The Golden State Warriors dominated the regular season, won an NBA championship and then won their offseason by re-signing Draymond Green to a new deal. The San Antonio Spurs made the biggest splash of the summer by landing LaMarcus Aldridge. The Los Angeles Clippers were in the headlines thanks to the DeAndre Jordan saga, while also making some other key moves to improve depth. The Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies are bringing back cores of highly successful teams.
Then there’s the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder, coming off a disappointing season, were largely a forgotten squad this offseason until Enes Kanter‘s max offer sheet sparked heated discussion about whether or not he’s worth that deal. Oklahoma City ultimately matched the four-year, $70 million offer sheet, hoping his value offensively and on the glass will outweigh his awful defense.
The Thunder matching that max offer sheet and going deep into the tax naturally had people questioning why the organization would shell out that kind of money to keep Kanter when they wouldn’t pay up to keep James Harden. However, the situations were much different, as Oklahoma City isn’t in danger of the repeater tax this season and there’s a certain somebody heading to free agency in 2016 that may not have appreciated seeing another young, talented running mate leave.
That somebody, of course, is Kevin Durant.
While the Thunder weren’t a major part of this offseason, they’ll be at the center of the storm next summer with Durant set to become an unrestricted free agent. With the cap about to spike to around $90 million, a host of teams (including his hometown Washington Wizards) will have cap space to pursue Durant, so the 2014 MVP will have plenty of options if he feels the itch to leave Oklahoma City.
That’s what makes this coming season so important for the Thunder, who have seen injuries derail their title hopes in each of the last three seasons. This past year saw significant injuries to Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook, with Durant undergoing three different surgeries on his foot.
With Durant out for most of the year, it’s easy to forget just how good he and the Thunder are when at full strength. All those aforementioned Western Conference contenders are superb teams, but Oklahoma City belongs in that conversation without question, and may even be the most talented of the bunch. Everything starts with Durant and Westbrook, but throw in an incredibly unique big man in Ibaka, a double-double guy in Kanter and depth across the roster, and it’s not hard to envision the Thunder raising the Larry O’Brien Tropthy next June in Billy Donovan’s first season at the helm.
The question marks remain. Many of them are health related, but Kanter’s defensive woes could be a huge problem if he doesn’t improve or Ibaka can’t cover for the miscues. Dion Waiters is extremely erratic and can torpedo possessions with poor shot selection. Donovan will need some time to adjust to the NBA game and will be tasked with massaging all the egos in that talented locker room.
Needless to say, it’s going to be a fascinating season in Oklahoma City. A run to a championship would make it awfully hard for Durant to leave, but if things go poorly again, perhaps he seeks a new opportunity. And if the rumblings begin that he has a wandering eye, would the Thunder do the unthinkable and look to deal their superstar at the deadline? That seems like an unlikely scenario and would mean the season had gone horribly wrong, but you can’t rule out anything in the NBA.