After watching Oklahoma City blow a 3-1 lead to Golden State in the conference finals – becoming the first team since 1981 to do so – it would be easy to judge the Thunder harshly for their historic collapse.
Adrian Wojnarowski doesn’t want to do that.
“Listen, I think this proved to be a really resilient Oklahoma City team,” the The Vertical’s NBA guru said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I think that team started to find itself and find formulas that worked. They were pretty dominant against a great team at points in this series.”
Like in Game 1, which they win in Golden State. And in Games 3 and 4, which they won by a combined 52 points. And in Games 6 and 7, which they led by double digits before losing both.
“I look at this group,” Wojnarowski said, “and say if they were to come back altogether, assume they get Durant back, I think this group next year should look at itself next year and say, ‘We should be a 65-, 66-win regular season team. We should be up where the Spurs were this past year.’”
But again, that hinges on Kevin Durant, an unrestricted free agent, remaining in Oklahoma City. Wojnarowski thinks he will.
“I still think he may go through the process,” Wojnarowski said. “I think he may take meetings. He may visit with teams. I still think the most likely scenario is the one-plus one where he does the one-year deal in Oklahoma City and then revisits free agency next year. I know everybody wants an answer. I think – in fact, I know – he doesn’t know what he’s going to do yet. I think he needs to decompress from this series, step back, see where this team is, where this organization is. So much of his free agency, I’ve been told all along, was he just wants to win championships.”
That’s right. For Durant, it’s not about money or a second-to-none nightlife. It’s about championships.
If this postseason is any indication, the Thunder are pretty close.
“It’s easy sometimes to categorize potential free agents in one of two ways,” Wojnarowski said. “They’re either looking for reasons to leave or they’re looking for reasons to stay. I’ve always believed Kevin Durant is a guy who’s been looking for reasons to stay there. I think he got them in the postseason, but he can punt on it and do the one-year deal. That puts a lot of pressure on Russell Westbrook next year. If Kevin were to leave now, he doesn’t have to be the bad guy and walk out of there. Next year, he and Russell both have decisions to make together and it might take the onus off him a little bit to sort of punt on it this year. But I think he (and his agent) will huddle and they’ll start to figure it out.
“Certainly there’s no shortage of suitors,” Wojnarowski continued. “Everybody wood rearrange their salary cap and make dramatic changes to their roster for the chance to get him. But the run Oklahoma City made, my sense is it makes them think, ‘I’m a lot closer here at the end of the year than I thought maybe I was back in December and January.’”
Sticking with free agency, Wojnarowski said that the biggest name to change teams this offseason will likely be Dwight Howard but that the best player on the move will likely be Mike Conley Jr. or Hassan Whiteside. Wojnarowski called Conley, 26, “the most underrated guy at his position in the league,” while adding that Whiteside would make Portland a 50-win team.
“That’s certainly the one hole they have,” Wojnarowski said of the Trail Blazers. “He could make a dramatic impact there.”