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Thunder basketball: Fans should enjoy the moment, the players who are here

Oklahoma City has a solid group of players other than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. If one should leave for another team, the Thunder should remain one of the NBA's top contenders.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: January 29, 2012

Stars, though, stick with the franchise that drafted them.

From the 2005 draft class, Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum and Danny Granger all remained with their teams following their rookie deals. Only Paul and Williams have since departed.

From the 2006 class, Andrea Bargnani, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy (though now retired due to injury), Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo all re-upped.

From the 2007 class, Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Joakim Noah and Thaddeus Young stayed aboard. And so far, the three best players in the 2008 class — Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love — have re-signed with their original teams.

Obviously, the Thunder can't continue to disburse $80 million deals. But who else on the Thunder can command anywhere near that chunk of change? Besides, we've watched the Thunder front office build a wonderfully layered team over the past two years, which could offset the burden of anyone else unexpectedly approaching that tax bracket.

Second-year center Cole Aldrich is now being groomed to supplant Nazr Mohammed next season. And though it hasn't been mentioned anywhere, it's not absurd to think a much cheaper Aldrich very well could be the player who's been penciled in to replace Perkins as opposed to the team paying him $9 million in the final year of his deal. Also, despite many questioning the selection of Reggie Jackson in last year's draft, the season-ending injury to Eric Maynor illustrates clearly how Jackson is now the next point guard in line.

We all know there isn't another Harden or Ibaka waiting in the wings. But, remember, Thunder GM Sam Presti started in San Antonio. He was there when the Spurs built a dynasty not by overpaying to keep talent, but by identifying two or three stars to build around and filling in the gaps with complementary pieces that could play a role.

By now, it's safe to say Westbrook, Harden and Durant are the future. They get dibs on the dough, and everyone else must fall in line.

Spend too much time stressing over who fits where, though, and you'll miss out on a pretty good basketball team.