With the Oklahoma City Thunder losing Game 5 in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs 105-99 to the Houston Rockets, the team was eliminated from NBA Championship contention.In what was a historic year for Russell Westbrook, who averaged a triple double in the regular season, the MVP candidate also showed an uglier side to his style of play. In Game 2, also a loss to Houston, Westbrook had attempted forty-three shots alone; only connecting on seventeen of them.
Hero ball antics like this can kill the team and it especially kills Oklahoma City when other players fail to step up with Westbrook. His starting backcourt running mate Victor Oladipo averaged 10.8 points from the floor but on a horrid 34.4% shooting with an even worse 24% from beyond the arc. But the biggest problem for Oklahoma City was the production from the small forward position with Andre Roberson, who shot 13% from the free throw line on twenty-one attempts. Houston would intentionally foul Roberson often and frequently in their wins in Game 4 and Game 5 because Roberson failed to connect from the line. Off the bench Enes Kanter was regulated to next-to-no minutes under Billy Donovan due to the fact that his cement feet are not able to keep up defensively and Houston exploited that. The bench also failed to match up and contain Houston guards Lou Williams and Eric Gordon who had their way with the Thunder defense.
So despite the amazing season from Russell Westbrook the first round exit left a lot of questions that need to be addressed in the offseason for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Here is a look at their upcoming free agent situation:
- Norris Cole - Player Option
- Nick Collison - Player Option
- Taj Gibson - Player Option
- Jerami Grant - Restricted
- Andre Roberson - Restricted
With only five free agents Oklahoma City does not have a lot to worry about when trying to bring back everyone, with every player telling the media that they want to be back with the team next season. They also have a ton of youth with being the youngest roster in the NBA with an average age of 25.9 years old. Franchise cornerstones Steven Adams (23), Victor Oladipo (24), Domantas Sabonis (20) and Alex Abrines (23) all have plenty of time yet to grow even more as players. They can also add to said youth with the 21st pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. But, here are the major burning questions that still remain for the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason:
1) Who should the Oklahoma City Thunder retain in Free Agency?
As mentioned before the Oklahoma City Thunder only have five free agents to worry about this offseason, with three having their player options and two being restricted. Realistically the Thunder could only have to worry about four free agents with the high chance that Nick Collison will retire this offseason. But out of all four (or five) of the Thunders' free agents, the team would be able to reach some kind of a deal with all of them and they should with Roberson and Grant being the only real worries to try and retain. The biggest name between both Grant and Roberson is obviously Andre Roberson but after a few seasons with the team, it has become apparent that his offensive ability will never be able to match his defensive talent. If Oklahoma City were to bring him back it would not be for a killer contract and do not be surprised if the Thunder are bringing Roberson off the bench next season if they want to build a contender.
2) Who should the Oklahoma City Thunder target in the offseason?
The biggest name that will be readily available this offseason is disgruntled New York Knicks star, Carmelo Anthony. The situation in New York for Anthony is beyond repair as Knicks general manager Phil Jackson has said, "We have not able to win with him on the court. He would be a player better off somewhere else." Coupled with Jackson wanting to cut his losses on Anthony, Carmelo and his wife Alani "La La" Anthony have recently split according to TMZ. Anthony's wife was one of the major reasons he wanted to play in New York City, besides being born there and now that he is no longer with his wife there are tons of NBA teams willing to step up to the plate and take on the star forward. The one major hang up on the situation is that Anthony has a no-trade clause in his contract so he will have final say in where he ends up playing next season. Anthony should look no further than The Big Friendly and become the newest member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The most realistic way the Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks can complete this trade is by sending Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and their 2017 first round pick, which is 21st overall. Anthony's value is at an all-time low after another bad Knicks season and comments from Jackson so the Thunder would not have to sacrifice a ton of draft capital along the way. But they do get Enes Kanter who would be a dream in Phil Jackson's triangle system that he forces upon Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek.
While for Oklahoma City they would finally plug up their major hole at the small forward spot with Anthony. Anthony would instantly lower the offensive load for Russell Westbrook while being able to create his own shot in isolation and can easily score off Westbrook assists as well. The common gripe is that Anthony dominates the ball but Thunder head coach Billy Donovan should be able to integrate Anthony into the system since the same thing was said about Victor Oladipo as well.
The other two major small forwards that are longshots for Oklahoma City are Gordan Hayward and Paul George. Hayward is one of the franchise faces for the Utah Jazz along with Rudy Gobert and will be unlikely to jump ship as his Jazz just took out the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs and will be a key target for Utah this offseason. While George seems more and more likely to be gone from the Indiana Pacers, his destination will not be Oklahoma City as he has made it clear to the media and the Pacers locker room that he wants to return home to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.
Another huge problem for Oklahoma City this season was shooting from beyond the arc, finishing dead last in terms of three-point shooting percentage. A possible target for Oklahoma City could be Los Angeles Lakers swingman, Nick Young. Young has flourished under new Lakers head coach Luke Walton this past season shooting a near career-best 40.4% from beyond the arc this season. Young could come into Oklahoma City and be an instant spark off the bench and join Doug McDermott as a three-point specialist to help feed Westbrook's assist numbers.
3) Who should the Thunder target in the draft?
As mentioned before the Oklahoma City Thunder will be select 21st overall in the 2017 NBA draft. According to numerous mock draft outlets, the Thunder could be looking at Luke Kennard, a shooting guard out of Duke, Ivan Rabb, a power forward center combo from California, Josh Hart, a shooting guard out of Villavona, and possibly Tyler Lydon, a small forward out Syracuse. Besides Rabb, all of these players are shooters which are something Oklahoma City needs in the worst way. All of these players would be projects that would see extended time with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunders' NBA Gatorade League affiliate but in time could become serviceable bench pieces or trade assets for the Thunder in the future. It does seem unlikely that the team would retain their first-round pick in the upcoming draft if they were to make a major move for a proven piece to put the team back in the upper echelon of the NBA's Western Conference.
The 2016-17 season was a success for the Oklahoma City Thunder after losing Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors the following offseason. The biggest success was by far Russell Westbrook, who entered into the conversation for the best point guard or even player in the NBA this season by being the second player to ever average a triple double. But, the season ended with the team quickly losing in five games to the Houston Rockets and the series exposed a lot of flaws that the Thunder suffer from as well. Thunder general manager Sam Presti will be quick to address the issues with the team and the Thunder will be rumbling, lead once again by Westbrook, back into the NBA Playoffs.