OKLAHOMA CITY – The Thunder have Kevin Durant and hopefully a well rested Russell Westbrook.
There’s Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson.
Hey, it’s a longshot, but Kevin Martin might even return if he doesn’t find a free agent deal more suitable than what OKC might offer.
Essentially, the pieces of last year’s 60-22 team are all in place, so what happened in last Thursday’s draft and what may or may not happen in the upcoming days of free agency is not a determining factor of how the Thunder will be when the season tips off in 2013.
While the Thunder certainly want to improve, they will have a hard time doing it through free agency. There’s just almost no room on the roster.
So, if Oklahoma City is going to win a championship next season – the Thunder will be one of the few teams that can do it – it will have to do it with the guys who are already on the roster.
And that’s not a bad thing because the roster is awfully good as it is. Good enough to win 60 games again. Good enough to win the Western Conference. Good enough to compete with Miami and any other group in the East. Good enough because of Durant and Westbrook.
Knowing that, it frees general manager Sam Presti up from having to win draft day because there’s little chance any of the three guys the Thunder picked up will make a significant and immediate contribution. It also absolves Presti of having to shuffled major dollars around to grab a big-name free agent.
“We have a pretty good sense of how to evaluate the end of the year,” Presti of the way last season wrapped up. “We understand we weren’t at full strength. In terms of our decision making, we can’t ignore the fact we were playing without a critical part of our team. We still have improvements we need to make. Our improvements have come from internal development.”
Translated: With Westbrook back the Thunder don’t need a lot of help. And while the roster is jammed up, so is the pocketbook. Presti and Oklahoma City aren’t too interested in busting the $71.6 million salary cap, so that means there’s only room for a low-budget free agent.
Derek Fisher, Martin and Ronnie Brewer are not expected to return. Center Daniel Orton is a logical choice to be cut, too, considering there are now four centers on the roster after the drafting of Steven Adams. There’s a need for a third-string point guard behind Westbrook and Jackson.
There’s always a need for another shooter, too. Dorell Wright has been mentioned. Possibly even Royal Ivey, who played with the Thunder two seasons ago. The names aren’t going to be ones who shift the barometer.
But that’s not what the Thunder need.
“If you take a step back, we’re in a fortunate situation to return the core of our team,” Presti said. “With that said, we’re always going to have find contributions. A great example of that is we won’t always be at full strength. That’s part of an 82-game schedule. We need to continually develop the entire roster so when we run into un-forseen events we can make the necessary adjustments. All the players need to be prepared to play regardless of whether they are getting regular minutes or spot opportunities.”
This isn’t the season for the Thunder to go outside for help.
They didn’t need to get a draft-day savior. They don’t need to find a star free agent.
Oklahoma City has a star duo in a still-young Westbrook and Durant. It has pieces in Ibaka and Jackson. It has the ability to develop even younger Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones.
Don’t look for the Thunder to do anything drastic.