Tuesday, June 3-
By Joe Laland, KCOU Sports
Losing in the sixth game of a conference final is typically regarded as a “successful” season. However most teams don’t have the expectations of the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder. Both teams have repeatedly finished in second place in their respective conferences. The Pacers have failed to best the Miami Heat for three years in a row. Oklahoma City has dropped two conference finals series since 2011. So what’s next for these two teams in the offseason? Both have shown flashes of being a top team in the NBA. However, they lack the consistency of being a perennial contender.
The Indiana Pacers
Larry Bird and the Indiana Pacers are facing a vital offseason. The Pacers started this season with a 40-12 record, soaring through a sluggish Eastern Conference. After that torrid start, Indiana’s identity changed to an unorganized, .500 team that had a surplus of tension between the players.
The first step that most expect is for the team to elect not to invest 25-30 million dollars into polarizing shooting guard Lance Stephenson, despite being the Pacers’ best playmaker and the league leader in triple-doubles. The decision to not re-sign him stems from his antics on the court and his willingness to call out teammates off the court.Stephenson is far from their only problem. Reportedly, no one on the Indiana Pacers is safe from getting shopped around the league. The only players that appear somewhat safe are 24 year-old All-Star Paul George and veteran power forward David West.
Two other glaring issues the Pacers face are Roy Hibbert and their point guard. The problem for the Pacers is that they have a lot of salary committed to Roy Hibbert. Despite his ability to be an elite rim protector with his 7-2 frame and a player that can score around the rim in stints, Hibbert can be invisible offensively. The center went scoreless in four postseason games. Additionally, Hibbert contains a fair amount of character questions. The Pacers would love to dangle a defensive center to other NBA teams as a valuable commodity. However, Hibbert is due to make more than 30 million dollars over the next two seasons and will be very hard to deal for any valuable assets. The Pacers best bet will be to try and keep Hibbert content in his surroundings and hope he regains his 2013 playoff form. The Pacers need to do this because right now, his perceived value around the league has hit an all-time low.
The other big decision the Pacers will face is what to do at the point guard position. George Hill has claimed the starting spot since getting traded for the draft rights of Kawhi Leonard. Hill is typically described by the cliché of a “floor general”. Hill will always play within himself but will never dominate a game, and appear apathetic in crunch time. This is an area that the Pacers need to address immediately. Hill doesn’t fit the mold of what the Pacers need at the point guard because of his inability to create plays for himself and others. The Pacers lack a guard that can set up shot opportunities for their other players outside of Paul George. Look for the Pacers to target Kyle Lowry this offseason with the money they save by not re-signing Stephenson.
The Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have a less complicated offseason. After a dominant postseason by Russell Westbrook, there is a very slim chance he gets dealt. Likewise, Scott Brooks appears safe after escaping a possible upset by the Memphis Grizzlies. Nonetheless, there are still changes to be made with their frontcourt and bench production. Controlling trade bait with Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, and two first round picks in the upcoming NBA draft, the Thunder will have the opportunity to make moves.
The main improvement the Thunder must make is adding scoring options to their bench. After Coach Brooks inserted guard Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup, the Thunder struggled to get bench scoring in critical playoff games. A key decision will be what they decide to do with Jeremy Lamb. Lamb has shown upside to evolve into a legitimate sixth man thanks to his athletic frame and pure jump shot. However, that’s a big project and could take more time than the Thunder’s current roster needs. Look for general manager Sam Presti to shop a combination of Lamb, Jones and first round picks to find another scorer to take the pressure off of Kevin Durant and Westbrook during scoring droughts.
The other dilemma for the front office will be the decision on whether or not to amnesty Kendrick Perkins. Perkins brings an interesting dynamic to this Thunder team because he’ll do close to nothing offensively. Defensively, he can matchup against any center and was quite possibly the difference maker in the first round against the Grizzlies. Additionally, Perkins has taken a mentor role to young center Steven Adams. The Thunder will likely keep Perkins for his defensive mentality and championship experience.
As for free agency, the Thunder only have three free agents. They will likely lose Derek Fisher to retirement. The other two free agents are Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler. Sefolosha has been a starter for the Thunder a majority of the past couple seasons. He’s a consistent defensive stopper, but his offensive inefficiency has been highlighted. The Thunder could decide to detour from Selfosha’s defensive game and pick up a cheap bench scorer like Patty Mills or Jordan Crawford. Butler was a quiet pick-up at the trade deadline that proved to be a pretty good fit for Oklahoma City. Given the price to hold onto him, expect Butler to stay around for another season.