It didn’t even take 24 hours and already Thunder fans were making moves. Talking trades, talking future additions, talking new coaching possibilities.
The Thunder could’ve swept this thing and hung a banner in Oklahoma City and there’d be discussion about what to do next. Fans gonna be fans. It’s part of the fun.
But in terms of the Thunder’s realistic offseason plans, don’t expect much. They have three free agents — Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey — and two guys eligible for extensions (James Harden and Serge Ibaka). As well as Scott Brooks, whose contract is up.
Depending on decisions made with some extraneous parts, the Thunder are essentially guaranteed to have the same team back next season.
Also, important note about this team: They were in the NBA Finals, and very clearly good enough to win the whole thing. Fundamentally speaking, there isn’t too much wrong with the roster when you’re in The Finals, and seven or eight total plays away from winning it.
“We don’t have to make any major changes,” said Kevin Durant at Saturday’s exit interview session. “We don’t have to get a whole new team in here. We just have to stick to what we’ve been doing.”
If you’re talking major trades, or kicking around bold moves, you clearly don’t fully comprehend the Thunder model. I realize it’s fun to do, to talk about this guy for that, or if adding this piece would make OKC the bestest team ever, but just understand it’s not realistic. On the docket for this offseason is not trading James Harden and Serge Ibaka for Dwight Howard or Kevin Love. On the docket is figuring out a way to get at least one of them extended, with a solid financial plan to keep the other, and the rest of the core intact.
You should know by now that it’s about the process. And that involves building a core that grows together. They’ve grown into a title contender. One good enough to win. Obviously there’s room to improve, but I’m not sure what trade or move puts the Thunder closer to a championship then they already are.
The Thunder are essentially in the same position as a year ago. The best offseason move they can make is really none at all. Let the players stew on this feeling and come back hungrier and better next season.
(And don’t forget, OKC will be making one very large addition this offseason by default as well: Eric Maynor will be healthy and return next season. Don’t underestimate his value. He may just be a backup point guard, but he’s maybe the best in the league at it and is a big part of making OKC’s second unit a legit weapon. It’s no time for what-ifs, but if Maynor were healthy, I’m pretty convinced the Thunder are hoisting a trophy. He adds that much.)
Extending Harden is probably the first order of business and by the way he spoke Saturday, it doesn’t seem to be a concern.
“I’m just leaving it up to my agent and Sam,” Harden said. “They’ll do a pretty good job of working it out. I’m focused on several other things right now. But when the time is [right], they’ll figure it out and it’ll be done.”
He did say he loves playing in Oklahoma City about 20 times, so that’s something. And also this: “This is something special here,” he said. “A dynasty is being built here. So we’re winning, we’re having fun and we’re brothers. The other stuff, you can’t buy it.”
Is that him sort of hinting that he’s willing to take less to stay? I’m not sure. But Harden does seem to have that kind of attitude and even he were posed with a having to take a little less to stay with the team, it seems he’s leaning that way. The way he’s always spoken, his unselfish attitude and desire to win definitely has him more interested in being well paid in OKC rather than being a max player in New Jersey.
My feeling? Harden gets an extension, and everything he wants. Ibaka goes into restricted free agency. Pending Maynor’s recovery, Fisher is gone. I think he’d love to be back, but I also think he wants to play. And with a healthy Maynor, there’s not much need for Fisher. Mohammed will depend on Cole Aldrich’s development. And Ivey, I kind of expect him to continue his role a token veteran bench guy.
With Brooks? I’m close to convinced he’ll be back, as long as the Thunder hit close to the ballpark on his number. He may not be the best game management coach in the world and he has his faults, but the organization loves stability and continuity, and making a serious change on a team that was this close to winning an NBA title would seem to be an overreaction. Sam Presti and the Thunder don’t tend to overreact.
Brooks answered questions Saturday as if he was fully planning on returning next season and with the fact the Thunder have already offered him an extension, it’s more of a question of when rather than if. Because clearly the Thunder want him back, which I think was initially a question. Now, it’s just a matter of how badly both sides want the relationship to continue.
“I’m sure in the next couple of days we’ll sit down and get together,” is all Brooks really said when asked about his contract situation.
There are limited, but important questions to be answered, but the reality is, this team is very, very good as is. The core is built and forgetting about extensions for Harden and Ibaka, there’s at least one more season with this entire group as is.
Which means, not much has to change and they should have a chance to be right back at it next season. It’s about sticking to the long-term plan, which right now, is about making it even more long-term.