When the Thunder’s inaugural NBA season comes to an end two weeks from Wednesday, front office executives will begin the next phase of the team’s rebuilding. But throughout a busy offseason of free agency, the draft and trades, one thing is likely to stay intact for next year’s season opener — the starting lineup. With a free agent class that’s filled with marginal NBA talent, a handful of quality role players and a few aging stars, the Thunder figures to be hard-pressed to find better options than the current starting unit of Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Thunder coach Scott Brooks has continuously called the shooting guard and center positions fluid, and the team is certain to explore all of its options to upgrade those spots. Oklahoma City has two draft picks — including a potential top five selection — with which it’ll mine the college waters. But an up-and-comer in this year’s draft isn’t likely to crack the top five. Even if the Thunder lands Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin, the projected No. 1 overall pick, the 6-foot-10 power forward seemingly wouldn’t supplant Green as the starter. But the Thunder’s expected continuity next season is more about how Oklahoma City’s current cast complements one another rather than what is lacking in the draft and free agency. Oklahoma City’s "big three” of Durant, Green and Westbrook, all of whom are 22 or younger and are locks to be in the starting unit next season, offer a nice blend of offense, defense and versatility. Between them, there is ample athleticism to create match-up problems for years to come. And while those three are the stars who will garner much of the attention, Sefolosha and Krstic have more defined roles that can keep their names etched in the starting lineup. Sefolosha is proving to be a player who brings defensive skills that are at a premium in the NBA, while Krstic’s mid-range shooting opens the floor for Durant, Green and Westbrook to face less resistance at the rim. The offseason wild card, of course, will be trades. General manager Sam Presti has shown he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal if he feels it will benefit the Thunder both in the short and long term. Krstic nearly was replaced by Tyson Chandler last month before the trade for the New Orleans center was rescinded because of medical concerns. But another trade for an equally talented big man with defensive skills similar to Chandler will be difficult, if not impossible, to come by. The Thunder also isn’t likely to make a run at a shooting guard such as Chicago’s Ben Gordon, who could move Sefolosha to the bench. Gordon has already turned down multiple $50 million-plus contract offers from the Bulls and won’t come cheap. And while the Thunder has more than $14 million to spend on free agents this summer, any tender of more than two years has to be extended with the realization that contract extensions for Durant and Green would kick in 2011-12. Rather than destroying its salary cap structure, the Thunder is more likely to stand pat with its draft selections this summer, taking another young player and looking to sign a cheaper role player in free agency. Toronto’s Joey Graham and Anthony Parker, Dallas’ Brandon Bass and Gerald Green, Utah’s Paul Millsap and Morris Almond, Philadelphia’s Kareem Rush, Milwaukee’s Keith Bogans and Phoenix’s Matt Barnes are players who could fill a need or add depth.
Thunder at Spurs→When: 7:30 tonight →Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas →TV: Fox Oklahoma (Cox 37) →Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1, WWLS-AM 640, Sirius 217, XM 235 →Live blog: http://www.ThunderMadness.com Three things to know →San Antonio is 5-5 over its last 10 games, including a 78-76 loss to the Thunder two weeks ago. →Manu Ginobili played 28 minutes in a loss Sunday, the most minutes he’s played in six weeks. →Tony Parker is averaging 25.6 points, fifth most in the league, and 7.0 assists in March. Probable Starters