Oklahoma City Thunder- Blow it Up
First off, the Thunder won a respectable 49 games this season. That record qualified them for the sixth seed in the wild Western conference. I will be honest, I doubted the Portland Trailblazers and I saw the Thunder rolling over them pretty easily because they were a deeper team. It helped that Jusuf Nurkić got injured and he was out for the rest of the playoffs. I was very wrong. Last night the Thunder lost on one of the most amazing game winners I have ever seen, and also one of the most disrespectful celebrations when Damian Lillard looked back towards the Thunder bench, hand raised, and simply waved to them goodbye as he crushed their hopes and dreams. In this article, we will take a deeper look into the Thunder and their future. The internal problem that they now carry is their star player, Russell Westbrook.
Players to Let Go
Now this may be very difficult for a lot of Thunder fans to understand, but their best option for the offseason is unloading Westbrook. So let’s take a look at his situation last, but the players the Thunder should let go are Raymond Felton, Markieff Morris, Patrick Patterson, and Russell Westbrook. Felton, Markieff Morris, and Patterson are all self-explanatory in terms of why they are being let go. They’re aging players that serve no real purpose on teams that should be rebuilding. Felton is a good veteran presence but his play won’t serve a purpose on the Thunder anymore because they need to get younger. Morris has had an injury plagued season and he has dealt with a back injury that sidelined him for a big chunk of the season. Patterson hasn’t been anything to write home about in the past two seasons. The Thunder probably thought they’d be getting a much better player when they signed him back in 2017. He has averaged a terrible 3.9 points a game.
Now for the big fish, Russell Westbrook. To fully commit to this rebuild, trading Westbrook is the biggest move they should make. Trading while the iron is hot will be the move here, the NBA is a business and it can be cold-blooded. This would be similar to Demar DeRozan being dealt to the Spurs but at a much larger scale. Westbrook has been with the Thunder for eleven seasons. He stayed with them when James Harden moved on, and when Kevin Durant did as well. He has been through thick and thin with the Thunder, but the sad reality is, that era is over. It has been since Kevin Durant left. Their chances of competing with an aging superstar like Westbrook is gone.
Athletic guards that dunk like this won’t last. I understand he did the impossible when he averaged a triple-double, but he also somehow got much worse with his shot IQ. He shot 42.8% from the field and a disgusting 29% from behind the three point line. Now that three point percentage wouldn’t look so ugly if he took one or two a game, but he took 5.6 threes a game. He attempted 411 threes over the course of the season. He took more than Kevin Durant (388 attempts) and that is an insane stat too look at. First of all, Westbrook has never been a shooter, yet he is heavily relying on this shot. He has also seen his free throw percentage drop from 84.5% in the 2016 season, to 65.6% this season. What does this mean? This means he is regressing. He is relying on these shots because his legs are slowly giving up on him. He used to rely on pure athleticism but his legs are getting more tired from playing all these minutes, and he isn’t able to rely on this anymore.
Another problem that has always plagued Westbrook is his emotion. The best players are able to control this, (see Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, etc.) and they are able to play the game to win. Westbrook wants to demolish his opponent, and he will run through them if that is what he has to do. This passion is what every coach loves to see, but unfortunately for Westbrook, this killed the Thunder in the playoffs. This series against the Trailblazers, we saw Dame and Russ go at it. Russ shot an abysmal 36% from the field and we saw Dame control almost every game with his shooting. Dame averaged 33 points a game on 46.1% from the field, he also made 5.2 threes a game on 48.1% from behind the arc. Dame had an amazing series. He crushed Russ and he was able to dismantle him as well. His emotion gets the best of him, and now it is hurting the team when the need him most.
So what do the Thunder do with this regressing superstar? They must trade Westbrook for the best package available. He is regressing, and you want to strike a deal that will help your team in the future. I say, trade him to a point guard desperate team, like the Phoenix Suns or even the Minnesota Timberwolves, for a top pick in this years draft. A rookie scale contract and/or a rookie that can play along side Paul George should be the move here. Trading Westbrook will be tough, but this could save the franchise in the future, and in a league where three-point shooting is king, Westbrook just won’t be as useful in his older age due to the fact he has no consistent jump shot.
Players to Keep
Nerlens Noel is the only player the Thunder need to retain this next offseason. He didn’t have a particularly great season, but with Steven Adams manning the center position, Noel wasn’t going to have a breakout season. This next season though, they should be able to progress Noel more if they actually do commit to a rebuild. Noel is only 24 years old and he has some great defensive potential. Noel should be retained by the Thunder, or else he will progress further on another team next season.
Players to Sign
A couple of players that the Thunder should really consider signing are Terry Rozier (restricted), Kelly Oubre Jr. (restricted) and Terrence Ross. A restricted free agent is a player that his former team can match any offer from any other team. Terry Rozier, who is a restricted free-agent, is a young point guard (25 years old) that should help with the scoring load. He has tons of potential and that should help fill the void that Westbrook will leave once he is traded. He may not have the best stats, as he has shot 38% from the field. But in last years playoffs he averaged 16.5 points a game, 40.6% from the field and dished out 5.7 assists a game in 19 games. He is stuck behind Kyrie Irving, and the Thunder could steal away Rozier because their main focus will be signing Irving to a huge deal. Oubre, also a restricted free-agent, is a young small forward (23 years old) and really found his footing in his time in Phoenix. Oubre should be able to carve out a nice role at the shooting guard position. He is a good scorer and a decent defender as he averaged 1.4 steals a game, 1 block a game in 40 games. Terrence Ross is one of the more interesting players on this list. He is about to go into his prime as he is 27 years old. Ross is a bouncy scoring guard/forward that should be able to carve out a scoring roll, either starting or off the bench for the Thunder. He averaged 15.1 points a game this season, which was a career high, he also averaged 2.7 threes made a game as well. All these players could help the Thunder stay relevant, but they also need young players to commit to a rebuild.
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