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NBA Sunday: Have The Thunder Lost Ground?
Posted By Lang Greene On August 11, 2013 @ 10:26 am In NBA | No Comments
The Oklahoma City Thunder reached the NBA Finals in 2012 and seemed destined for a repeat performance in 2013 before a torn meniscus sidelined All-Star guard Russell Westbrook in the opening round of the playoffs.
Without a doubt the future still remains bright for the Thunder but after a summer full of changes up and down the Western Conference, can Oklahoma City stay at the top of the pecking order?
The Los Angeles Clippers made their move by adding NBA champion head coach Doc Rivers into the fold. The franchise also traded for sharpshooter J.J. Redick and role Jared Dudley, while signing point guard Darren Collison and forward Byron Mullens in free agency. The club also used its first round pick to draft promising rookie Reggie Bullock.
The Golden State Warriors, who reached the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2007, also strengthened their core by acquiring former All-Star Andre Iguodala in a sign-and-trade deal. The club also bolstered their frontcourt depth by signing big men Marreese Speights and Jermaine O’Neal in free agency.
The Houston Rockets made their move to enter the elite by successfully wooing All-Star center Dwight Howard into town during free agency. The Rockets, as you may remember, pushed the (largely Westbrook-less) Thunder to six games in the first round of the playoffs this past season. The team also signed Reggie Williams, Marcus Camby and Omri Casspi in free agency.
The San Antonio Spurs, though another year older, cannot be discounted after pushing the Miami HEAT to seven games in this year’s NBA Finals. The team added shooting guard Marco Belinelli in free agency, but most importantly emerging forward Kawhi Leonard figures to make another jump in development next season.
The Thunder on the other hand have been largely quiet this summer inking veteran forward Ryan Gomes to a one-year non-guaranteed deal. Gomes last played in the league during the 2012 season. The team also lost third leading scorer, Kevin Martin, to the Minnesota Timberwolves in free agency. The club did add Steven Adams and Andre Roberson via the draft, but historically rookies seldom are ready to make large contributions to title contending squads.
All-Star forward Kevin Durant says he fully expected it to be a quiet offseason for the team because of their position to the salary cap.
“People that really knew, as far as our money situation, knew that we couldn’t sign anybody too big,” Durant told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman. “We got myself, Russell (Westbrook), (Kendrick Perkins) and Serge (Ibaka) all locked in on big contracts so it’s kind of hard to sign (someone). Everybody wants us to get the biggest free agents, but it’s kind of hard to do that with the money that we have (committed) and the tax and the new CBA. So it was kind of difficult. But we knew the business side of it. But we know we have a really good team.”
The League’s salary cap is set at $58.6 million this season and the quartet of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Perkins hold more than 90 percent of this figure by themselves.
Despite all of moves in the conference Durant remains confident in the team’s ability to compete at a very high level.
“It’s not about what other teams are doing,” Durant said. “It’s about what we’re going to do every single game. That’s how we approach it.”
Cavs’ Kyrie Irving Not Focusing On Next Contract
There is a genuine optimism brewing in Cleveland surrounding the Cavaliers franchise. The team is positioned to make its first serious playoff run in the post LeBron James era this coming season.
Sure, the addition of former All-Star center Andrew Bynum has sparked positivity. So has the addition of Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Likewise the signings of Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark bolster the team’s depth.
But everything in Cleveland at the moment begins and ends with All-Star guard Kyrie Irving.
Naturally, when discussing the Cavaliers’ future the subject of Irving’s own long term plans with the organization often follows shortly thereafter.
“Right now I’m a Cavalier,” Irving said to Jason Lloyd of the Beacon Journal. “This is where I am. All that future stuff, I’m not really worried about,” Irving said. “I’m living in the moment right now and I’m just trying to get better with the teammates I have now and make the playoffs for Cleveland. That’s the only thing I can do right now is give it my all as it stands right now and that future stuff, I’m not really worried about it.”
Irving figures to be the next point guard to receive a max contract joining Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and the newly minted John Wall.
There has been talk of Irving wanting out of Cleveland but the third year guard has routinely dismissed those theories as completely false. But even if Irving were to make it to restricted free agency in 2015, the Cavaliers would have the ability to match any offer received for his services.
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