Posted Jan 17 2010 11:28AM
Kevin Durant and Chris Bosh on the Thunder frontline together. By Feb. 18? Why not?
Oklahoma City is loaded. With talent. With picks. With cash. When pondering future seasons of a Thunder program that starts but doesn't end with Durant, visions surface of a serious Western Conference contender.
But why can't it be this season? Isn't this franchise in position to make a major move in a conference that has more of its share of quality teams though none, outside of the defending champion Lakers, are overwhelming.
OKC is hanging in the playoff race and has beaten plenty of big boys with a college-age roster. Imagine that roster with Bosh or Joe Johnson or Dwyane Wade right now. (We're realistic enough not to throw LeBron James in the mix.) As far-fetched as it sounds, the Thunder own the assets to make a deal like Bosh work before the trade deadline next month.
If the Raptors felt compelled to move Bosh, and there are plenty of rumors out there to support such a notion, Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti could make a serious play for the lefty power forward. Not only is OKC comfortably under the salary cap, but the franchise has another two first-round draft choices this June and nice pieces to export across the border.
Would a deal of, say, ever-improving third-year forward Jeff Green, a pair of No. 1s and another youngster with potential, Serge Ibaka or D.J. White, interest Toronto? If Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo was certain Bosh was walking this summer, does such a package from OKC make sense?
Thunder players would certainly welcome a player the caliber of Bosh. Bringing in a three-time 25-year-old All-Star who has averaged 20 and nine for his career may accelerate the Thunder's contending process by a year or two.
Would there be a better set of forwards in the West now and five years from now than Durant and Bosh?
"I've never thought about that, to be honest," said Durant, 21. "Of course I love these guys in the locker room. I feel if we keep these guys around and stick together for a long time, we'll be all right. But I've never thought about getting a guy like Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade or anyone else."
Basketball players tend not to think as baseball players as the trade deadline approaches. Every July, hardball squads in contention or on the brink openly talk about bringing another arm or bat into the clubhouse for the stretch run. It's just part of the summer ritual.
But when's the last time you heard someone in a locker room wonder about snagging another rebounder or 3-point specialist?
"I don't know if basketball players ever talk about that stuff," said Nick Collison, a six-year veteran and the longest-tenured within the Sonics/Thunder franchise. "I haven't heard any talk about that.
"We've been through a ton of changeover over the last two years, so I think we're kind of used to things happening and not knowing what's going to happen. I think a lot of teams on the brink don't know for sure and GMs don't know until they get the right call."
Presti hasn't been shy when it comes to making deals. He shipped Ray Allen to Boston during the 2007 Draft and ended up with the pick that led to Green. He's moved several vets that weren't part of the future for better fits and more draft choices. He traded for Thabo Sefolosha last season and rookie Eric Maynor last month. He signed and brought Nenad Krstic back from Europe.
Presti understands as well as anyone the pressures within the job and the expectations outside the organization. Fans in Oklahoma City are certainly happy with the results so far -- last season's victory total (23) can be matched at the halfway point Monday afternoon at Atlanta -- but why not shoot for the moon and the Lakers now?
"We're always trying to improve, just like our players on the court," Presti said during a state-of-the-franchise press conference last week. "But we're trying to be intelligent about how we do that and sometimes our best decisions are the decisions we don't make, and sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't. We're just trying to shift the odds with good preparation and good thought.
"I can't anticipate what we're going to do. I think certainly by acquiring Eric when we did, we felt that was a decision that helped us both in the immediate and in the long term. We feel good about that acquisition and we still have an opportunity as the season rolls along to look at other things."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks isn't waiting for that one extra star to put the team over the top. It might be different if most of the roster were around 26 or 27 years old and fighting for a playoff spot. With nine players currently 23 or younger, Brooks is really just concentrating on development.
The wins are gravy.
"I put pressure on the guys to do two things and we talk about it constantly: to play hard and to play for each other," said Brooks, an early contender for Coach of the Year. "And if we do that, at the end of the game we're going to be in good shape. I don't know if we're going to win it, but we're going to put ourselves in position to win some games. Regardless of expectations that's really what we do."
The conventional wisdom is that Presti holds onto the cap space again this offseason because the franchise has to start paying Durant, Green and Russell Westbrook over the next few years. Since that money is going to be spent anyway, it wouldn't break to bank to spend it on an elite player from the 2010 class provided one of the current Thunder young studs is swapped in the process.
"I trust that Sam is going to make the right move for this team," Durant said. "Whomever he brings in, I'd be totally happy with. He's done a great job so far."
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