Thunder looks forward to new season

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Kendrick Perkins
Kevin Durant
Nick Collison
Reggie Jackson
Russell Westbrook
Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka

Thunder looks forward to new season

By Tim Farley

For the last five years, the Oklahoma City Thunder has been one of the most consistent and successful teams in the NBA, yet there’s no world championship banner hanging from the Chesapeake Arena rafters.

The Thunder advanced to the NBA Finals three years ago, but ran into a buzz-saw in the Miami Heat. They’ve lost twice in the Western Conference Finals to teams that went on to win world championship titles, so there’s little disgrace with those performances.

Although Oklahoma City has the talent, drive and motivation time may be running out, especially if superstar and NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant decides to take his talents to another team when his contract expires at the end of the 2015-2016 season. Looking long-term, Thunder point guard and perennial All-Star Russell Westbrook is committed to the Thunder through the 2016-2017 season.

But for now, neither player is looking that far ahead, at least publicly.

During the team’s Sept. 29 Media Day, Durant told reporters, “I’m taking it day by day with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s my main concern. And whatever the future holds, I don’t know, because I can’t tell the future. I enjoy being here. I enjoy my teammates. I like the direction we’re going in and that’s not just a cliché answer. That’s real.”

Both Durant and Westbrook are ready to make another run at an NBA title and with all the parts still in place, the Thunder is ready for action. Granted, Oklahoma City didn’t make any headline news with major trades or free agent signings this summer, but they did pick up three-point guru Anthony Morrow, who was a 45 percent shooter from outside the arc while playing for New Orleans.

One of the Thunder’s summertime decisions was not to resign longtime shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha, who later inked a contract with the Atlanta Hawks. However, Sefolosha’s offensive production had dwindled the last two years, creating a void at the shooting guard position.

With training camp under way, head coach Scott Brooks and his assistant coaches will try to get the Thunder through another rugged 82-game schedule and over a playoff hump that has stymied the OKC team the past few seasons. One of the obstacles has been the world champion San Antonio Spurs, which defeated the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals last season. But there’s other contenders such as the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and the always tough and rough Memphis Grizzlies.

Another challenge the last couple of years has been injuries, especially to Westbrook and big man Kendrick Perkins, who is oftentimes the focal point of criticism by newspaper columnists and radio commentators who claim the team would be better off trading Perk to another team. Perkins is in the last year of his contract with the Thunder.

Another storyline bound to unfold this season is if second-year center Steven Adams can lay claim to a starting job in place of Perkins. Adams had a solid regular season during 2013-2014, and could very well be rewarded this season as a starter or by earning significantly more playing time.

As Oklahoma City’s stars turn another year older, the question remains if Brooks will curtail the number of minutes Durant and Westbrook play. Westbrook was rested extensively last season after returning from three surgeries. Could the same plan be used this year for the All-Star point guard and Durant?

Without a doubt, the Thunder will count on third-year man Jeremy Lamb to recapture the shooting and scoring groove from the first half of last season. In addition, the development of rookie center Mitch McGarry and Perry Jones will be critical to the team’s success.

Oklahoma City kicks off its preseason schedule at Denver Oct. 8 followed by another road game at Dallas Oct. 10. The Thunder’s first pre-season game at Chesapeake Arena is Oct. 14 when Memphis comes to town for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

Oklahoma City starts the regular season on the road with games Oct. 29 at Portland and Oct. 30 against the Clippers. The first home game is Nov. 1 against the Denver Nuggets.

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