Los Angeles Clippers v Sacramento Kings

Still reeling from the aftermath of losing Kevin Durant to Golden State Warriors during free agency, Oklahoma City Thunder is left with a side less competent of competing in the Western Conference. Losing finalist Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, stand head and shoulders above Oklahoma and Los Angeles Clippers’ chances got a shot in the arm with all three members of their core returning healthy (Chris Paul and Blake Griffin) and matured (DeAndre Jordan who is competing at the Olympics).

However, days before Durant jettisoned to Oakland, precisely during the time of the 2016 NBA Draft, General Manager Sam Presti’s decision to trade multiple time defensive player candidate Serge Ibaka will come back to haunt him, the team and city. Moving Ibaka to Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo, 11th pick Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova was a major coop for the Thunder with Durant seemingly locked to resign with the team.


That perception has certainly changed since Durant’s departure means Point Guard Russell Westbrook is the only top 20 player on the team. Had Ibaka stayed, Oklahoma would have had an elite rim protecting mobile Forward capable of guarding wing and front court positions. His improving ability to convert shots from distance would have been immense to the side’s offensive plays. Now, all has been moved to Orlando and what was brought in all of a sudden holds no better value than what the side lost.

For Orlando, it jump starts the team’s playoff aspirations with new coach Frank Vogel on board as Ibaka’s presence gives the former Indiana Pacers head trainer options to survive the improving Eastern Conference. Adding defensive stalwarts Ibaka and Bismarck Biyombo to a stocked frontcourt that features Nik Vucevic and Aaron Gordon solves Magic’s problem with rebounding and protecting the rim (The team registered 49.4 to 50.6 by opponents in rebound percentage according to Foxsports.com). On the contrary, allotting minutes to all four big guys and Mario Hezonja will be problematic but gives Orlando the chance to present an attractive collection of talented young players as trade bait to say San Antonio for an established player say Tony Parker who increases their chances of making the final eight. But in Oklahoma’s case, the trade coupled with Durant’s departure means backups at the wing and Forward positions become massive craters the team’s championship aspirations falls into.


The Thunder’s probable starting lineup of Westbrook, Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter look excellent on paper and capable of challenging the top sides. However, there is a steep drop on the bench where limited experience meets limited impact particularly at the positions mentioned above. At Small Forward, Anthony Morrow fits the bill on offense where his three point stroke (converted 766 of 1804 three point attempts in nine seasons) comes in handy for a side that will have limited options on that end. However, Morrow is a poor defender who barely plays any substantial minutes in crunch time (playoffs). The options available swing from Kyle Singler, Josh Huestis to new Barcelona signing Alex Abrines who after getting drafted in 2013, will feature in the league for the first time. Huestis and Singler combined for six points and four rebounds respectively last season and are not good enough for a team in contention.

Further up the court, Durant’s versatility and Ibaka’s defensive nous meant Oklahoma nearly ousted Golden State by beating them with a system they popularized by playing “small”. With both guys gone, the Warriors will have a field day playing against a lineup with Adams and Kanter in the frontcourt, due to their lack of lateral quickness and in Kanter’s case, his defensive lapses will be capitalized on again and again. Ersan Ilyasova does bring production to the table after averaging 10 points and five rebounds last season but is a shorter version of Kanter defensively. Veteran Nick Collison has all but faded from the rotation as he continues to age badly and son of legendary Center Avrydas Sabonis, Domantas, can’t be leaned on in his rookie year.


Whilst there are tons of questions about the Thunder’s makeup against superior conference opponents and expectations, Orlando’s makeup of a plethora of bigs and a good looking backcourt comprising Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton with D.J. Augustin backing him up, and knowing a mere playoff appearance will be a major positive for the side. Oklahoma’s roster will fare well for some time in the near future but is destined to fall short of repeating a conference final feat it achieved a year prior and definitely one not deep enough to challenge LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, same way it did in 2012 when James suited up for Miami.

A win-win move for Oklahoma City Thunder that had the world quizzing Orlando’s management, now looks a good move for a team seeking to get back into bigger competition.

By Yaw Adjei-Mintah


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