Report Card Grades for OKC Thunder's 2014 Offseason So Far
For the first time in a long time, the Oklahoma City Thunder headed into the offseason needing to reload rather than just hoping to.
The 2014 playoffs exposed cracks in the Thunder roster, and with the Western Conference seemingly getting tougher and tougher every year, OKC had to make some changes to stay at the top of the standings. And rest assured, Thunder fans, changes have been made. The question is: Will it be enough?
It's time to pull out the report card and see just how the Thunder have fared this summer.
Signing Sebastian Telfair
The Thunder inked Sebastian Telfair, who played in China last season, to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal worth the veteran minimum, per the Oklahoman's Anthony Slater. So it's not exactly as if they're banking on him for a huge contribution.
Really, the Telfair deal is little more than a training camp invitation. He's coming off of an impressive year in China, but even so, it wouldn't be shocking to see Thunder rookie Semaj Christon beat him out for OKC's third point guard spot.
Telfair's not a bad signing by any means, but he won't be getting serious minutes unless the Thunder have a blowout on their hands.
Re-Signing Grant Jerrett
The Thunder recently re-signed forward Grant Jerrett, the No. 40 pick in last year's draft, to a multi-year deal, per RealGM's Shams Charania. The exact terms of the contract have yet to be released, but it's safe to assume he's not making much more than the league minimum.
Jerrett won't see the court for a while—he recently underwent ankle surgery—but he's a nice player to take a flyer on anyways. He's a true stretch 4 who shot 40 percent from three in college and 37 percent on nearly five attempts per game in the D-League last year.
Jerrett has some very real defensive issues to clear up, but if he's ever able to become even a passable defender, he has a good shot of sneaking into the Thunder rotation someday.
Big guys who can shoot are a rarity, and those who do it well are game-altering—just look at the impact Channing Frye had on the Phoenix Suns' offense last year. Serge Ibaka can obviously shoot, but OKC rarely asks him to venture past the three-point line and never to run stuff like pick-and-pop three-pointers.
That's the type of thing that Jerrett could someday provide if everything breaks right, and if not, the deal's not exactly going to cripple the Thunder's flexibility in the near future.
The Thunder walked away with three new rookies following the 2014 NBA draft—Mitch McGary (taken at No. 21 overall), Josh Huestis (No. 29) and Semaj Christon (No. 55).
Huestis and Christon are probably going to be spending a whole lot of time in the D-League, but both are interesting players for the future. Huestis was an oddball pick not because he went much earlier than projected (he did), but because he seems to be a carbon copy of a current Thunder player.
Josh "Andre Roberson" Huestis.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) June 27, 2014
Like Andre Roberson, Huestis is a terrific athlete who will have to transition to a wing spot at the next level. And like Roberson, he's not a great outside shooter (he hit 34 percent from three in his senior year).
Maybe he'll end up surprising, but the selection was puzzling, especially with UCLA's Kyle Anderson still on the board.
Christon is the prototypical Thunder guard—long-armed and athletic, with a nose for the basket. He performed well in Orlando Summer League play, and as mentioned earlier, he has a legitimate chance to stick on the roster this season.
McGary, however, could already end up earning rotation minutes if he can carry some of his Summer League play over to actual games. That's a tall task obviously, but after his play in Orlando, it doesn't seem out of the question.
All of McGary's known strengths—rebounding, pick-and-roll play, running the floor, etc.—were on display, but what really impressed was the way he handled the ball.
He didn't hesitate at all to attack his man off the dribble (sometimes from as far as the three-point line) and got to the rim with ease at times.
McGary also looked to lead a fast break almost every time he pulled down a defensive rebound and did so with surprising success. It'll be interesting to see if he's given that much freedom in actual games, but it was a blast to watch either way.
Signing Anthony Morrow
Outside shooting was OKC's biggest need going into the offseason, and they addressed that problem in a big way by snagging Anthony Morrow, one of the best pure shooters on the planet.
Per Royce Young of the Daily Thunder, Morrow has already expressed his willingness to come off the bench if need be, and it'll be interesting to see how the Thunder ultimately choose to deploy him. OKC has always preferred to start a perimeter stopper at the 2, and defense isn't exactly Morrow's strong suit.
The smart money is on Andre Roberson (who played well with the starters in Thabo Sefolosha's absence last season) taking over the starting role, allowing Morrow to add a little extra scoring punch and off-the-bounce creativity to a depleted bench unit.
The real kicker here is the deal itself. The Thunder inked Morrow to a perfectly reasonable three-year, $10 million deal (with a non-guaranteed final year, per the Oklahoman's Anthony Slater) at a time when the going rate for shooters has never been higher. What a steal.
Missing out on Pau Gasol
Thunder fans' dreams of watching Pau Gasol play alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook came and went in a flash. Ultimately, OKC just didn't have enough cash to throw at Gasol, and while he would have been a great addition, whiffing on him wasn't a disaster.
First thing's first—Gasol is a terrific player.
He may have been less efficient than usual on last year's dumpster fire of a Lakers squad, but he's still a legitimate post-up threat who happens to double as one of the best passing bigs in the league. He probably would have been great in OKC. Durant and Westbrook would have completely opened up the floor for him and vice versa.
With that being said, Gasol would have altered the entire makeup of this Thunder team. He's not a great defender, and though he would look better behind Serge Ibaka, OKC's defense almost certainly would have slipped a notch if he were aboard.
And while he would have provided an offensive boost eventually, there would have been an adjustment period, and there's no telling how long that could have taken.
The Thunder have never had a big quite like Gasol. They rarely run offense through the high post and never through the low post. Their high pick-and-roll game doesn't suit him, and they'd have to revamp their scheme to fit him in.
All of that is doable, but it takes time, and Gasol may not have that much left in the tank.
Anthony Morrow may not be the household name Gasol is, but he's a knockdown shooter. And for all of the moaning about Scott Brooks' unimaginative scheme (much of it valid), the Thunder were just shy of the NBA's top offense in 2012-13, the one year they were able to surround Durant and Westbrook with shooting.
Again, none of this is to say that missing out on Gasol is a good thing—OKC would have loved to have him. But Morrow is far from a consolation prize, and at the very least, his role and fit with the team are much more clear.
The offseason's not over yet, but the Thunder are probably closing up shop soon. And overall, they haven't had a bad summer.
OKC didn't hit any home runs, but it landed a lights-out shooter for cheap, and that's as good as it gets for a team that rarely ventures out of the draft to patch up holes in the roster.
Another marksman or a two-way wing would be nice, but it's probably not plausible considering how crazy the market has been.
The Thunder have long preached sustainability and the importance of giving young players time to grow. This is the year that we see if all of that patience pays off.
Anthony Morrow is a terrific specialist, but he's not enough to put OKC over the top. The Thunder are banking on their youngsters to do that, be it Andre Roberson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Steven Adams or even Mitch McGary. Someone's got to take a step forward.
All statistics accurate as of 7/19/2014 and courtesy of NBA.com unless specifically stated otherwise.
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