Not only George’s free agency, which remains the main target for Presti, but also Anthony’s situation, Grant’s free agency, and the goal to give finally consistency to this team.
As Sam Presti mentioned during his press conference, this season has been a disappointment, not everything was horrible, but the results didn’t meet the expectations. Let’s have a look at five takeaways, positive and not, from this season.
ONE: Live & Die by Russell Westbrook.
The 2016-2017 season, with a roster built on the fly after Durant’s departure, the Thunder put the trust entirely on Westbrook. Russell led Oklahoma City to forty-seven wins, he was the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double and ended up winning the MVP trophy. The Thunder lived and died based on Westbrook’s performance. This season things were supposed to change, due to the addition of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but they didn’t as much as expected. To start the season Westbrook tried to make PG and Anthony as comfortable as possible but this translated into an 8-12 start. After it, Westbrook tried to play as the unstoppable war machine we all knew, and the Thunder started to look, slowly, better. However, through the season, and especially in the playoff, the team relied too much on Westbrook with the game on the line. His decision making, in close games especially, has been head-scratching most of the times during his career, but when last year he was successful (one big reason why he won the MVP), this year he wasn’t, and it cost the Thunder a few games. There is no major blame on Westbrook for the disappointing year, he still lives out of the last year’s amazing performance, and you can see he put his heart on the line every night, but despite averaging another triple-double for the season, overall he hasn’t been great as he was last year.
TWO: The Importance of Andre Roberson.
There weren’t many Thunder fans excited about the fact that Roberson was still a part of the team going into this season. People always complained about his poor offense and took his defense for granted. One big takeaway from this season is definitely how his injury changed the mind of many fans and more importantly, how it changed the Thunder’s season. Yes because despite a that bad start (8-12), the Thunder started to click, on both ends of the floor, and combined for a 21-8 record in the next 29 games. Roberson was having his best season defensively, and his offense did improve and he wasn’t a liability on the floor anymore. Then the unexpected happened and Andre Roberson went down with a ruptured left patellar tendon. Defensively the Thunder weren’t really able to recover for the remainder of the season despite adding Corey Brewer to the roster. Roberson absence was felt especially during the playoff when nobody, George included, was able to stop the rookie sensation, Donovan Mitchell.
During his exit interview, Roberson said that he expects to be back fully healthy for training camp, the team will need him, and the fans will be happy to have him back.
THREE: Didn’t Walk the Talk.
Fans, media, and everyone around the NBA heard over and over and over again about how this Thunder team was a full season project, how hard it would be to mesh all the different players together, and how they will be ready for the playoffs. Also, right before the All-Star, Anthony said that after the long break it would have been “Showtime”. Well, showtimes never arrived, the Thunder never looked like a fun team to watch, the same issues were dragged from the start of the season till the end of it in Utah.
The feeling is that The Big Three if we can still call them like that, talked too much during the season about how good they will be, they thought they were better than what maybe they really were together, and basically never backed up the talk.
FOUR: The Failed Experiment.
When Presti traded for Paul George, then added Felton as a backup point guard, and Patterson as a stretch four, the team was as close as a perfect fit. Westbrook, Roberson, PG, Patterson, Adams: a solid lineup on both ends of the floor. However, with PG being a free agent after only one year, and with Westbrook without an extension signed yet, Presti decided to go all in and traded for Carmelo Anthony. The idea was to add Olimpic Melo, a stretch four able to hit catch and shoot threes without the need to create his own shot. Well, despite Melo’s “sacrifice” to play in a new position and in a new style, the results haven’t been satisfying. Coach Donovan always praised Melo willingness to help the team, but Anthony threw all the coaching staff under the bus during his exit interview. He has been a liability on defense, very inconsistent on offense, and he basically played heavy minutes just because of his name. Will George come back? Will Anthony come back? We don’t know the answers yet, but something will have definitely to change in order for this team to succeed next season.
FIVE: The Development of Jerami Grant.
Within a lot of disappointment, we were able to watch the rise and development of Jerami Grant. Grant became an offensive weapon able to attack the rim and most importantly to finish at the rim. Last year, and to be honest also at the beginning of this season, he looked kinda out of control every time he attacked the basket, but game after game he improved and became a real threat. Defensively he can guard multiple positions and he is the main rim protector that the Thunder has on its team. Hopefully the Thunder will be able to resign him during free agency.