Last week, we took a look at questions facing some of the top teams in the NBA. This week, we take a look at few of the more intriguing teams in the league.
Does Oklahoma City have what it takes to win in the final year of Kevin Durant’s contract?
Injuries marred the 2014-15 season for the Thunder. Kevin Durant missed 55 games and Russell Westbrook missed 15. This set the Thunder back considerably and they missed the playoffs. In the offseason, they fired longtime coach Scott Brooks and opted to hire Billy Donovan in his place. They also re-signed center Enes Kanter, whom they acquired in a trade last season, to a max deal. This presents an interesting dilemma for Donovan as Kanter does a fairly good job on offense but is atrocious on defense. Last season, the lineups featuring Kanter were only successful on the court when he was paired with rim-protecting forward Serge Ibaka. It will be interesting to see if Kanter starts because of his large contract, or if Donovan makes the bold choice and starts center Steven Adams instead. Barring injury the Thunder are legitimate title contenders. They have two of the top 10 players in the league with Durant and Westbrook. With this being the final year of Durant’s contract, the Thunder are certainly hoping that they do not waste such talent.
Can Utah take a leap this year?
After trading Kanter, Utah’s defense improved. Anchored by Rudy Gobert, the Jazz proved to be a formidable team down the stretch last year. The rest of the starting frontcourt is solid with forwards Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward primed to do even better this year. Unfortunately second-year point guard Dante Exum will be out for the entire season, leaving ball handling duties to a combination of Trey Burke, Raulzinho Neto and Bryce Cotton. The Jazz might also try to give shooting guard Alec Burks some ball handling duties, along with Hayward. Despite the point guard problems, this young team looks like it could have a chance to be a seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Could Sacramento…actually be good?
Everything went wrong for Sacramento last season. They started off hot, but after DeMarcus Cousins went down with viral meningitis for 10 games, the wheels came off. Coach Mike Malone was fired, and the team promoted Ty Corbin to interim coach. Then, the Kings hired former Sonics and Nuggets coach George Karl as head coach during the All-Star break. The team faced quite a bit of adversity from this point on: Cousins feuded with Karl, trade rumors surrounded Cousins and tension increased between Karl and the front office. Lost in all the turmoil was a decent summer, considering the talent Sacramento acquired. They drafted center Willie Cauley-Stein as a rim protector to play with Cousins. They also added guards Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli, as well as signing backup center Kosta Koufos. It would seem that the lack of shooting with Rondo paired with the spacing provided by Belinelli’s sharpshooting might lead to poor floor spacing, but ideally these might even themselves out and lead to a serviceable offense this season.
Unfortunately for the Kings, they made bad decisions in making cap space to sign these players. The Kings traded away Jason Thompson and Carl Landry to the 76ers in a salary dump to open up cap space. But to do this deal, they threw in Nik Stauskas and a future first round pick, mortgaging the future.
We will see if the talent improvements will allow the Kings to make some noise in the lower rungs of the Western Conference playoff race this year and what that means for their future.