In the first edition of the NewsOK.com NBA Roundtable, our panel of experts looks at who will be popular for the Thunder, who will be the mascot and where this team could end up in the NBA pecking order. 1. ESPN picks the Thunder as the worst team in the league. Where should they really be? Columnist Berry Tramel: They're not far from it. The Sonics won 20 games last year, so let's not get too carried away. If the Thunder reaches 30 wins, that's a 10-game jump and an excellent step in the rebuilding process. Memphis clearly is worse. But who in the East is worse? The Heat will rebound. The Knickerbockers can't possibly be in the 20s again, can they? Milwaukee is better. So someone will have to fall. Maybe Indiana could. Or even New Jersey. But right now, the Thunder would have to rank 29th. Columnist Jenni Carlson: Right now, the Thunder probably belongs at the bottom of the list. This is a team that won only a handful of games last season, is still very young and didn’t make any monumental offseason acquisitions. This is largely the same bunch that struggled mightily last year. Now, granted, the young stars are older and wiser and better, and the draft upped the team's talent level. But those factors aren't enough, just yet, to assume that this team is going to win a bunch more games this season. This group has the potential to do that, but until they show something, it's hard to argue with the worst-in-the-league assessment. Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry: Not last, but not much higher either. I suspect the Thunder has improved enough to leapfrog a few teams in the standings: Minnesota, Memphis, Sacramento, New York, Golden State and New Jersey. That would make it the 24th worst team. Not great, but much better than the second-to-last finish the Sonics turned in up north last season. NBA beat writer Mike Baldwin: ESPN is sleeping on this team. By Christmas they'll change their tune in Bristol, Conn. By adding Joe Smith and Desmond Mason, and the No. 4 pick in the draft (Westbrook), the Thunder will be much improved. Include the Ford Center home-court advantage the Hornets experienced and the Thunder should win 10 to 15 more games this season. If OKC wins 30 to 35 games that would put them around 7th to 10th in next year's draft. Even if they don't show dramatic improvement they should at least be better than Memphis, Minnesota, New Jersey and the Knicks. If they win 30 to 35 games they could also have a better record than Charlotte, Indiana, Milwaukee, Sacramento and the Clippers. Sports editor Mike Sherman: The roster the Thunder is bringing to Oklahoma City is a lot better than the squad the Hornets showed up with in October 2005. Position-for-position, man-for-man it's really not even close. Chris Paul might be the only starting position that I would give that Hornets squad the edge on this Thunder team. (I need to blog on this. Heck, I just need to blog period). In our "1-on-1 with Thundermadness.com" video this week I set the over/under for Thunder win total at 32. I could see them easily being better than Memphis, the Clippers, Golden State and even the Timberwolves. Could they end up better than that 2005-06 Hornets team, which won 38 games. Tell you what: Let's ask Desmond Mason, who was on both teams. A week or so into the season we'll just ask him which is better and whamo, there's a story. Columnist John Rohde: Memphis, New Jersey and New York could be worse. Charlotte, Indiana and Minnesota also could be worse. Seattle won't win a game. 2. Should the team have put "OKC" instead of "Oklahoma City" on the team's road jerseys? Carlson: Having OKC on the jerseys would be cool, but that's why teams have alternate jerseys. It's not like these are the only two jerseys that the team will ever have, so there will be time to do the OKC jersey. Besides, for the first jerseys, having Oklahoma City spelled out is for the best. It gives a nod to the city for all that it has done to land this team. It looks kind of retro, too. Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry: No. Let's not forget why we started down the road of this NBA journey. A big-league franchise was supposed to uplift Oklahoma City's image while adding to the city's quality of life. OKC across the chest initially would have been confusing to many fans across the country. Although it’s long, jumbled and therefore has a relatively smaller font, Oklahoma City on the road jerseys leaves no doubt in fans' minds from which city the Thunder hails. Besides, alternate jerseys with OKC can be introduced later. Tramel: I don't mind Oklahoma City, at least in the first few years of the franchise while the name gets established in the league. Eventually, OKC or, even better, "The City," would be fantastic. But frankly, I don't care if they put Cowtown up there, just so long as they do it in a more snazzy font. That block Thunder and block Oklahoma City are boring. Baldwin:It's a matter of taste. OKC would have worked. So does Oklahoma City. Either works just fine. Oklahoma City is a little long on a road uniform but it's not as big a deal as some are making it out to be. For all the debate on the logo, uniforms, etc., the one thing I like most is sky blue is the color for road uniforms and will be the team's primary color. Living in Big 12 country, no college program in this area has that sky blue like UCLA or North Carolina. Sky blue is unique in the Southwest. Way too much opinion on all the other things. Once we start concentrating on wins and losses, and this organization is close to completing its first season, the logo, colors, uniforms won't even be an issue. Sherman: I'm not a fan of two-line "hammer" headlines — in newspapers or on uniforms. So that leaves two options: 1) "Oklahoma" on top of the number, "City" on below. This is the option the Hornets opted for when they wore their Oklahoma City uniforms (which I thought was one heck of a P.R. move) or 2) Opt for OKC. I think OKC is the way to go. I remember when the acronym was frowned upon in our office and around town, but I think it's fresh. I think OKC is better for the brand, but I'm not a market consultant either. Rohde: Yes. It takes half a box of Alpha-bits to spell out Oklahoma City. On the plus side, we lead the league in syllables (six) and are tied with Philadelphia for the lead in total letters (12). 3. Besides Desmond Mason and Kevin Durant, which player will fans take to the most? Mayberry: Russell Westbrook. Jeff Green would be the easy choice as arguably the second best player on the roster and the Robin to Durant's Batman, but he's not the right choice. Green was Seattle's No. 5 overall pick. And although Westbrook was selected fourth overall just days before the Sonics officially relocated to Oklahoma City, many more fans in OKC tuned into the 2008 draft with bated breath than they did Green's 2007 draft. Fans see Westbrook as OKC's first NBA Draft pick even if he technically isn't. And remember, he was a controversial selection, causing even more fans to take a vested interest in who he is and how he performs. The fact that the high-flying, lock-you-down point guard has the goods to live up to his high selection, and the personality to boot, will make him a fan favorite from the start. Tramel: I think the fans are going to be stunned at Russell Westbrook's athleticism. Let's be honest, he who dunks rules the marketplace. I don't know if Westbrook can hack it as a mainline NBA star, but he's got showtime athletic ability. Carlson: Jeff Green will become a fan favorite. Not only is he outstanding, which is key in endearing yourself to fans, but he is also a complete character. I had a chance to observe him a bit during the team's media day on Monday. During his time with photographers, he was a total ham. He was always talking, always smiling, always having a good time. His personality will make him easy to love. Baldwin: Jeff Green because of his talent. Durant is the star, a future perennial All-Star. But Green also was named to the NBA's All-Rookie team. The Georgetown product takes great pride in his defense and he should improve his average from 10 points to 14.0 to 15.0 points a game. Another player I think fans will absolutely love is 13-year NBA veteran Joe Smith, a Maryland product who brings some veteran leadership and decent career stats to the Ford Center. Sherman: Jeff Green could be big. Here's a guy who walks around with a smile on his face (not something you could always say about a Georgetown basketball player). He's also a guy who the diehard basketball fan is aware of but the casual fan will be surprised by. At the end of last season he started scoring a lot more and fans like guys who smile and score. Rohde:Russell Westbrook, unless Sam Presti trades for Chris "Birdman" Andersen. Westbrook is young, high-energy and works hard. What's not to like? Chris Wilcox sure seems easy to like, though. 4. Should the team start Earl Watson at point guard all season, ease Russell Westbrook in or go ahead start Westbrook from the beginning? Mayberry: No question easing the rook into the NBA game is the best way to go. Few rookie point guards can effectively handle the responsibility of running an offense from Day 1. Westbrook isn't even a true floor general but more of a combo guard who is more than capable of playing the point right now and developing into a full-time playmaker down the road. Watson, on the other hand, is a seven-year vet who's coming off a career year and a full season in coach P.J. Carlesimo's system. He knows what to expect and will not be rattled. The likely early struggles and inevitable inconsistency we would see out of Westbrook should seize any talk of throwing him to the wolves. It's just not worth it, especially with two second-year players in Durant and Green likely penciled in as starters and far from finished making their own mistakes. Tramel: Either way works on Westbrook, starting or coming off the bench. The Hornets handed the reins to Chris Paul in September, and it worked great. In Salt Lake, Jerry Sloan brought along Deron Williams much more slowly, and Williams is a bonafide superstar, too. Carlson: I'm not sure it really matters who starts. It matters more who is leading the offense at crunch time. If Westbrook is truly the franchise's point guard of the future, he must be given a chance to lead the team when games are on the line. If he is left on the bench in the fourth quarter, how will he be able to take over that role? Now, I'm not saying he has to play every single, solitary minute down the stretch, but he has to start getting that experience and establishing his place. Might as well start doing that now. Baldwin: In any sport, at any level, the player who is playing best has earned the right to start. Who knows whether Watson or Westbrook will be "playing the best" at Thanksgiving much less January, February or March once Westbrook gains experience. Besides, who starts can be overrated. How many minutes a player is on the court is much more important. That's why Westbrook needs to average 25 to 30 minutes a game even if he's coming off the bench. My prediction is Westbrook will probably end up becoming the starter sometime after Christmas. Sherman: Start Russell Westbrook right away and play him a lot, unless someone sees something in training camp that tells them this team can contend for an NBA title. The NBA isn't Major League Baseball, which tends to baby young stars, or the NFL, which had that same reputation but increasingly is throwing young players into the fire. Two of last year's worst NFL teams — Atlanta and Baltimore — have started rookie quarterbacks since the season-opener. So Westbrook needs to play, more because of his defensive potential — and this team needed a lot of defensive help last season. But I wouldn't be surprised to see Earl Watson and Westbrook on the court together a lot. Rohde: This is why they have P.J. Carlesimo. That's not our call. If Westbrook is good enough, start him. If he's not, then don't. Remember, Watson is coming off surgery on a bum right thumb. 5. Which spot in the starting lineup will see the most flux? Sherman: All of this stuff is just a guess, but I'm going to rank them: 1) Center, because they might let matchups and chemistry dictate whether to go big or small and because unless one of the three 7-footers (Swift, Petro, Sene) improve, Collison and Joe Smith are going to play a lot of center; 2) Point guard (see the Russell Westbrook/Earl Watson question); 3) Shooting guard (See No. 2); 4) Small forward: The versatility of Kevin Durant and Jeff Green make this a plus; 5) Power forward. I label this as the least "in flux" position because I think the Thunder needs Chris Wilcox to be a force and will give him every chance to become one. That said, if someone offers them a sweetheart trade offer for Wilcox, who is in the last year of a contract, he could be moved. Carlson: Power forward. As our man Darnell Mayberry wrote last week, this is the team's deepest position. There are four guys who could conceivably start there — Nick Collison, Chris Wilcox, Joe Smith and D.J. White. Even Jeff Green has seen some time at the position in the past year. With that many options, it's difficult to believe there won't be a couple different guys who start there throughout the season. Mayberry: Center. The Thunder is likely to begin the season with a power forward starting at center, either Nick Collison, Joe Smith or Chris Wilcox. But the organization also needs to evaluate young centers Robert Swift and Johan Petro, both of whom could be called upon as starters at points throughout the season. Baldwin: Power forward/center. I include them together because they might become interchangeable. Thunder officials would like one of the young centers to make a major contribution. I don't see it. Instead I see Collison, Wilcox, Smith and others rotating at power forward and center. Sometimes it will boil down to who has the hot hand, injuries or possibly matchups with opposing teams. Tramel: Center will be the most unstable position. Nick Collison can play it most nights, but there are some games where he won't be able to, and besides, he's reaching the age where injuries could mount. Rohde: Center. Is it mathematically possible to have three 7-footers on your training camp roster, yet still have no center. 6. They need six months to get a mascot? What should it be? Tramel: Thor should be them mascot. Thor! Thor! Thor! The Boomer King. Carlson: Thor. It's the easiest answer, but it's also the best one. He is the freaking Norse God of Thunder, people. Could there be any better option? Oh, and did I forget to mention that in the comics, Thor makes his home in Oklahoma. Yep, he lives in Broxton. My hope is that this delay is because the team is trying to clear legal hoops to make Thor the mascot, not because it's still trying to figure out what to do. Baldwin: Thor would work. Some sort of buffalo might work. I'm not even against something original. What does a gorilla have to do with Phoenix? Squatch supposedly lived in the Northwest but some claim Sasquatch has been spotted in southeastern Oklahoma. I've blogged the NBA has so many legal and licensing issues the league looks like the tortoise compared to the U.S. Congress. There is even a rumor there's an outside chance they won't have a mascot all season or until the very end of the season. Seems way too long to choose a costume for an acrobatic entertainer. But the past few months have taught us the NBA has about as many lawyers at its New York headquarters as the entire state of Oklahoma combined. Rohde: Seems odd to have an opening night with no mascot. Little kids want something to cling to from the first game. Given the history of Sasquatch sightings in Oklahoma, we should go with the "Squatch" mascot from the Sonics. He's already on the Thunder payroll. Use Squatch on a trial basis. If the local fans like Squatch, and they should, then keep him. If they don't like Squatch, use him until the new mascot finally is revealed. Sherman: Thor is the best and only option. The tie-in with Marvel Comics is a natural, and doesn't he live in Oklahoma? Mayberry: Just put an athletic dude in a muscle suit, name him Rumble and call it a day.