The season is set to begin soon and the Thunder have only a few remaining questions. There are some more intangible things like offensive changes or individual improvements that still haven’t been entirely understood, but as far as the big things — contracts, roster spots, minutes — we’re lacking a few key answers.
The deadline looms for James Harden’s extension — nine days! — which means it’s pretty close to the time to get serious about it. Will it happen? Another deadline looms as well for the roster hopefuls. The closer the season gets, the closer the cuts become.
1. True or False: James Harden has an extension by Oct. 31.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: True. I think it’s 50/50 at this point. Not whether Harden remains in Oklahoma City, but if he’s re-signed by Oct. 31. (I still have Harden staying at a solid 90 percent.) There are pros and cons of signing him early with really the only pro being that it’s done and not a distraction. Other than that, if he’s getting a max why does it matter if it happens now or later? I don’t think the Thunder are especially in a rush to get this done, nor should they be. Even with a deadline coming, time is still on their side. Still, Harden’s unwavering confidence and the fact I think he’s serious about taking a little less. Even if it’s a $57 million extension, that’s savings, which means future savings. Every dollar counts for OKC.
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: True. It has been well-covered, but it just makes too much sense on every level for both sides. Harden isn’t going anywhere.
J.G. Marking, Daily Thunder: True, because it really just doesn’t make any sense for Harden to not be extended before the deadline if he really wants to be here and is being honest that he’ll take a little less to remain in OKC. Durant was extended. Westbrook was extended. Ibaka was extended. Harden WILL get a max offer if he enters RFA. The Thunder do not like bidding wars or really even free agency in general. So if the Thunder want him to take less, it HAS to be before he hits the market, plain and simple. Toss in that there are just too many ways that the organization could lessen the tax ramifications (amnesty, anyone?) of giving Harden something close to the max and I just don’t see the Thunder letting Harden walk away or let the rest of the league force their hand with matching max offers.
2. The final roster spot goes to __________.
Young: I feel like it’s down to Daniel Orton and DeAndre Liggins. And Liggins only for the fact he’s played himself into the conversation. When camp began, he was as much a longshot as anyone, but he’s proven himself to have a value and proven himself capable of being potential contributor. But Orton has a key edge: He’s big. The Thunder have always favored big men, and with the Perk question hanging out there, Orton could be of need at some point in the future.
James: Daniel Orton, even though DeAndre Liggins is probably the most ready to step into the Thunder’s rotation today, if that were necessary. Size just matters too much in the NBA. If you’re 6 feet 10 inches tall or taller and serviceable, you’ll have an NBA roster spot until you’re no longer serviceable. Orton and Liggins both have something that can’t be taught — size in Orton’s case and motor in Liggins’. It’s just that Orton’s is more valuable. Liggins fans can only hope OKC finds a way to stash him in Tulsa until there’s room for him on the roster. Unless Liggins finds a way to keep impressing and just forces Scott Brooks and Sam Presti’s hands, I think Orton makes the cut.
Marking: I’d really like to say Daniel Orton because I think he could actually contribute in a pinch and years down the line on the cheap, but Thabeet pretty much rules that out to me unless Perkins is actually an amnesty candidate in the next few years. So I’m going to have to go with DeAndre Liggins. Look, Thabo gets hurt at least once a year for an extended amount of time. Daequan is a microwave guy that truly needs to come off the bench to thrive…or not, which means he can quickly return to the bench in that case. Liggins is Thabo lite right now, and I just don’t see how the Thunder can let him go when there’s a plethora of point guards, bigs, but not exactly lock down wing defenders with grit and hustle-for-days on this team.
3. True or False: Perry Jones will be part of the regular rotation.
Young: False. Emphasis on regular. I think Jones should be, but minutes in an NBA game are limited, especially when you’ve got a team stocked like the Thunder. Unless Scott Brooks gets creative and finds a hole for Jones somewhere else in a smallball lineup, he is KD’s backup which means there isn’t a whole lot of opportunity there. I think Jones will be used and I think he’ll play quite a lot. But as far as a consistently, nightly contributor, I could see him more as a situational weapon. Hope not, though.
James: True. He appears to be too good to keep off the floor, and it’s too tempting to get him some run when he’s the only true natural backup to Kevin Durant on the roster. As we’ve seen before, the Thunder’s 10th man in the rotation can get switched or squeezed out entirely, depending on the situation. There were games last season that Daequan Cook or Nazr Mohammed barely played in, or missed completely, because of a shortened rotation. Jones will also surely get some DNPs. But he will also get some minutes as that 10th man as well, no doubt.
Marking: Can I say Tralse? I think PJIII will absolutely get minutes this year; he’s too talented not to see the floor. The problem is I’m not exactly sure what Brooks’ regular rotation even is. It depends on the matchups, on the flow of the game, and on the occasional “Man, I just love this guy for really no apparent reason. He’s playing 25 min tonight!” When you consider the fact that I think the Thunder want to bring Jones along slowly and that he plays behind either Kevin Durant or Ibaka/Collison, I just don’t see many minutes to be had barring foul trouble or going super small. But that’s the thing, I think as the season goes on PJIII’s unique skill set lends itself to him seeing more and more burn and forcing himself into part of the Thunder’s rotation, no matter how regular or irregular that may be. The guy is just too good and too eclectic of a ball player not to be used.