Now that we are now under a month until the start of the 2015 NBA season and training camp is finally underway, the most intriguing and exciting storyline in the NBA is the return of former league MVP Kevin Durant. Durant only appeared in 27 games last season due to a Jones Fracture in his right foot. In the same stretch last season we saw Russell Westbrook transform from NBA superstar into full out comic book superhero. Russ averaged 28 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists per contest all while having a league high in usage percentage posting 38.4%.
Coming into this season the Thunder have to worry about Kevin Durant’s impending free agency, along with a first year coach in Billy Donovan. OKC has a lot of uncertainty surrounding their future and this year may end up being a make or break year for OKC. If Durant were to leave, Russell is slated to become a free agent the following offseason with Serge Ibaka joining the free agent class the following season. This season looks to be one of the most important seasons in the Thunders short history and maybe one of the most important seasons to a team in NBA history as the future of their core may hinge on it.
Following a season where the Thunder didn’t make the playoffs, they let go long time coach Scott Brooks and hired former college basketball coach Billy Donovan. While this is Donovan’s first official time with an NBA team, he did sign on to coach the Orlando Magic in 2007 but had a change of heart and returned to Gainesville to continue coaching the Florida Gators. Oklahoma City hopes that they have found the coach that will help get the Thunder back to the finals. A place they haven’t been since 2012, when they lost to the Miami Heat.
While this is Donovan’s first year he, like Steve Kerr before him, will have a veteran coaching staff that includes both Mo Cheeks and Monty Williams. While the Thunder’s decision to let Brooks go came as a bit of a shock to most people, the team’s uncertain future coupled with Brooks failing get that team back to the finals, fair or not, likely had a lot to do with the decision. During Brooks time as the head coach the team had suffered major injuries to stars during the playoffs, both Westbrook and Ibaka have missed time over the years. While injuries are something you can not blame the coach for, unless you are a fan of the Bulls, Brooks lack of a truly structured offense left a lot of people wondering if he was the coach to take this team to the championship. That’s one of the questions Billy Donovan is likely to face this season.
Another issue heading into this year is going to be figuring out the starting lineup and the rotations. Russ, KD, and Serge are guaranteed starters on this team, the key is who surrounds them and that depends on what the team wants and what kind of identity they wish to have. Because this team has two of the most unique and flexible talents in the league in Durant and Ibaka, they have the luxury of going a number of ways regarding the lineup. They could play Kevin at the four (power forward) and surround him and Russ with shooters or they could start Steven Adams at the 5 (center) and go with a more defensive minded team. One pairing no matter the lineup is making sure Enes Kanter plays with Ibaka as much as possible. Last season before Ibaka went down with a knee injury, Brooks always made sure to handcuff Kanter to Ibaka, that should likely be a trend that Donovan continues.
If Durant is 100% healthy and he doesn’t have any setbacks from the foot injury, the Thunder will again be among the league’s elite teams in the NBA. If he has any setbacks, if he misses time and can’t gel with his new coach or system this is going to be a really long year for OKC. Mostly filled with questions about Kevin Durant’s future. I mean D.C can only hope for those questions right?