He isn't.
The Thunder had a great defense two years ago, but the loss of Ron Adams (pictured above) to the Bulls had an adverse effect on the hustle side of the court for OKC.
The Thunder's defense during the playoffs wasn't terrible, but it wasn't as good as it should have been. A defensive coach can go a long way to pulling this unit together and can help create transition opportunities for an offense that was anemic at times last year.
There aren't a ton of Tom Thibodeau's just sitting out there waiting for a phone call, so this is a tough one, but if the Thunder find their man, it could make a world of difference.
Look, I love this guy. Nate Robinson has the most heart per inch of height in the entire league. I want him to find a place in the Thunder rotation more than anyone.
The fact is he's simply too unpredictable to give minutes to. When you play Robinson, you could be getting a 15-point explosion or four missed shots in two minutes.
He's a competitor, but his size obviously hurts him and with Reggie Jackson in town, Nate simply has no chance at cracking the rotation.
The good thing for him, and by extension the Thunder, is that someone can use him. His feast or famine approach will deter most teams, but he has value as a bench scorer and an expiring contract.
Getting him off the books will clear up the Thunder for the next offseason move they need to make...
There are more pictures of Greg Oden in a suit than in a jersey
No, I'm not talking about Nene Hilario or Marc Gasol. Chances are those two are staying in their cities, anyway.
All the Thunder are looking for is a role player. If Nazr Mohammed is let go, then there's a spot behind Perkins in the rotation that needs to be filled, and Kevin Durant still doesn't have a true backup (Shane Battier is ideal, but probably too expensive).
How about one restricted free agent that hasn't been talked about much...Greg Oden. Hear me out. His injury history is obviously scary, but his talent is undeniable. The Blazers can live without him and there might not be a huge market for his services. If you can snag him for a manageable contract, don't you have to take that chance?
Cheaper possibilities are Sam Dalembert, Kyrylo Fesenko and Kurt Thomas.
Who knows? Maybe Presti will snag the big man with a trade, and the Thunder can simply avoid the free-agent frenzy altogether.
Here's to hoping.