Oklahoma City has moved forward, christening the Thunder with a smidge of Oklahoma Sooner red and Oklahoma State Cowboy orange. Ford figures to be popping, even if the OKC puts up expansion-type numbers in the win column. P.J. Carlesimo leads a baby-faced squad building for the better days.
“We were 20-62 last year. We have a long way to go,” Nick Collison told the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. “I think they are setting our team up in the future the right way, to be a winner.”
The team-formally-known-as-the-Sonics did score one major victory last season when Kevin Durant, the second pick in the Draft, claimed Rookie of the Year. The Texas Ex wasn’t a popular guy in the Boomer State a couple years back, but now he’s a favorite son. Albeit, an adopted one.
The rail-thin Durant spent much of the summer getting stronger. Adding some bulk to his 6-9, 215-pound frame will help him better handle the physical rigors of NBA life. That should improve his rebounding totals of last season (4.4) and won’t hurt the scoring numbers (20.3).
KD didn’t do the first-year thing alone, as fellow All-Rookie first teamer Jeff Green averaged nearly 11 points and five boards. Green’s summer focus was his shot, especially from downtown. The Durant-Green duo finished strong last season, taking it to another gear in April. Durant racked up 24.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists in the season’s final month, while Green went for 15.6 and 6.3.
“I will be shocked if they don’t, not just pick up where they left off, but play at an even higher level right from the beginning,” Carlesimo told The Oklahoman. “It will be noticeable to people that these guys are better players than when they left in April.”
The Thunder’s front office sought veteran help for the soon-to-be sophomores, and hauled in swingman Desmond Mason and forward Joe Smith. Mason, an Oklahoma State product who also played for the Hornets during their OKC stay, is a career 12.5-points-per-game scorer. Smith has proven solid if unspectacular during a 13-year run after going No. 1 overall out of Maryland.
“With Desmond, we really feel strongly about his toughness,” GM Sam Presti said. “It kind of feeds into the identity that we’re trying to build with our team. And with Joe, he adds depth to the frontline, and ability to shoot the ball. And both of them again are going to add some stability and leadership to the young core that we have in place.”
Adding to the frontcourt ranks is Collison, a versatile big man who averaged a share less than 10 and 10 last season. Fourth overall pick Russell Westbrook joins the show after two years at UCLA, one as a starter. Carlesimo has labeled the point guard a future star, and one scout who watched Westbrook at the Orlando summer league remarked: “He’s flat out the best player here not named Kevin Durant.”
Back to Durant. The Thunderstruck Kid is truly the future of the franchise and everyone knows it.
“It’s going to be a good opportunity for him to learn from some veteran guys and for us to be around such an extraordinary young talent,” Mason told the Oklahoman. “The kid is good. I think everybody knows that. He’s very talented. He seems like he’s got his head on his shoulders.”