Oklahoma City Thunder forward Durant reacts during NBA Global Game against Fenerbahce Ulker in Istanbul

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

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Last season: The Thunder finished the regular season with a record of 60-22, which was good for the number one playoff seed in the Western Conference.

Thanks to the unfortunate knee injury that occurred in Game 2 of the team’s first round playoff series against the Rockets, however, OKC quite literally limped to the finish line, and was overmatched by a Memphis Grizzlies team in the second round that took care of them easily in five games.

Signature highlight from last season: The play that was most impactful was, of course, Westbrook’s injury in the playoffs. But let’s keep it positive here, and with too many ridiculous Kevin Durant highlights to choose from, let’s go with this explosive dunk from Westbrook on the break that he threw down over Golden State’s Stephen Curry.

Key player changes: OKC didn’t make any additions that would lead you to believe the roster this year is better than it was a season ago, and lost it’s only reliable scorer from the bench unit in free agency.

  • IN: Rookies Steven Adams (drafted with the 10th overall pick) and Andre Roberson (drafted with the 26th overall pick by Minnesota, then dealt to OKC on draft night) are the only new faces with guaranteed contracts in place for the coming season.
  • OUT: Kevin Martin was allowed to leave in free agency, and although he got more from the Timberwolves than he would have been worth to the Thunder (especially when retaining him would’ve meant entering luxury tax territory), his loss will be noticed, especially in the early part of the season. Ronnie Brewer was a midseason acquisition, but he didn’t have much impact and ended up signing with the Rockets this summer.

Keys to the Thunder’s season:

1) The health of Russell Westbrook: We know Westbrook is going to miss at least the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season following an additional knee surgery that took place just recently. What we don’t know is how long it’ll be before he returns to form as one of the most dynamic and explosive players in the game today.

The timeline of Westbrook’s ascent back to the player he once was is going to make all the difference in how the Thunder’s regular season plays out. The team is obviously looking at playing deep into the postseason, after finishing with 60 wins last year and making it to the Finals in the season before that. But in the midst of a crowded Western Conference stacked with at least six powerful teams, finishing lower in the standings will make the desired playoff results that much more difficult to achieve.

2) The development of the bench: OKC traded away James Harden before the beginning of last season, and while history is not going to look kindly on the deal from the Thunder’s perspective, at least they got a semi-serviceable scorer in Kevin Martin in return who could fill that role off the bench. With Martin now gone in free agency (and with no one added to replace him), the Thunder are going to need to get production from the reserve unit somewhere if they’re going to be able to compete with the league’s elite teams.

The hope is that Reggie Jackson, who saw heavy minutes during the playoffs and performed better than expected, can continue to develop into a reliable contributor that he’s already shown signs of proving to be. But it would be nice if Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Liggins or one of the freshly-drafted rookies could contribute as well, and there’s just no guarantee that they’ll come along as quickly as the Thunder need them to in order to remove some of the burden from the starters’ shoulders.

3) Kevin Durant, MVP? This could be the year that Kevin Durant unseats LeBron James as league MVP, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost on the list could be voter fatigue — we all know that James is considered to be the game’s best player, but if the Heat coast a little during the regular season and Durant is forced to put up ridiculous numbers to keep his team in the hunt while Westbrook is out, it would be easy to see him quickly becoming the favorite to take home the award if those making the call are looking to give it to someone besides James.

Durant is capable of dominating offensively, and will be expected to do so with his All-Star teammate sidelined. He could take on an even bigger role as the season progresses depending on Westbrook’s recovery and whether or not he gets much help from his teammates. If he puts up MVP-caliber numbers, there’s no reason the Thunder can’t be right where they need to be by the time the season concludes, despite all of the apparent challenges.

Why you should watch the Thunder: Durant and Westbrook are arguably two of the league’s top-five players. Beyond that, the intrigue with this Thunder team runs deep. Can Durant carry them to a high place in the regular season standings, or will the team collapse under heavy expectations, and due to Westbrook’s injury and the lack of a capable bench? There’s drama here, and that’s exciting.

Prediction: 53-29, good for a top-five finish in the West. Durant will need to come through with that MVP season for the Thunder to be in the championship conversation, especially in a deeper-than-usual Western Conference. While he’s certainly capable of that, the questions surrounding Westbrook and the reserve unit are too plentiful for the team to warrant anything more than a forecast of a similar outcome as it experienced a season ago — a second round playoff loss.

Report: Ty Lawson’s one-year deal with Kings is non-guaranteed

TORONTO, ON - MAY 01:  Ty Lawson #10 of the Indiana Pacers dribbles the ball in the first half of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Raptors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 01, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Ty Lawson is headed to the Kings, as first reported on Monday. The team made the move official on Wednesday with a press release, and USA Today‘s Sam Amick offers up another important piece of information: Lawson’s deal is not guaranteed, making it essentially a make-good camp invite.

It’s staggering how Lawson went from a borderline All-Star level point guard in 2012-13 to signing a non-guaranteed one-year deal with a lottery team three years later. His off-the-court issues have contributed to that, and he didn’t produce last season in Houston and Indiana. Still, he should have a pretty good chance of making the Kings’ roster, with Seth Curry and Rajon Rondo gone and Darren Collison their only proven point guard. They need depth there.

Ben Simmons works out with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (PHOTO)

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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When Ben Simmons declared for the NBA draft this spring, he signed with LeBron James‘ Klutch Sports group for representation. That association would appear to have its advantages for the No. 1 overall pick, including the opportunity to work out with James and Dwyane Wade during the offseason. Wade posted a group photo on Instagram on Wednesday afternoon:

Also, it’s pretty staggering to see Simmons standing next to James and realizing that he’s bigger and taller.

Craig Sager undergoes bone marrow transplant (PHOTO)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13:  Honoree Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V Award for Perserverance onstage during the 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Thanks to a match from an anonymous donor, beloved TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager was able to receive his third bone-marrow transplant since 2014 in an extended battle with leukemia. Sager’s son, Craig Sager II, shared a photo on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon of his father undergoing the transplant, appearing to be in good spirits as usual.

Our continued well wishes go out to Sager and his family in his recovery, and we hope to see him back on the sidelines this season.

Report: Mychel Thompson, brother of Klay, working out for Kings

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 04:  Mychel Thompson #15 of the Pepperdine Waves appears on the court during a game against the San Diego Toreros during the first round of the Zappos.com West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena March 4, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Pepperdine won 84-81.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Last season, the Sacramento Kings signed Seth Curry, brother of Stephen Curry. He left this summer for Dallas, and now the Kings are working out the brother of the other Splash Brother — Klay Thompson‘s brother Mychel — according to international basketball reporter David Pick.

Mychel Thompson’s only NBA experience is five games with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011-12. He spent some time in the D-League after that, and played in Italy during the 2015-16 season.