Needless to say, the Oklahoma City Thunder had themselves an eventful offseason. General manager Sam Presti orchestrated a blockbuster trade of draft night, sending Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the 11th pick, Domantas Sabonis. Then, of course, Kevin Durant decided to start his “next chapter” by signing with the Golden State Warriors. That led to plenty of Russell Westbrook trade speculation, but then Westbrook signed an extension that should quiet those rumors for the time being. Now with KD and Ibaka gone, how will the Thunder fare in 2016-17?
1. Best move of offseason
Shawn Woods: Trading Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis. Ibaka’s value probably hasn’t been lower since entering the league, but acquiring Oladipo fills a long-standing hole on the Thunder roster at shooting guard. While there are questions of his fit next to Westbrook, the Thunder finally have an off-guard of the present and future.
Cray Allred: Trading Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis. They turned an expiring contract for a great but plateauing Ibaka into a lottery pick and what had been GM Sam Presti’s white whale in the post-Harden era: a starting-caliber, two-way shooting guard young enough to slot around the team’s core for years to come. This trade looked even better when Kevin Durant was expected back and the roster was expected to improve further on the versatile defensive juggernaut it had unleashed against San Antonio and Golden State in the playoffs.
Russell Westbrook’s re-negotiated extension was obviously the most important move for an organization staring into the abyss after Durant’s departure, but it wasn’t the long-term home-run deal that many perceived. They did well to delay another high-stakes free-agency summer by a year, but they’re still on the clock with their monster point guard. If they can’t muster a balanced contender around him sooner than later, they’ll be back at the drawing board.
Kelly Scaletta: Extending Russell Westbrook in the wake of losing Kevin Durant can’t be overstated. To call it “franchise-saving” might not be an overstatement.
Jason Patt: While the Russell Westbrook extension may not really be for the long term, getting him to agree to do it at all was huge. It now buys the front office a bit more time to try to build a contender around Westbrook in the wake of Durant leaving. And if that fails, they have more time to work out a suitable trade.
2. Worst move of offseason
Shawn: Do I have to say it? Losing Kevin Durant was clearly the worst move of the offseason, not only for the Thunder, but probably in the entire league. Durant covered up a number of deficiencies on the Thunder roster, deficiencies that will certainly be more pronounced by replacing him with Andre Roberson and Kyle Singler.
Cray: The Thunder losing Durant was the most devastating hit any franchise experienced this summer. Despite all of their following moves looking pretty good on paper, failing to acquire a quality starting small forward makes the Durant crater even worse. Kyle Singler, Andre Roberson or Ersan Illyasova could all have good seasons, but none are well-suited to replace much of the spacing, playmaking and/or interior defense that left when Durant signed with Golden State (not to mention the latter being compounded by the loss of Ibaka).
Kelly: It’s a little hard to blame the Thunder; what else were they supposed to do that they didn’t do? But losing Kevin Durant is massive.
Jason: Who knows just how much we can blame the Thunder for Durant leaving. Perhaps we can go back to the James Harden trade and say that shouldn’t have happened. Perhaps we can blame the front office for never finding capable wings to replace Harden. There was some bad injury luck over the last few years. No matter what, losing KD is an absolute killer, especially considering most people thought he’d be back at least for another season.
3. Offseason grade
Shawn: I can’t give a team that lost a top-three player any grade in the “A” range, but I think the Thunder had a positive offseason all things considered. The Thunder acquired a rookie in the lottery without having a draft pick, traded for what they believe to be a shooting guard with good potential, convinced Westbrook to commit to the team for another season and still projects to be a playoff team for the 2016-2017 season. I think they’ve earned a solid B.
Cray: C+. This could improve before November. There’s still a chance that the team spins some wing depth out of their frontcourt surplus (the trade for Joffrey Lauvergne likely makes Enes Kanter expendable). But Oklahoma City is loathe to sacrifice youth and control for just any veteran 3, nor do they want to jeopardize their 2017 cap room and their small chances of landing a star in free agency. Something has to give, and Presti’s next big move could help determine Westbrook’s future and the landscape of the league for years to come.
Kelly: B-. I don’t want to dock them too much for losing Durant, but I can’t ignore that. On the other hand, Oladipo is arguably a better player than Serge Ibaka already, and the Thunder got him and a No. 1 pick for Ibaka. Plus, throw in Ersan Ilyasova just because. This deal was fantastic for the Thunder, especially in light of them losing Kevin Durant. Now they have a replacement secondary ball handler. Of course, this was done before Durant, not after, so it shows that the Thunder are thinking ahead, which is good.
Jason: C. The Ibaka trade could turn out well and the Westbrook extension is a plus, but I can’t give the Thunder anything more than an average grade since they lost Durant.
4. Early prediction for 2016-17
Shawn: Without the ability to predict injuries, I think this team wins around 46 games. Those trying to compare this season to the Thunder team playing while Durant was injured are comparing apples to oranges. That team had a Steven Adams that wasn’t as developed, no bench spark near the level of Enes Kanter and probably most importantly, the number of injuries that players not named Durant suffered were extensive that season. I think the most-likely scenario for the Thunder is 45-37.
Cray: I think the Thunder will snag the Western seventh seed with about 45 wins. That’s not their ceiling, and I could see this accumulation of young parts shaping into something dynamic as the season rolls along and players grow into bigger roles sans Durant. But I doubt they have it close to figured out from day one, and any injury to Westbrook — even for a short stretch of games — will drastically effect the wins/losses column. Considering his three knee surgeries and vicious style of play, he’s been miraculously healthy, but in his eighth professional season he’ll see the biggest work load of his career.
Kelly: In addition to Westbrook and Oladipo, they still have Enes Kanter and Steven Adams. That’s enough talent to vie for a 5-8 playoff seed. I’d say around 48-52 wins and fifth or six in the conference.
Jason: The Thunder will obviously take a step back without Durant, but I think they should still make the postseason given Westbrook plays a full season or close to a full season. He’s still a monster, and the frontcourt tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter is still pretty formidable. Just how good Oklahoma City is could depend on any leap Victor Oladipo makes. I’m guessing they’ll end up with one of the lower playoff seeds in the West.