Concerns escalating for Thunder after recent struggles

Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have had their share of injuries this season. 

Dale Zanine/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With a loss to the Knicks on Wednesday, concern over the Thunder is escalating.

It’s not just the fact Oklahoma City went 3-12 to start the season or hasn’t had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for large parts of the season.

It’s something beyond that which has manifested itself in the team playing poorly against Minnesota, one of the worst teams in the Western Conference and playing worse against the Knicks, one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference.

A few things to think about heading into Saturday’s game at Memphis:

The good news

The Thunder have all the pieces on this roster, this season to win an NBA championship.

Remember, they were just two wins away from making The Finals last season and have had a seven-game winning streak this season. You could make the case that when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play a few more games together and develop a bit of the chemistry that has helped them to a history of success, this team will go down that same path.

You could also make the case the Thunder have a better roster this season to go along with Durant and Westbrook. Anthony Morrow and Dion Waiters provide complements OKC hasn’t had in past seasons.

The bad news

Durant can’t seem to stay healthy. Durant’s most-recent injury is related to an injured toe on his left foot. He sat out against Minnesota and again against the Knicks, giving the impression the Thunder could win those games without him.

If Durant misses Saturday’s game at Memphis, the toe injury is clearly worse than day-to-day like the team has said.

Durant has played just 21 games this season and the Thunder have gone 14-7 in those games. That means they are 11-18 without him. 

The team has not announced if Durant is going to play Saturday.

In addition to Durant sitting the past two games, the Thunder didn’t get any positives from the two games. Westbrook scored 40 against the Knicks, but the rest of the team combined for just 52.

Against the Timberwolves, Westbrook went 7-of-22 and scored 18 points. Waiters has played 11 games with the Thunder and has not shot better than 50 percent from the field in any game. He’s 12-for-37 in the past three games.

Anthony Morrow is having a bad January. His minutes are down and his shooting percentage is lower this month than any other month. He’s shooting 42 percent this season and is a 45 percent career shooter. Morrow hasn’t made more than one 3-pointer in a game in the past five.

The trade deadline

The Thunder have already made one major move this season, acquiring Dion Waiters. It’s probably too soon to say if Waiters is going to work out, but he does provide scoring and an ability to get to the basket.

Now, we’ll see if the Thunder are going to move any other pieces before the Feb. 19 trade deadline. All signs point to yes, for a number of reasons, starting with the fact Reggie Jackson and Kendrick Perkins are in the last year of their contract.

Jackson is attractive because of his game – think James Harden, but a lighter portion. Perkins is attractive, because not only is a large lockerroom presence, he’s also holds an expiring contract.

Jackson was reportedly nearly sent to Denver and the chance he will still be with the team at the trade deadline seems to slim, based on the fact Jackson has said he wants to be a starter. The Thunder have plenty of shooting guards, so Jackson, especially after his shaky play this season, is completely expendable.

Steven Adams has become more dependable offensively and the need for Perkins to play extra minutes has diminished. The Thunder could move both Jackson and Perkins and look for more interior help or another scorer to try and provide some consistency beyond Durant and Westbrook.

The standings

Don’t look now, but we’re past the halfway point in the season. The Thunder are 23-23 and in 10th place, one game behind New Orleans and 3.5 behind the No. 8 spot which is occupied by Phoenix.

The Thunder will play New Orleans back-to-back next week and also have two more games to go against Phoenix.

Plenty of time to still make up enough games? Sure, the Thunder have the ability. Just recently they won four games in a row, including beating Golden State and Washington. But a loss to the Knicks sours things, especially considering the schedule coming up in the near future.

OKC has games against Memphis twice before the All-Star Break and also have the Clippers at home on Feb. 8, plus the back-to-back against the Pelicans on Feb. 4 and Feb. 6. 

The Thunder do have a favorable final four games of the season when they will face non-playoff teams Sacramento, Indiana and Minnesota in that span. 

The coaching

There has been a lot of chatter about coach Scott Brooks being replaced sometime this season. That’s not likely to happen. The Thunder still think they have enough to win a title this season, and that very well may be true, so disrupting what is already a very tenuous situation doesn’t seem like a good idea. 

Brooks hasn’t had to deal with a season like this in Oklahoma City, one with as many injuries. He gets high marks for navigating the team through a dreadful November when most everyone was hurt. Handling personalties isn’t easy and navigating the Jackson situation isn’t either.

The problem hasn’t been coaching, it’s really about not having enough Durant and Westbrook in the lineup.

When that happens, there’s a good chance the talk about Brooks needing to be replaced will die down.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK