Thunder

Numerous Questions Ahead for OKC’s Offseason

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A botched inbounds play that prevented a potential game-tying or game-winning shot was not the way the Oklahoma City Thunder wanted their season to end. Despite all the effort put in to overcome an early 2-0 series deficit and force a Game 7 against one of the top teams in the Western Conference, Oklahoma City’s season ended the same way as it did in the previous three seasons– a first-round exit.

But unlike Oklahoma City’s previous three playoff exits, this year’s was different. OKC wasn’t supposed to sniff the playoffs to begin with. Prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, ESPN’s BPI gave the Thunder a 0.2 percent chance of making the playoffs after the departures of  Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Jerami Grant.

But Chris Paul had a different plan in mind.

 

Under Paul’s leadership, the Thunder compiled a 44-28 record, good enough to earn the fifth seed in the West. Not only was the Thunder’s record impressive, they also ranked as the NBA’s best team in the clutch led by the league’s best lineup statistically of Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schröder, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams.

While the ending to the season was certainly disappointing, it was still a massive success and should be something that the team and their fans are proud of, because the future in Oklahoma City is certainly bright.

That being said, OKC has a very busy offseason ahead of them consisting of many questions they must answer in regards to the future of the team.

Offseason Preview

Who will be the new head coach?

Less than a week after OKC’s playoff exit, the team shockingly announced that they had mutually agreed with head coach Billy Donovan to part ways. It was expected that Thunder General Manager Sam Presti would offer Donovan, this year’s co-Coach of the year (voted by fellow NBA coaches) and Coach of the Year second runner-up (voted by media), a contract extension, but the two sides ultimately decided against it. Donovan recently agreed to become the new head coach of the Chicago Bulls.

As a result, Oklahoma City will join a multitude of teams who are in the search for a new coach. Some big names the Thunder could pursue include Brett Brown, Nate McMillan, Kenny Atkinson and Becky Hammon.

Chris Paul’s future

Despite many entering the season viewing Paul as a washed-up and injury-ridden point guard, the Point God put together an impressive season, showing he has much more left in the tank. Statistically, Paul averaged 17.6 points (49% FG), 6.7 assists, five rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. On top of that, CP3 ranked as the NBA’s number one player in the clutch, averaging 3.5 points on 52.2 percent shooting.

Paul’s stats speak for themselves, but what was even more important were the intangibles he brought to a young Thunder team. His on- and off-court leadership was exceptional. Paul also served as a mentor to guys like SGA and Schröder, taking every opportunity he had to pass on some of his wisdom to the young guards.

With that being said, the Thunder must decide what to do with Paul. Do they keep him and attempt to run it back, or do they trade him to bring in more young players and future draft picks as they look towards the future? There are pros and cons to both scenarios.

OKC would love to keep Paul around because of his leadership, but this means holding on to the 35-year-old’s massive contract, which guarantees him a little more than $85 million over the next two seasons (assuming he opts in for 2021-22). On the flip side, trading Paul to a contending team in need of a point guard will free up this abundance of cap space, but it will almost certainly diminish Oklahoma City’s chance to repeat the success they had this season.

Lu Dort’s shooting

Rookie Luguentz Dort took the league by storm this year. Going from undrafted on a two-way contract to becoming a starter for a playoff team and signing a four-year, $5.4 million contract all in the span of his rookie season is nothing short of impressive.

The main reason Dort made such an impressive jump in his rookie season is because of his defense. Dort is a special kind of player who has the strength, size and lateral quickness to guard anybody in the league. A perfect example of this is the job he did on James Harden — one of the NBA’s best one-on-one scorers — in the playoffs.

When guarded by Dort, Harden’s effective field goal percentage was 49.4 and his true shooting percentage was 57.3. When Dort was off the floor, Harden’s shooting percentages skyrocketed, posting a 64.8 eFG% and a 69.3 TS%.

Dort made Harden’s life extremely difficult. He blew up Houston’s screens intended to switch Harden onto another OKC defender. Even when Harden scored on Dort, they were tough shots that he had to grind for.

While Dort’s defense should only get better, his offensive production is what will ultimately decide his career’s direction.

Dort proved he has the capability of being a scoring threat in Game 7 against the Rockets, setting the NBA record for most points scored by a player 21 or younger in a Game 7 with 30. Locating consistency should be Dort’s goal for next season.

Before his Game 7 scoring outburst, Dort could not buy a bucket, shooting 7-38 from deep despite being unguarded on almost every one of these attempts. Dort’s inability to knock down shots from deep resulted in the Thunder basically playing four on five. This must change.

By no means does Dort need to become an elite shooter, but he must work on consistency from downtown so that he does not become an offensive liability.

A good comparison to the role Dort needs to play is PJ Tucker’s role on the Rockets. Tucker’s job is to bring energy to the floor and guard the opposing team’s best player while sitting in the corner and knock down corner three-pointers. In the same way, Dort lifts the Thunder’s energy when on the floor and is vital to the team’s defensive gameplan. But he must be able to hit open shots when called upon, or else his playing time will decrease substantially.

Re-sign Gallinari?

Danilo Gallinari was a major bright spot for the Thunder this season. The 6-foot-10 forward had his healthiest season since the 2009-10 campaign, only missing a total of 10 games.

Along with staying healthy, Gallinari shot the ball extremely well all season, averaging 18.7 points on 40.5 percent from three-point range. On top of that, he ranked the NBA’s third-best power forward in real-plus minus.

Gallinari enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, so the big question is whether OKC wants to pay what will probably cost between $14 to $16 million per year.

If the Thunder want to remain competitive next year, re-signing the 32-year-old sharpshooter will be a priority. If they instead decide to go into full rebuild mode, however, then they would want to spend their money on younger players who have the potential to develop into future stars.

Another option that Oklahoma City could explore is a sign-and-trade. Gallinari already drew major interest at the trade deadline and there are certainly a few more contending teams that could benefit from adding the Italian sharpshooter.

Extend Adams and/or Schröder?

Starting center Steven Adams and Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Dennis Schröder are both entering the final year of their contracts. Oklahoma City has the capability of extending both Adams and Schröder for up to four more years, but whether or not either of them receives an extension will depend on how the Thunder plan on approaching the future.

If OKC opts for full rebuild mode around their young core of Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort and Darius Bazley, then Adams will more than likely become a salary dump. On the other hand, even if the Thunder decide to rebuild, offering Schröder an extension is still a possibility since he is only 26 and is a proven scorer who a young team would greatly benefit from.

Ultimately, the fate of Adams and Schröder is in Presti’s hands and how he wants the the future to look in Oklahoma City.

Follow us on Twitter @ThunderLead for the latest Thunder news and insight.

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About James Mueller

James Mueller is a current student at the University of Houston who is majoring in both Sports Administration and Journalism. James has been passionate about sports his entire life and has extensive knowledge about all the major sports.

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