The Thunder must improve in order to avoid another playoff defeat
After making it to the Western Conference Finals last season, there is no doubting that the Oklahoma City Thunder have become legitimate playoff contenders, with superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the way. However, the Thunder's flaws were exposed during their defeat to the Dallas Mavericks, and the team is still a couple of pieces away from being championship favorites.
The 2011 NBA free-agent market, although nowhere near as stacked as the free-agent pool of the previous year, has a number of quality players who could improve Oklahoma City's roster immensely.
In my opinion, the most pressing needs for the Thunder in free agency are to find a quality backup for Durant and improve their post scoring. With Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins starting at the four and five, the Thunder have plenty of post defense, but very little offense. While Ibaka is developing a solid face-up game, Perkins is absolutely hopeless on offense and the Thunder could use a frontcourt player who specializes in getting points in the post.
In addition, the Thunder could use a new wing player to bolster the bench. All signs point to James Harden taking over the starting role for Thabo Sefolosha next year, as he has shown to be not only a dynamic scorer but also a much improved defender. Consequently, the Thunder will need a new wing scorer to lead the second unit and pair with Sefolosha.
Without further ado, here are the Thunder's top-10 free-agent choices in 2011.
2010-2011 Stats: 7.3 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.1 APG in 20.1 MPG
Chris Douglas-Roberts spent most of last season on the Bucks' bench, stuck behind John Salmons, Corey Maggette and Carlos Delfino. Douglas-Roberts rarely gets big minutes, but when he does, he makes the most of them.
Douglas-Roberts got off to a great start with the New Jersey Nets in the 2009-10 season, averaging 17.3 PPG during the month of November and 16.4 PPG in December. And although not long after he cooled off and found his way to the bench, Douglas-Roberts made a clear statement during the first few months of his second season: he can score the basketball.
Provided coach Scott Brooks makes the right decision and moves James Harden to the starting lineup, Douglas-Roberts could be the new go-to scorer off the Thunder's bench.
The only real knock on Douglas-Roberts is that his three-point shooting is rather weak, which is not ideal for a player that the Thunder would likely pair with Sefolosha off the bench.
2010-2011 Stats: 5.6 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.5 APG in 13.9 MPG
Daequan Cook, who won the 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend Three-Point Shootout, is one of the top pure shooters in the NBA. As a member of the Thunder last season, Cook showed how to stroke it, shooting over 42 percent from deep.
Cook served as the primary backup to Kevin Durant last season, and is now a restricted free-agent for the Thunder. Although Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti would be wise to find an upgrade at the small forward position, Cook could be a cheap re-signing, and every team needs shooters.
2010-2011 Stats: 11.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.4 BPG in 29.5 MPG
Glen Davis has spent the last several years of his career as a member of the Boston Celtics. Although Davis averaged nearly 30 minutes per contest last season, he was still living in the shadow of Kevin Garnett, and likely wants a bigger role.
As an unrestricted free-agent, he will have the chance to look for a team where he can get the role he feels he deserves.
Davis feels that he has reached the point in his career where he should be starting on a team, and he certainly has the talent to back it up. However, that likely would not happen with the Thunder. Serge Ibaka appears to have a strong hold on the starting power forward spot in OKC, and Davis is not center material. Ibaka is the far more promising player and a much better athlete and defender, so Davis would have to be content with a bench role if he came to Oklahoma City. However, he could add a lot to the team and would provide the post scoring the Thunder need.
2009-2010 Stats: 11.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.2 APG in 27.3 MPG
Michael Redd is one of a long list of players whose careers have been seriously threatened by knee injuries. After tearing both his ACL and MCL in 2009, Redd has spent the majority of the last three seasons on the sideline, but appears ready to make a comeback.
Although Redd's injuries have taken a serious toll upon his body, you have to believe that the player who has averaged 20.0 PPG throughout his career can still make a serious contribution to a team.
Before his injury, Redd was one of the top shooters in the NBA. Although some of his former explosiveness may have deserted him, his shot is likely just as lethal as ever. Redd would provide a great scoring and shooting touch to the second unit for the Thunder, and would come very cheap.
2010-2011 Stats: 13.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.5 APG in 30.1 MPG
Grant Hill, a 16-year veteran and former NBA superstar, is the epitome of determination. Just as he was reaching the prime of his career, Hill was hit by a number of career-threatening injuries that forced him to miss many games and robbed him of some of the athleticism that made him such a matchup nightmare.
Now 38-years-old, Hill has spent the last four seasons of his career as the starting small forward for the Phoenix Suns. Although no longer the player he was in the 90s, Hill has shown he is still more than capable of competing with the top players in the league, and would be a great pickup for the Thunder.
Hill would bring experience and leadership to the team and could be a perfect sixth-man. Although he would hardly be a long term investment, the Thunder could likely sign him to a two-year deal without dipping too deep in their pocketbook.
2010-2011 Stats: 13.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.4 APG in 32.4 MPG
Jeff Green played the last four and a half seasons of his career with the Thunder (and in his first year, the Sonics) before being traded to the Boston Celtics in the trade deadline deal that brought Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to OKC.
Green, who formerly started at power forward for the Thunder, would be a great player to bring back to the team. Although he would likely occupy a bench role now that Serge Ibaka has shown to be an equally effective scorer (while also being a much better defender and rebounder), Green could be the perfect sixth-man to back up Durant and Ibaka. Green already knows the system and is very close to Durant, who could encourage him to return to the Thunder.
Green would bring athleticism and scoring to the second unit, both of which could be lacking if Harden moves to the starting lineup. He is a restricted free-agent, though, and will likely be difficult to steal from the Celtics. However, the Thunder have more cap room than the Celtics and with a large enough offer could leave Boston no choice. It all depends on whether the Thunder feel Green is worth bringing back.
T-Mac isn't done yet
2010-2011 Stats: 8.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.5 APG in 23.4 MPG
As a member of the Detroit Pistons last season, Tracy McGrady proved that he still has some game left in him. The former superstar posted well-rounded numbers and proved to be the best assist-man on the Pistons' roster last year, without even being a point guard.
McGrady's numbers were even more impressive as a starter. In 39 games in the starting lineup last season, McGrady averaged 10.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game while still playing only 27.4 minutes per game.
McGrady is a very versatile scorer, and before injuries practically ruined his career he was arguably the NBA's best at putting the ball in the basket. McGrady could be the perfect man to lead the Thunder's second unit next season, due to his veteran presence, facilitating, and of course, scoring.
2010-2011 Stats: 11.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.4 BPG in 26.4 MPG
Earlier in the article, I stated that one of the Thunder's biggest needs is post scoring. Carl Landry, a young power forward who excels at scoring buckets in the paint, could be just what the Thunder need.
Landry has bounced around quite a bit over the last couple of seasons, but is now an unrestricted free-agent who will likely be searching for a long-term contract to provide economic stability. The Thunder, who should have plenty of cap space under the new CBA, could be a great destination for Landry.
Landry would be an excellent backup to Serge Ibaka, providing the Thunder with post scoring off the bench. He would be a great compliment to Nick Collison, a defensive-minded big man who Landry would likely play with as part of the second unit. Landry has proven to be a consistent and capable scorer who the Thunder could run the offense through while resting Durant, Westbrook and Harden.
2009-2010 Stats: 13.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.1 APG in 25.7 MPG
Kelenna Azubuike, a former standout player on the Kentucky Wildcats, started off the 2009-10 season looking like he was ready to be a star. Azubuike's numbers were outstanding in limited minutes, and he was shooting the basketball extremely efficiently for a shooting guard (54 percent on field goals, 37 percent on three-pointers). Azubuike proved himself to be a very reliable shooting threat, and was a lockdown defender on an otherwise defensively challenged Warriors team.
However, Azubuike's impressive progression as a player was put to a halt early in the season in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. While driving to the basket, Azubuike fell and badly injured his knee, bringing a very promising season to an early end.
Azubuike, now an unrestricted free-agent, will likely be willing to sign with the Thunder on a smaller contract, since many teams will be hesitant to make him an offer due to his injuries. However, the Thunder would be wise to aggressively pursue Azubuike, who is still just 27-years-old and is a tremendously talented player. Although he may not be as effective as he was before being struck by injuries, Azubuike is still capable of providing some shooting touch, athleticism and defense to a second unit, and could be the perfect player to take over the former role of James Harden.
2010-2011 Stats: 10.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.1 BPG in 27.8 MPG
Tyson Chandler is the kind of player who can instantly improve any team. Chandler is one of the top defensive big men in the league and one of the most athletic seven-footers the league has ever seen.
Although Kendrick Perkins is an effective enforcer in the paint, his offensive game is completely non-existent and he is very injury prone. Chandler would be an upgrade over Perkins in every way, as he is bigger, a superior defender, and a more capable finisher on the offensive end. Furthermore, Chandler is a veteran presence who would be a leader for the young Oklahoma City team, while Perkins would be better suited for a backup role.
Adding Chandler would catapult the Thunder to the top of the Western Conference and greatly improve their already stifling defense. The only problem might be getting him to come to OKC. Although the Thunder have cap room and would give him a chance to win in the future, Chandler may not want to come to a small-market team. But considering how competitive Chandler is, and the fact that he played with both Durant and Westbrook in the 2010 FIBA World Championships, he could certainly be drawn to the rising Thunder.
Let me know your thoughts. Who should the Thunder target in the upcoming NBA free-agency?
Feel free to check out my article on which NBA free-agent each team should sign: