Reminder: We’re avoiding some of the transactional minutia like 10-day contracts and draft rights fodder, which is a real shame since Szymon Szewczyk will have to go overlooked in this edition.
2014/15 Offseason Moves
Picked: Mitch McGary (21st overall), Josh Huestis (29th), Semaj Christon (55th, acquired via trade)
Signed: Anthony Morrow, Lance Thomas, Sebastian Telfair, Ish Smith (a week into the season)
Walked: Thabo Sefolosha (via sign-and-trade), Caron Butler, Ryan Gomes
Retired: Derek Fisher
What Didn’t Happen:
Reggie Jackson: no extension agreement reached, but not traded
Pau Gasol: spurns the Thunder in free agency
Scott Brooks: not fired
I’m breaking up the zany 2014/15 look-back in two (offseason/in-season moves). There was just too much that happened to evaluate at once without flattening the whole picture. The upheaval, injuries, and conflicts plaguing the team led to a couple epochs within the year, which I’ll crudely term BR and AR (Before and After Reggie). The Thunder had played the steadiest of hands a year before, as we saw in the 2013/14 retrospective, counting on the pieces in place post-Harden trade to form into a long-term super team.
Until a run of the mill buyout pickup (Caron Butler) revealed and/or contributed to a meltdown on the perimeter. Jeremy Lamb was done. Thabo Sefolosha was demoted from starter to regular DNP-er in those playoffs. Derek Fisher was (finally) old enough to retire. Combined with Serge Ibaka’s bum leg and the further deterioration of Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder’s step back on the wing kept them from continuing their tradition of out-athleting the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The crude perception of Scott Brooks as a player developer unable to implement a quality offensive system grew.
And yet, the same playoff stretch revealed that the Thunder still had a hand to play. Steven Adams was clearly capable of replacing Perkins sooner than expected. Reggie Jackson stepped into a larger role, performing heroically and eventually starting in the biggest games of the year after he had served admirably as a super backup when Russell Westbrook missed time from knee surgeries.
Outside of snagging sharp-shooter Anthony Morrow on a remarkably team-friendly contract that lasts through 2016/17, the Thunder’s offseason was much more notable for what didn’t happen than what did. Scott Brooks wasn’t fired, although there is some indication that the team explored the possibility of replacing him with Kevin Ollie. Josh Huestis wasn’t treated like a first-rounder, accepting a D-League arrangement and a promise instead of a rookie scale contract. The Thunder chased hard after Pau Gasol, who signed for more, but within range of what OKC could offer, in Chicago.
Jackson was up for a contract extension in the summer of 2014, lest the team stare down a restricted free agency for him the next, something they were unwilling to do in Harden’s case. But Jackson wanted to start, really badly. And he said as much. Presumably, the Thunder would have reached an extension agreement with him at his asking price if they believed in him as a starting shooting guard that could stagger into running point with the reserves. They didn’t, and no deal was done.
But, Jackson’s public campaign to start notwithstanding, the team took what appeared to be a more patient approach. When negotiations fell apart with Harden, he was shipped out abruptly as the team attempted to move toward their new identity without him in haste. Jackson remained with the team, and there was still hope that he would be content enough as an important role player to make things work. They might not admit it, but if the team had the foreknowledge that its superstars would keep missing huge chunks of games into the 2014/15 season, they would have given more consideration to giving Jackson his starting role and the contract to go with it. He ended up starting his first 13 games of the season anyway, and played heavy minutes while the team relied on Ish Smith and Sebastian Telfair as surprise backups.
In any case, the shine on the Thunder was fading. Kevin Durant’s broken foot cast a shadow over an already unsettled roster. Free agents wouldn’t sacrifice to chase a ring in Oklahoma, and their complementary homegrown talent still appeared doomed to leak out. This offseason’s non-moves weren’t earth-shattering, but they lit the fuse for the fireworks we’ll see in the in-season installment of 2014/15.