Is Jeremy Lamb actually ready?
That’s the question Thunder fans are faced asking right now. With Kevin Martin taking a four-year, $28 million deal with the Wolves, it would appear a new burden will fall on the shoulders and oddly tiny head of Lamb.
Not just him though. Assuming the Thunder continue to horde dollars and cents, new burdens fall to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. For a second straight season the Thunder are replacing their third leading scorer and will have to work in a new piece.
Maybe that’s someone in house like Lamb, who has immense talent and potential, but wasn’t prepped whatsoever for the kind of moments or role he could be cast into next season. Maybe it’s Reggie Jackson, who was outstanding standing in for Westbrook during the postseason and showed real promise to be the Thunder’s new sixth man. Maybe it’s Durant going to yet another level, raising his game to an even higher place. Maybe there’s still a name out there that the Thunder eying.
I thought this offseason would give us an indication of what the organization thought about Lamb. The moves they made, who they drafted, what they did would say one way or the other whether they thought he was prepared to contribute. And it seems that they think he is.
It’s not hard to see why the Thunder let Kevin Martin walk. That was expected. The Thunder weren’t going to break into the luxury tax for Martin, especially with how he disappointed and was so inconsistent in the postseason. He’s not worth $7 million a year, most certainly not to the Thunder.
But with the realization that he’s now on another team and the Thunder just lost a decent amount of production, there’s some worry. And it’s warranted, honestly. Look at all the lineup data and efficiency stats. While Martin has some issues with consistency, he still was part of some of the best two-man and three-man lineups in the NBA, and a major part of the second best offense in the league, one that had improved quite a bit from the season prior.
Now he’s gone and the Thunder have to yet again find a way to replace that.
So, you might be asking, “Now what can the Thunder do?” Martin’s contract comes off the books, but unfortunately for the Thunder, that doesn’t open any cap space because Serge Ibaka’s new extension begins. The Thunder only have around a million in cap room before they hit the luxury tax.
(Full breakdown here. READ IT BEFORE ASKING, “WHAT ABOUT AL JEFFERSON CAN WE SIGN HIM QUESTION MARK?”)
They still could spend their mid-level exception, or part of it on another player, though the market is beginning to get picked over. There’s also a player like Dorell Wright who the Thunder were rumored to be interested in. And according to a league source, that’s still very much on the table and could be happening soon.
Which would be a sign that the Thunder are entirely sure about Lamb. Because to expect he’s completely ready feels bold. Can he produce and hit shots in the regular season? Can he score 10-14 points a game on 43 percent shooting or so? I think so. Lamb has major ability, especially offensively. But can he show up in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals and knock down some big second half shots? Ehhh.
I fully support the Thunder’s model of draft and development. It’s better to be good for 15 years rather than hurling wild haymakers at banners for two or three years. Mortgaging the future for the present isn’t the Thunder’s philosophy, nor should it be. Patience is something lost on so many professional franchises and in the haste to WIN NOW, perspective gets washed away.
But there is a balance to maintain. When you have a special roster in place, you can’t simply count your blessings and assume that’s enough. There is a certain amount of aggression that has to be shown, otherwise you get disgruntled fans, and disgruntled players.
The Thunder aren’t in a position to spend big, but they have a contending roster in place that needs a little tweaking, that needs a little help. There are still options on the open market and there’s still the trade deadline where the Thunder have accumulated assets.
But on a day where the Clippers went big on a trade and the Wolves are stockpiling players and other teams are making moves while the Thunder stick to their company line of sustainability while hiding behind words like “luxury tax” and “small market,” the frustration builds.
I feel it too, trust me. The Thunder have something special in place with Durant and Westbrook. But that’s not an excuse to assume it’s enough. And that’s certainly not an excuse to be complacent.