Unlike many of my endeavors in life, digital or physical, I want to begin this with a well deserved apology. Mr. Sam Presti, GM of the Oklahoma City Thunder, if you're reading this, which you aren't, I want to apologize to you for even insinuating that I could a better job than you are. You make better trades and draft picks in real life than I do in my fantasy NBA league. You are the architect of a team that just made the Western Conference Finals. Your prodigious rise to the top of the world of management has oddly yet appropriately paralleled the Thunder's own basketball savant, Kevin Durant. Even posting this article for literally dozens (...a dozen) could not be a bigger affront to the team you have so carefully crafted. I bring my mother such shame.
But I'm not here to make my family proud - I blew that off long before I even knew what the word "blog" meant. I'm here to write what I would do if I were GM of the Thunder. Here's what their payroll looks like going into the 2011-2012 season (if we have one):
Kevin Durant: 13.6 million
Kendrick Perkins: 7.1 million
Russ Westbrook: 5 million
James Harden: 4.6 million
Nate Robinson: 4.5 million
Thabo Sefolosha: 3.6 million
Cole Aldrich: 2.28 million
Eric Maynor: 1.5 million
BJ Mullens: 1.3 million
Serge Ibaka: 1.3 million
Royal Ivey: 1.2 million
Daquan Cook: 3.1 million (qualifying offer)
Total: 49 million
Nazr Mohammed: 6.8 million
If you didn't believe me with the claim that Sam Presti is the best young GM (if not the best, period in basketball), please understand that the Thunder made the playoffs as the 4th seeded team in the highly competitive western conference, while spending 30 million less than both the Mavericks, Lakers and 20 million less than the Spurs. Serge Ibaka gets paid 1.3 million. That's 5 million less than Luke Walton. That's like me doing this for free and John Hollinger doing this for $100,000 a year. The difference in performance is marginal and the result is outrageousness.
1). Keep the core together
If you strip away all the other superfluous parts of the team, the true core here is Russ, Durant, Harden, Ibaka and Perkins. Everyone else is replaceable. With the new addition of Perkins, I would keep this team together, and allow this core to come closer to each other even more than they are now. Continuity builds trust and trust builds titles. This Thunder squad lost that last series to the Mavs largely because of inexperience and confusion on both ends in the last 3 minutes. The culprits of their late game amateur acts weren't just the players, but also Scotty Brooks and his coaching staff as well. Watching the Thunder bungle those leads in the last 3 minutes was like watching a young Byung Hyun Kim in October, 2001. Painful, awful, incredible and unfortunately, inevitable. The only thing that really cures these type of late game problems is experience, and a summer mentally poring over what just happened.
2). Resist all calls regarding Russell Westbrook...after making one
Yes, I know he plays point guard and I am well aware that someone playing that position should rarely shoot the ball 30 times in a game. I am also aware that Kevin Durant owns, or at the very least co-owns the title of best scorer in the league and sometimes does not get shots in the last 2 minutes of a game. However, I think those adjustments can be made with some coaching and locker room tongue lashing.
But before anything, I think Sam Presti calls up Otis Smith, GM of the Orlando Magic and asks "Hey Otis - yo, it's your boy Sam. Sam Presti. I'm the GM of the Thunder. Yeah, I heard that's what people say on "The Wire" so I tried it out. Whatever, anyway... is Dwight Howard signing that contract extension with you guys? Hmm. Interesting. Well hear this out - you have Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson on your team. Those are his best teammates. I know it's OKC, but KEVIN DURANT plays here. We have James Harden, who is better than any of those stiffs you have on your team. He'll sign an extension here, I'm pretty sure. So check this out - Russ and either Serge or Kendrick (your choice) for Dwight. C'mon. Just ask him. Just ask and get back to me. You can even text me. Whatevs. Just hit me back. Okay, gotta go, I got a Halo tournament with Collison and Maynor"
I'd be fully prepared for Otis Smith to text me back "go f urself", but I'd definitely check in. Other than that, screen them calls to the Thunder front office.
3). Use some assets to find a backup center for Perkins
Despite the fact that they just acquired him, OKC has to be prepared for some attrition on Perkins going forward. He just had major reconstructive knee surgery on an injury that I can't believe he came back from within a year. He played directly out of high school in 2003 and is already on his 8th full season, not to mention deep playoff runs the last 3 years. Bill Simmons has made note that a lot of players that came directly out of high school seem to wear faster and are almost irrelevant by the time they turn 30 - Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal, Shawn Kemp, Al Harrington and Rashard Lewis come to mind. Perkins is 26. Just sayin'.
Nick Collison is a nice player, but he's more of a backup for Serge. I would be on the lookout for someone a bit taller with shot-blocking ability. Packaging some picks, Cole Aldrich, BJ Mullens and Nate Robinson (and his expiring contract of 4.2 million) isn't a bad starting place. I'd target guys like Chris Andersen, Jeff Foster and Anderson Verajao via trade, if possible. If not...
4) Sign Samuel Dalembert
Nothing more than another long, defensive guy in the middle, but he should come relatively cheap and won't be asked to do much at the offensive end. He's durable and from all reports a solid guy that will fit into the Thunder culture. With all the impact that Tyson Chandler has had on the Mavs this year, I'd expect Sam Dalembert to be a very hot commodity.
5). I've run out of suggestions.
This is one of the most well run franchises in the league. It's like criticizing a Beatles record. I'm an asshole.