Oklahoma City Thunder 2015-16 Season Preview
2014-15 Record: 45-37, No. 2 Northwest Division, No. 9 Western Conference
Cameron Payne (PG) – Drafted No. 14 overall
Josh Huestis (SF) – Signed out of D-League
Notable Staffing Changes
Scott Brooks – Fired as head coach
Billy Donovan – Hired as head coach
Monty Williams – Hired as assistant coach
Maurice Cheeks – Hired as assistant coach
Anthony Grant – Hired as assistant coach
SBN Affiliate: Welcome To Loud City
2014-15 Season in Review
The Thunder’s 2014-15 campaign took a huge hit before the season even began, when it was revealed that 2014 MVP Kevin Durant had a Jones fracture (a fracture of the fifth metatarsal, near the pinky toe) in his right foot. He was slated to return in 6-8 weeks, which meant missing the first month of the regular season. As a top-loaded team, the Thunder would need to lean heavily on point guard Russell Westbrook in Durant’s absence, but Westbrook, too, fell to injury, breaking his hand one game after the opener. Without the focal points of their offense, the Thunder got off to a miserable 3-12 start; their worst since the first year of the post-Super Sonic era (2008-09).
As the calendar flipped from November to December and the fearsome twosome made their respective returns just one game apart, the Thunder started winning as expected, but it was not to last. Durant sprained his right ankle on December 18, missing six more games. He would flirt with full health just enough to tally 21 games played before being selected to the All-Star team in February (a sore point for Trail Blazers fans who wanted to see Damian Lillard on the roster), but was shut down for the season just one game after the break to undergo his third foot surgery in six months. Prior to the announcement, the Thunder traded for Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin, and Kyle Singler to keep their playoff hopes alive.
In fairness, that playoff candle remained lit until the very end, but was mostly due to the inhuman efforts of Westbrook in Brooks’ simplistic system. Without Durant to share the scoring burden, Westbrook exploded for his first scoring title, notching a league-high 28.1 points per game. He also led the league in usage percentage (38.4), which explains how he was able to attempt more total field goals than any other player, despite missing 15 games due to injury. This Herculean feat was almost enough. The Thunder were eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the regular season, as the New Orleans Pelicans completed a miraculous 8-3 push with a win over the San Antonio Spurs. Brooks was fired one week later.
On April 30, the Thunder hired Donovan of Florida fame as their next head coach. Since this roster is a perennial championship contender when healthy, there is an incredible amount of pressure on Donovan to find immediate success. For all the criticism Brooks endured as head coach, both fair and unfair, he took his team to the Conference Finals or beyond in three of the four years that they had no major post-season injuries. The bar is set high; especially with Durant’s looming free agency in 2016.
Said free agency is already at the center of an ongoing spat between Durant and polarizing television personality Stephen A Smith. Smith suggested that if the Thunder fail to keep Durant’s interest this year, the superstar’s attention will turn to Los Angeles. Durant responded to Smith’s report, saying, "I don’t talk to Stephen A Smith at all. Nobody in my family, my friends, they don’t talk to Stephen A Smith. So he’s lying." This agitated Smith, who righteously or otherwise defended his reputation on air. Regardless of who is telling the truth (make your own judgment call), the whole conversation is probably premature.
In present-day free agency, the Thunder were far from exciting, but certainly productive. They kept it all in-house, re-signing two of their own; Kanter and Singler. Kanter’s max contract turned some heads, but it was necessary to keep him away from the Trail Blazers, who forced the Thunder to match by maxing out the restricted big man first. Kanter’s retention at such a steep price (4yr/$70M) signals that the Thunder are prepared to spend on talent if it means a better chance of re-signing Durant next year. Again, let’s let that circus arrive before we pack too many elephants in the room.
PG: Russell Westbrook | D.J. Augustin | Cameron Payne
SG: Dion Waiters | Andre Roberson | Anthony Morrow
SF: Kevin Durant | Kyle Singler | Josh Huestis
PF: Serge Ibaka | Nick Collison | Steve Novak
C: Enes Kanter | Steven Adams | Mitch McGary
The sky is the limit for the Thunder (heh). Think about what their outlook was entering last season, before Westbrook got hurt. Were they a playoff team? Most likely. Durant was only supposed to miss a month or so, then they would be back in business. Okay, now replace Reggie Jackson, Kendrick Perkins, Lance Thomas, and Lamb with Augustin, Kanter, Waiters, Singler, and Novak. Assume good health for both Durant and Westbrook. Add a first round draft pick (Payne). This new team should be too busy kicking butt to take any names. How far they go depends on health – as it would with any team – and Donovan’s readiness to coach in the NBA. The front office has surrounded Donovan with highly experienced assistants to help with the latter.
The Thunder hit a few early bumps in the road as Donovan adjusts to the team and vice versa, but they are never really questioned as the dominant squad in the Northwest Division. Durant and Westbrook both make the All-Star team. Augustin, realizing that he is entering his prime during an unholy salary cap spike in a contract year, surpasses expectations. At least one curious reader googles Dakari Johnson.
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