Oklahoma City Thunder: The time has come for OKC's young players

The Thunder for next season has committed $66.119 million in salary. And that's for 10 players. No Kevin Martin, no Derek Fisher, no DeAndre Liggins and no rookie gleaned from a lottery pick. So don't expect a splashy free agent signing come July. Or even a ripple.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 18, 2013

“Every team, at this stage with the new tax coming, is going to have decisions to make. Some won't. They'll be unable to compete at that level, or there will be some that can find that in the couches of the sponsor's lounge.”

Here's what he means by that. The Lakers, Knickerbockers and Nets have the financial resources to pay a gigantic tax. No other franchise does. Even Miami is contemplating whether it can keep the Heatles together.

In that context, it doesn't seem crazy to give Jackson and Lamb more minutes. Doesn't seem nutty to think that Liggins will be the 10th man in the rotation.

And here's the reason why. The Thunder won't be stagnant. Their stars are what Presti calls “pre-prime players.” Durant and Westbrook and Ibaka have yet to hit their prime.

Think about that. The biggest surge every year for OKC has been the development of the stars. They're still getting better. That eventually will change — most athletes hit their prime around 27 — but for now there's no reason to believe it will.

“We know they're going to continue to grow,” Presti said. “And as they grow, the team will change a bit. We also want to supplement them with players that complement them but also are continuing to grow, as well as players who are stabilizing forces as we go through this and look to put the best team on the floor, not only today, but to put ourselves in position where year in and year out, we're within a handful of teams that can compete for a title.”

That's a goal of Presti's. Sustainability. Some have mocked that concept, saying chances to win the title are rare. Strike while the trophy is hot.

But Presti said the opposite is true. The best way to win a title is give yourself multiple opportunities. Go all in, and you've limited your window. But shoot for sustained contention, and your odds go way up.

And if you're not the Yankees or the Lakers, the tried and true method of consistent contention is a constant influx of young talent. Hungry, cheap. Guys like Jackson, who played superbly in trying circumstances replacing Westbrook in the playoffs, and Lamb, who hasn't played squat. Time to find out if he can play.

“I think our future will always be bright,” said Scotty Brooks. “Our young guys, they haven't played a lot, but they've worked their tails off all season long. And we expect to have another great summer of development. Those guys are a big part of our future.”

Bigger than we had any idea. Their day has come.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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