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Thunder, Portland have plenty of young talent

By Mike Baldwin Modified: April 3, 2009 at 9:10 am •  Published: April 3, 2009
Ric Bucher left town convinced the Thunder has a bright future after spending a few days in Oklahoma City for an upcoming story in ESPN the Magazine.

So bright, Bucher said the Thunder could be a more formidable playoff threat than Portland a few seasons from now.

"There are key components to building a championship team,” Bucher said. "You have to have a superstar who dominates his position. And you have to have a point guard.”

Bucher was referring to Kevin Durant, the reigning Rookie of the Year who is fourth in the league in scoring.

The point guard is rookie Russell Westbrook, one of a handful of players close to averaging 15 points, five assists and five rebounds.

"Kevin can dominate his position to command a double team to try and stop him,” Bucher said. "As good as Brandon Roy is, there are certain matchups you don’t have to double him hard.

"The Thunder isn’t at the same place right now. But their flexibility, their room to grow, is better. And they already have some key parts you have to have. Portland doesn’t have that point guard, yet. And in my mind they don’t have that superstar player.”

Many around the league have endorsed Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s long-term game plan. Most aren’t ready to put Oklahoma City in Portland’s class.

But Oklahoma City’s 18-24 record since New Year’s Eve has people buzzing about the team’s future, including San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who lost twice to the Thunder in March.

"The position Sam Presti has put them in is phenomenal,” Popovich said. "With draft picks he’s acquired, the monetary system he’s developed, a good mix of youth, they’re in a wonderful position to grow just like Portland has grown the past two or three years. Oklahoma City is on a great track.”

The two organizations have taken similar paths.

Portland coach Nate McMillan noticed similarities when he was in the Ford Center two months ago, the night the Thunder led by 22 points and won 102-93.

"Very similar,” McMillan said.

OKC vs. Portland: Thunder’s salary cap flexibility key
Salary cap flexibility is the primary reason ESPN the Magazine writer Ric Bucher sides with Oklahoma City over Portland a few seasons from now.

"(Portland) still has some big decisions to make as far as their array of talent and who you can pay,” Bucher said. "They’ve got the core, but then they have Rudy Fernandez, Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw among the supporting cast.

"Everybody says Paul Allen has enough money he can pay everybody. But that doesn’t necessarily help you. If you pay everybody, is this team good enough right now that if they keep everybody together they can win a championship? I’m not convinced of that.”

Thunder general manager Sam Presti has a core built around three young stars and cap flexibility.

"(The Trail Blazers) have some difficult decisions to make that the Thunder doesn’t face. Not yet,” Bucher said. "(Presti) can set the table any number of ways.”

By Mike Baldwin

Trail Blazers at Thunder
→When: 7 tonight

→Where: Ford Center

→TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37)

→Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM

Three things to know
→Portland has won four of its past five games.

→The season series is split 1-1 with the final meeting on April 13 at Portland.

→The Thunder has lost three straight games inside the Ford Center.

Probable starters

Thunder (21-53)
Pos. Player Ht. Pts. Reb. Ast.
G Russell Westbrook 6-3 15.7 4.8 5.1
G Thabo Sefolosha 6-7 9.3 5.4 2.2
F Kevin Durant 6-9 25.8 6.5 2.8
F Jeff Green 6-9 16.9 6.9 2.1
C Nenad Krstic 7-0 9.8 5.7 0.6
Blazers (47-27)
Pos. Player Ht. Pts. Reb. Ast.
G Steve Blake 6-3 11.2 2.3 5.0
G Brandon Roy 6-6 23.0 4.9 5.2
F Nicolas Batum 6-8 5.5 2.8 1.0
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 18.2 7.3 1.9
C Joel Przybilla 7-1 5.5 8.5 0.3


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