By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — It’s not often a team that was fighting for the best record in the NBA is expected to be busy on draft night. Most competitive squads have one pick late in the first round, if any selections at all.
That is not the case for Oklahoma City, which had the second best record in the league and topped the Western Conference during the regular season with 60 wins. It finds itself holding three of the top 32 picks in tonight’s NBA draft.
With the No. 12, 29 and 32 spots, no team has more prime selections on their plate. The Thunder can go just about any direction they want to take.
“It is a time of year that every team is given an opportunity of some variety to improve based on their current circumstances and strategic outlook,” Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said in a release. “This off-season, we’re going to look at everything we can to try to improve. But we also need to take into consideration our parameters and consider the short-term and long-term impact as we make decisions going forward, but that’s been no different than we have any other season.”
Yet, the Thunder do not have many glaring weaknesses they need to address. Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb are expected to make contributions next season after spending their rookie seasons in the Development League with the Tulsa 66ers. And with Reggie Jackson seemingly locking down the backup point guard duties after Russell Westbrook went down in the playoffs, what was already a deep team will be even deeper, even if shooting guard Kevin Martin does not re-sign with the squad.
Yet, there’s one need many analysts believe Oklahoma City has to fill and that’s a big man in the middle who can score. Kendrick Perkins’ ineffectiveness in the paint in the postseason had fans calling for the Thunder to get rid of the veteran.
However, Presti said after the season that they had no intention of jettisoning Perkins. Whether the Thunder stand by that or not remains to be seen. Regardless, Oklahoma City can make that position a focal point in this draft.
“We want to take as much information into account as possible,” Presti said. “A big piece of the process is managing and interpreting that information. With that said, probably more important than external evaluations is continued internal study as to what drives our program. We have always aimed to work from the inside out as an organization and we will have to continue to maintain that approach based on our goals of sustainable success.”
Possibilities for the Thunder include Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams, Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynk and Mason Plumlee of Duke.
Yet, Oklahoma City has not gotten to where it has by drafting purely on need. When Westbrook was selected, point guard was not at the top of its need list.
For an organization that has a history of going out on a limb and being aggressive, players such as Alex Len, Victor Oladipo, C.J. McCollum, Trey Burke and Michael Carter Williams are also in the loop.
The possibility of even trading up into the top five is not out of the question. That is the benefit of having three early selections. All avenues are open for the Thunder.
“It sounds cliché, but we really and truly will look at everything,” Presti said. “Having picks in different ranges of the draft presents a lot of different options and ideas, but it is all governed by our vision for the Thunder and how those options can help strengthen the organization.”
Last year, seemingly every decision the Thunder made was for the long term. That includes trading James Harden one season before they had to.
But with the pressure picking up on the organization and team leader Kevin Durant, this may be the time they make decisions that are strictly about winning a title next season.
“As we go through this, we hope to put the best team on the floor, not only today, but also to put ourselves in position to where year-in and year-out where we feel like we’re within a handful of teams that can compete for a title,” Presti said. “It’s one thing to win in the NBA, and it’s another thing to win under varying conditions over a long period of time. Obviously, the goal of our organization is to be good for a long period of time.”
Follow me @eyeamtruth