“It was the most challenging season for me since I’ve been in the NBA in seven years.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder roster needed a shakeup after their Western Conference Finals loss to the Warriors; that’s exactly what happened on Thursday night during the 2016 NBA draft. They traded away one of the cornerstones of the franchise, but received quite the haul. I’ll get into that later but first, I should explain the events that had led up to this.
Oklahoma City is coming off its most successful postseason since their 2012 Finals run. This off-season, they advanced to the Western Conference Finals and were up 3-1 through the first 4 games. The last 3 games magnified the weaknesses of the team as the Warriors sniffed out and capitalized on the roster’s shortcomings. Most notably, the Thunder are missing a third player who can create their own shot, create for others and knockdown 3 pointers.
By most accounts OKC peaked during this postseason, and Presti concluded that his team needed some young talent to put OKC over the top. Less than a week ago, Kevin Durant was asked about his impending free agency and offered up the following remarks:
Full Kevin Durant quote on free agency at his KD9 shoe release: pic.twitter.com/VtgkH5yVo8
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) June 20, 2016
With those remarks, the ball immediately moved into GM Sam Presti’s court. Since that press conference, there have been rumors of the Thunder shopping Serge Ibaka, whose numbers have slumped since 2013. Over the course of the season, Ibaka expressed dissatisfaction with his role on the team, leading to grumblings that he may leave in free agency next summer. His role was further diminished with the emergence of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. During the postseason Adams and Kanter were played in conjunction down the stretch of games and it proved to be very effective.
Ibaka became expendable, opening the door for the Thunder to make improvements to their roster. The Thunder addressed every one of their weaknesses with this trade. They landed combo-guard Victor Oladipo, a freakishly athlete and versatile player on both ends. He can guard 1s and 2s with ease, and will be a terror in transition alongside the Thunder’s two superstars. His 3-point shooting has improved in each of his 3 seasons in the NBA, and he’s a reliable secondary ball distribute, which will allow Russell Westbrook to play off-ball and open up the court for him to score. The tandem of Westbrook and Oladipo in the backcourt will make opposing coaches cringe for years to come.
The Thunder also obtained Ersan Ilyasova, an 8 year veteran in the NBA with the ability to spread the floor from the power-forward position. He has a career 3-point average of 37%, which creates driving lanes for KD, Russ and Oladipo. He’s also an under-rated rebounder, so the Thunder essentially found somebody to fill Serge Ibaka’s role in the interim while Domantas Sabonis gets acclimated to the NBA and to his new role.
As a cherry on top, The Thunder received the rights to Domantas Sabonis, the son of Hall-of-Famer Arvydas Sabonis, who played for the Portland Trailblazers for many years. Domantas adds even more depth to the Thunder’s already dominant big-men rotation, and could ultimately be the replacement for Ibaka down the line. Before he even steps on to an NBA court, he’s a skilled big man who can finish at the rim, rebound, and step out and hit the 3 ball.
Oklahoma City got quite the return for a player who is on the decline. Now that the roster is rejuvenated, the ball is once again back squarely on Kevin Durant’s side of the court. Oklahoma City is younger and deeper than they have ever been. Will he stay or will he leave?