This off-season has been one of the busiest ones to date, with a number of star caliber players finding new homes, and franchises witnessing an overall improvement within their roster. Out of all the teams that have endured drastic changes, there has been a lot of eyes on one specific team, and that is the Oklahoma City Thunder. With all the new talent the team has acquired, are the Thunder now the favorite in the Western Conference to win it all?
Leading up to the 2016-17 season, the team lost All-Star Kevin Durant via free agency after he elected to join the Golden State Warriors. In their first season without Durant, the Thunder finished with a regular season record of 47-35, which was enough for second in the Northwest division, as the franchise managed to slip into the postseason as the sixth seed.
Even with Durant in a different uniform, Oklahoma City still found a way to somehow contend within the West. A lot of that success came from reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, who ended the season averaging a triple-double, and was the first to do so since Oscar Robertson. Then forced to face the most elite lineups in the West, the Thunder proceeded to lose to the Houston Rockets in the first round in a mere five game set.
Early in the 2017 off-season, the Thunder took some pressure off of Westbrook by acquiring Paul George from the Indiana Pacers via trade in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. While most expected the Thunder to play conservative from that point forward, the front office took it one step further.
On September 25th, and after months of constant trade rumors, Oklahoma City proceeded to acquire veteran Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks in exchange for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 second-round pick.
Even though the Thunder have made a number of staggering moves, they are not the only team in the Western Conference that has seen major improvement. While it’s easy to get excited over what Oklahoma City can provide, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic.
One franchise that happens to be improving drastically happens to be the Minnesota Timberwolves, and even after a successful season from players in 2016 such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the front office decided to reel in more firepower by acquiring Jimmy Butler and the 16th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft from the Chicago Bulls in return for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the rights to Lauri Markkanen (the 7th pick in the 2017 NBA draft). The team also went on to sign veteran Jeff Teague to a three-year contract worth $57 million.
After a disappointing playoff run, the Houston Rockets also decided to go out and bring in some assistance for All-Star James Harden by acquiring Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer, a future first-round pick, and cash considerations.
The San Antonio Spurs also made some improvement this off-season by bringing in Rudy Gay, as well as re-signing role players like Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol. Although the moves made by San Antonio aren’t as “flashy”, with key assets in Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard returning, the Spurs will be back in the mix as a contender this upcoming season.
Let’s also not forget about the defending NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors. This off-season, the team kept the entire core that worked so well together last year together by re-signing Kevin Durrant, Andre Iguodala, and Shawn Livingston. In addition, the Warriors somehow managed to bring in bright bench players like Nick Young and Omri Casspi.
With the addition of George and Anthony, the Thunder are getting two proven superstars that will be able to help improve the team’s chances immensely. The presented big three has the potential to be dynamic, but with the roster that Golden State currently contains, those three alone may not be enough to beat overcome the odds, pending any injuries.
One thing to keep an eye on this season with Oklahoma City is their bench, as the front office chose to give up a lot of pieces in order to acquire name value within the starting lineup. In the NBA, a solid bench is practically crucial to any team’s odds of winning it all. That theory alone has been proven by both Golden State and Cleveland in recent years.
At the end of the day, the power of George, Anthony, and Westbrook alone will be enough to put the Thunder as one of the top teams in the West, but in my mind, Golden State is still the proven favorites within the conference. With an advantage in almost every aspect, the Thunder will need to prove their worth if they want to be taken seriously.
Photo Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
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