The Oklahoma City Thunder failed to win this year's NBA championship, so obviously the team needs something. But does it need someone?
Thunder general manager Sam Presti is a big “process” guy. Everything is about the process.
Presti wants his team to recognize its strengths from last season, improve its weaknesses, learn from both success and failure and continue to evolve. “Some of our biggest strides have come from adversity,” Presti said.
What makes Presti's process so potentially appealing is all this internal growth could happen with the exact same roster that advanced to the Western Conference Finals last season.
Only two Thunder players are not signed through the 2011-12 season. Center Nazr Mohammed is an unrestricted free agent and is free to sign with any team. Shooting guard Daequan Cook is a restricted free agent, which under the existing collective bargaining agreement means the Thunder has the right to match any offer.
During his postseason news conference last month, Presti spoke fondly of Mohammed and Cook and said he is in the process (there's that word again) of determining whether to offer them contracts.
If Mohammed and Cook do not return next season, it would leave two roster openings, but how much playing time?
The Thunder owns the No. 24 overall pick in the NBA Draft on June 23. No matter who OKC drafts, that player doesn't figure to crack the top 10 roster spots next season. The competition appears to be too steep and the draft too weak to alter the Thunder's rotation.
Ten Thunder players averaged at least 13.9 minutes per game during the regular season, which included Mohammed (17.9) and Cook (13.9).
Seldom-used rookie Cole Aldrich is expected to see more playing time, with or without Mohammed coming back. Presti and Thunder coach Scott Brooks were pleased with Aldrich's overall improvement and his performance during three stints with the Tulsa 66ers in the Developmental League.
If Cook does not return, feast-or-famine guard Nate Robinson could be a lethal alternative — both good and bad.
Who knows? OKC's draft pick might be too good to sit. The Thunder also could trade the No. 24 selection for a player or future pick. There also is the free-agent market, which could be a tempting alternative depending on the new CBA.
Again, whatever the scenario, the Thunder's top 8-10 roster spots appear to be occupied, which benefits the Presti process.
In its three seasons of existence, OKC's record has gone from 23-59, to 50-32, to 55-27 and the Northwest Division title last season.
“Each (playoff) series we played was a chance for us to learn, apply, prepare, compete and then evaluate and repeat the process over. That's only going to help us long-term,” Presti said.
“We have room to improve. We're going to continue to look at ourselves critically and try to improve internally.”
Internally, not externally.
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.
THUNDER DRAFT NEEDS
1. Best fit: The obvious answer. Thunder general manager Sam Presti is big on players who can fill a void and evolve into their roles. Presti doesn't look for a quick fix. High-character guys are always welcome, as are players with no personal agenda. However, when you don't pick until No. 24 in the NBA Draft on June 23, your choices figure to be limited — perhaps nonexistent.
2. 3-4 combo guy: Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Eric Maynor can rotate at the No. 1 and 2 positions. Thabo Sefolosha and Harden can play the No. 2 or 3 spots. All-Star Kevin Durant has played the 2, 3 and 4 positions. Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison are 4-5 guys. What the Thunder needs is a 3-4 guy, someone capable of playing the wing position or forward, a la Jeff Green.
3. Foreign project: In 2008, the Thunder drafted 18-year-old Serge Ibaka from the Republic of Congo at No. 24, stashed him overseas for a year and he has since become one of the league's most promising players. Last year, OKC acquired Tibor Pleiss from Atlanta and he, too, is showing some promise. If there is a young foreign gem out there this year, why not repeat the process?
4. Shooter: The Thunder already has scorers in Durant, Westbrook and Harden. What the team needs is a shooter — particularly if restricted free agent Daequan Cook does not return. Cook was 11th in the league in 3-point shooting at 42.2 percent, which is extremely impressive for a guy No. 10 in the team rotation. Pure shooters are wonderful weapons. If one is out there, snare him.
5. Space-eater: More specifically, someone to keep opponents off the offensive boards. The Thunder is a solid rebounding team and this role could be filled by backup center Cole Aldrich next season. OKC led all teams in rebounds and blocked shots in the postseason, but it tied for 23rd in offensive rebounds allowed during the regular season. A noticeable inside presence is needed.
By John Rohde