Every other day for the next couple of weeks InsideThunder.com writers Randy Renner and Jeremy Griffin are taking an in-depth look at the Thunder roster and discussing which players will be back for next season and which ones probably won't be.
On Monday in Part 1 they looked at Thunder head coach Scott Brooks and two of the Thunder's Big Three, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.
Wednesday in Part 2, they examined the changes that could be on the way for some key bench guys, Reggie Jackson, Caron Butler and Nick Collison.
Today the focus is on three players who've been mainstays in the starting lineup, Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha. Is at least a partial breakup in the cards for these three??
RANDY (RETURNS): Westbrook is generally regarded now as one of the 10 best basketball players in the world. Some now believe he’s one of the five best. Yet NBA writers and broadcasters left him off all three of the All-NBA teams. Most of that was probably because Russ missed 36 games due to injury or rest, though some of it could probably also be attributed to his constant battle between what folks have come to call, “Good Russ” and “Bad Russ.”
Westbrook has all of the physical attributes he needs and despite that right knee that required three surgical procedures, Westbrook appears just as quick and as fast as ever.
But remember what Kendrick Perkins said in his exit interview? The big guy said, “With Russ, it’s all mental.” We've all seen him get frustrated at times and lose his cool, one bad play becomes two and sometimes three, topped off with a technical foul.
We’ve also seen him run a game as brilliantly as anyone ever has, piling up triple-doubles, making shots himself, helping teammates get great shots, being a pest on defense and dominating the boards. Westbrook can be wildly inconsistent and since he’s the point guard, his team can be wildly inconsistent.
Next season, something a bit more toward the middle might be nice, or at least limiting the appearances of “Bad Russ.”
JEREMY (RETURNS): I am almost ready to “ditto” what I said about Kevin (in Part 1) for Russ…BUT…that would be crazy! Ok, Russ is definitely back and Like KD the team will seek to keep him as long as he continues to grow and mature. Growth should not be a problem for Russ as he has also improved every season.
This season was rough on a guy who had never been injured enough to miss a start only to miss a TON of games this season with injury. He bounced back and while as the season waned he succumbed to the temptation of a little too much “hero” ball, I think ultimately he will have his most dominant season in 2014-2015 due to the mental growth he has experienced.
RANDY (RETURNS): Thunder GM Sam Presti left no doubt last week that Perk will be back, the Thunder haven’t really even seriously considered using the amnesty provision to get out from under a contract that paid Perk just under $9 million this past season and will pay him just more than $9 million next season. Perkins is still a valued defender and as Presti said the Thunder might very well have not made it past Memphis in the first round of the playoffs this past season without Perk.
But Perkins also knows he’s not the player he was a few years ago in Boston. He said he will work harder than ever this off-season to get into the best shape of his career as he heads toward free agency after next season. Perkins has been outstanding in working with rookie center Steven Adams and other members of the Thunder. Next season Perkins’ role could change. He may not be the starter in every game, he may not be the starter in any. Adams is improving at such a rate he’ll deserve solid consideration to move into that role. But Perkins’ value to the Thunder should not be underestimated.
JEREMY (RETURNS): There is NO STRATEGIC ADVANTAGE for the Thunder to amnesty Perkins. Despite his offensive liability his defense down low has been HUGE for the Thunder. Another “big” reason for his return is Adams. Perk has been instrumental in getting the rookie from Pitt (and New Zealand) to the level he's at and having talked with Steven, I can only assume Perk will help mold Adams into an amazing center.
Prediction – Steven Adams is an ALL-STAR center by 2016 in part due to KP’s tutelage.
RANDY (GONE): Ever since Thabo Sefolosha joined the Thunder in the 2008-09 season after a trade with the Bulls, he’s generally been the starting shooting guard. The two seasons before this one saw his 3-point shooting percentage climb as high as it had ever been, 43.7 percent in 2011-12 and 41.9 percent in 2012-13. His overall shooting percentage in 2012-13 came close to 50 percent, finishing at 48.1 percent.
This past season though saw Thabo’s offensive numbers take an unprecedented dive, all the way down to 41.7 percent overall. That’s the worst shooting percentage of his career. His 3-point percentage fell to 31.6. Couple those struggles with some failures at the end of the season to contain opponents on defense and it could mean an end to Thabo’s time in Oklahoma City.
Sefolosha has been an outstanding addition to the team, he's a great guy and he and his wife have been extremely involved in the community. If Thabo has indeed played his last game for the Thunder, a lot of folks will miss him. But business is business.
JEREMY (GONE): When building any program there are always folks who can only take you so far...Thabo Sefolosha is one of those guys. I do see a scenario where Thabo remains with the team but only if he is willing to take league minimum and ride the bench.
I have a lot of respect for Thabo but in the end he is just not a piece in the Thunder puzzle that leads to a championship.