The Oklahoma City Thunder experienced a whole lot of change this summer, as they traded away Paul George after two seasons and then had to make the painful decision of parting with franchise face Russell Westbrook.
For the first time since Westbrook and Kevin Durant were neophytes on the Thunder over a decade ago, Oklahoma City is going to have go through a rebuild, and it certainly won’t be easy.
The Thunder will struggle to compete for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference this coming season, but they still have some business to take care of this year, just like any other team in the NBA.
So, here are four burning questions for OKC ahead of training camp.
4. Will Andre Roberson ever get healthy?
Andre Roberson tore his patellar tendon midway through the 2017-18 campaign. He was supposed to return at some point early during the 2018-19 season, but he had multiple setbacks and ended up missing the entire year.
Roberson is still holding out hope that he can come back healthy for 2019-20, but that is obviously easier said than done.
The 27-year-old is a key cog in the Thunder’s defense, and it was clear that they missed him over the last year and a half. Now, how much of a role he would have on a rebuilding team even if healthy is debatable, but it would still be nice to at least have him back as an asset.
When healthy, Roberson is an elite wing defender, so he would have some trade value if he can return and stay on the floor. But at this point, it’s debatable as to whether or not he will ever reach that stage again.
3. Will the Thunder try to trade Steven Adams?
Steven Adams is just 26 years old, but Oklahoma City doesn’t have much use for him anymore now that it is on the way to a teardown. So, will the Thunder try to move him?
There was some chatter about OKC potentially trading Adams earlier this summer, but due to his contract (he is owed around $53 million through the end of 2020-21), rehoming him is definitely not easy.
That’s not to say that Adams isn’t good, because he is actually one of the better centers in the league, but matching the $25.8 million salary he is due to make in 2019-20 is difficult.
Adams is an elite offensive rebounder, a very good defender and a terrific locker-room presence, but his lack of an offensive repertoire does make him a bit of a specialist who fits better on some rosters than others.
As a result, Oklahoma City will probably just end up keeping Adams, as it doesn’t seem like the return will be worth the while.
Now, next summer, when Adams gets set to enter the final year of his deal, it might be a different story. But as of now, trading the big man seems somewhat unrealistic, even if the Thunder may consider it.
2. How much leash does Billy Donovan have?
Billy Donovan’s run as Thunder head coach has not been all that successful, to say the least.
Since taking over in 2015, Donovan has gone 199-129, winning 50 games just once. Oklahoma City has also been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs in each of the last three years.
Based on that, Donovan’s job security is not exactly on a solid foundation.
That being said, you have to think that with OKC entering rebuilding mode, Donovan will be safe at least through the year, unless the Thunder are so horrific that the organization decides it’s time for a change.
I’ll say this, though: Donovan may not have many more chances left. Sam Presti and Co. will probably give him a mulligan for the 2019-20 campaign, but that’s it. If Oklahoma City doesn’t start showing progress, he will be in severe danger of losing his job.
Heck, there were some who felt he should have gotten canned two years ago, so it is fair to wonder just how much leeway Donovan has, even entering a season in which the Thunder clearly will not be contending.
1. What will become of Chris Paul?
In order to match salaries, Oklahoma City had to take Chris Paul back in the trade that sent Westbrook to the Houston Rockets.
It’s a hefty price to pay for some draft picks. Literally.
Paul is due $38.5 million this coming season and $41.4 million in 2020-21. To make matters worse, he has a $44.2 million player option for the 2021-22 campaign.
Much of that obviously hinges on how much all of that money means to Paul. He could request a buyout at some point if he prefers to take less money to go to a contender, but that is a lot of dough to give up.
Unless the Thunder want to attach a couple of draft picks to Paul, they almost certainly won’t be able to find a taker for him on the trade market, so that’s probably out of the question.
What may end up happening is Oklahoma City may keep CP3 around as a mentor to some of the young guys this season before the two sides revisit the future next summer.