The main question we’re asking here is whether cutting dead weight that is Carmelo Anthony made it a successful summer for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Secondary to that is figuring if they can reach the heights that were previously predicted for them. A lot has already happened already during this off-season. It’s been blockbuster trade after blockbuster trade, but something that needs a little more attention to it is the business doings of underrated OKC General Manager Sam Presti. We’ll look ahead to the upcoming season and decide whether it was all worth it.
It’s hard to accurately predict a season almost 3 months before it has even begun, but it’s not hard to see what direction the team is going and the identity they’re searching for. An identity is something OKC has been searching for since Kevin Durant jumped ship and left the team, and the entire state of Oklahoma, in the hands of Russell Westbrook.
Cutting Dead Weight: Oklahoma City Thunder are Better Without Carmelo Anthony
Even as a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 2017-18 season was nothing short of disappointing. The team added 2 huge stars and formed their own “Big Three”, at least that’s how it was on paper. Hindsight is a powerful thing.
Trading for Paul George was a huge deal for such a small market team. Sam Presti got him for pennies on the dollar, and everyone was raving about the Thunder’s chances with PG13 and Westbrook. The signing of Melo, while lauded by some as bringing OKC over the line into title contention, was irrelevant. They ate a huge contract, a no-trade clause, and an arrogant player past his peak.
This off-season is how the last one should have gone; Anthony is not on the team, George is no longer a rental after signing a 4-year max deal worth $137 million, and Westbrook is – yet again – coming off of a triple-double season.
Anthony was, even as a fan, a toxic presence. Sam Presti knew Anthony never gelled with the team and managed to get rid of him after only a year. After turning Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis into Paul George, he managed to turn Melo into Dennis Schroder – a proven point guard in the league that will serve as a strong, scoring back-up to Westbrook – and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot – a young, former first-round pick that can be another part of the young core of the team. The Thunder also signed Summer League standout Deonte Burton and former D-League Rookie of the Year Abdel Nader. Those two should hopefully find comradery in the fact that they both went to college at Iowa State.
On opening day, OKC should roll out a line-up of Westbrook, Andre Roberson, George, Jerami Grant and Steven Adams. This allows a vast amount of flexibility for the team. Westbrook and Adams have a proven pick-and-roll game and arguably one of the top 1-2 punches in the NBA. Westbrook should now have a renewed brotherhood with George after getting to know each other on and off the court over the past year. Andre Roberson should be 100% after getting plenty of time to recover from the tendinitis that has plagued him for a while. Jerami Grant is an extremely athletic forward that has shown flashes of both offensive brilliance and defensive competence.
For far too long, the biggest weakness for the Thunder was its bench depth. During 2016-17, Enes Kanter was the biggest highlight, averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds in 21 minutes. Move ahead to last year, Kanter is gone and the bench problems have returned even bigger. Raymond Felton was barely capable of leading the 2nd unit, and the rest of the bench couldn’t shoot on most nights.
With the addition of Schroder to lead the bench squad, moving Felton to 2-guard gives the bench added structure. Snapping up Nerlens Noel fills a Kanter-shaped hole that OKC has been so desperate to take care. Other role players such as Josh Huestis, Terrance Ferguson, and Patrick Patterson have gotten used to their role. They should now provide the ‘umph’ that this team needs to get over the hump of the first round.
It’s hard to see the new-look team not improving on last seasons underwhelming 48 wins but you’re not looking at them gelling straight out of the gate either. The realistic prediction is somewhere around 55 wins. However, this team has overachieved before, so don’t be surprised if they do it again.