Did the Oklahoma City Thunder Miss Their Chance at NBA Glory?

Andy LiContributor IJuly 31, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  (L-R) Russell Westbrook #0 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder sit on the bench late in the fourth quarter while taking on the Los Angeles Lakers during Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

First I have to say, I do like this team. They are young, talented, Durant is only 21 and he is already considered MVP-caliber.

In addition, Westbrook, Green, and Harden are all solid players under 23 years old. This organization has done a wonderful job building this team through the draft and this year's addition of Cole Aldrich may have addressed the weak spot at center. Or maybe it didn't?

While Aldrich may eventually develop into a solid center, that is far from certain, and their current lineup of Krstic and Collison is certainly not enough to deal with the other elite teams in the league.

The playoff series with the Lakers truly showed they could of used help in the middle. The lack of inside scorers for the Thunder forced them to rely on the outside shooting and put more pressure on Durant who did not have a great series against the Lakers.

Durant averaged 25 points per game in the series; however, he only shot 35 percent from the field, including 28.6 percent from three-point range.

I believe the Thunder did squander a chance to put themselves at the top of the league. They came into this summer with only $48 million of contracts, which is $10 million under the current salary cap.

They currently have three guys with expiring contracts (Collison, Peterson, and Krstic) that could be used for trade bait. While they may not have had enough money to sign a max contract player (at least without any trades) they had more than enough cap space to have gone after a second tier player.

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Just look at who was moved this summer to give you an ideal of who they could have acquired.

Al Jefferson — Traded for two future first round picks and a backup center. He would have instantly provided the inside presence the Thunder needed.

Samuel Dalembert —Traded for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes. Could of provided the interior defense to defend against other elite bigs.

David Lee —Sign and trade deal worth $80 million for six years. While Lee is not a true big man, he has shown that he can score and rebound.

However, the future is still bright for the Thunder and its not out of the question that they can still make trades during the season.

Cole Aldrich should be able to make an immediate impact at least defensively, and along with Serge Ibaka who is a capable shot blocker, they should provide some great interior defense.

The Thunder may want to look at the Kings to potentially acquire one of their big men. The Kings drafting Cousins might of made Jason Thompson dispensable now that they have Carl Landry and Samuel Dalembert. Thompson has been a solid 12 ppg/8 reb guy so far in his two years and is still on his rookie contract, so he would come cheap.

Like all other young and talented teams built through the draft, the Thunder only have a short window of time to add players before having to resign their young talent to more expensive contracts and effectively making it harder to add talent.

The core players contract situation—Durant just re-signed to a max deal.

Jeff Green has already asked for a extension. While he is not worth anywhere close to a max deal, I expect him to command at least $7-10 million a year.

Westbrook could sign a contract extension as soon as next year. While he is not worth the max, I do expect him to be able to command around the $10-12 million a year mark.

After having to re-sign these three players, they won't have much room to work with, so I do believe they need to make their moves within these next two season or else they will be forced to improve only through the drafts.