Thunder face tough decisions
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - By keeping largely the same group together and building over time, the Oklahoma City Thunder climbed from the bottom of the league to the NBA Finals.
They were so close to the pinnacle. Now it gets only more difficult to keep all the pieces in place to try to finish the job.
The Thunder enter the offseason with coach Scott Brooks' contract about to expire, Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and NBA blocks leader Serge Ibaka eligible for new deals and the future of veterans Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed up in the air.
It will be up to general manager Sam Presti to determine whether they all can still fit on a team where All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are already locked into expensive, long-term deals.
``It's going to be difficult decisions but we'll see what happens,'' forward Nick Collison said Saturday.
``Obviously, we want everybody back. We feel like we've got a really good core group and we feel like we can get it done with our group, so hopefully it can happen.''
Brooks' situation is the most urgent, with his deal expiring at the end of the month.
``I'm sure in the next couple of days we will sit down and get together. Definitely, I wish I was preparing or just finishing up practice going into Game 6,'' Brooks said. ``You definitely need a few days just to reflect on what we've done this year. But the next couple of days, we plan on getting together.''
Brooks has overseen a steady improvement since taking over early in the 2008-09 season, when Oklahoma City finished with 23 wins. After that, the Thunder lost in the first round of the playoffs the next year and then were defeated in the Western Conference finals before falling in five games in the NBA Finals this season against Miami.
``Scotty is my guy for life, no matter what,'' Durant said during the finals. ``If he's our coach for 10 more years or not, that's my guy. I love him like family. He's pushing me every single day. He demands a lot out of me and when I'm messing up, he's going to tell me. And that's what I need.''
Harden and Ibaka still have a year left under contract but will become eligible for their first contract extension in July. If they don't sign over the next year, they would become restricted free agents - with the Thunder getting the chance to match any offer from another team.
``This is something special here. A dynasty is being built here,'' Harden said. ``We're winning, we're having fun and we're brothers. ... The other stuff, you can't buy it. It's the friendships.
``I'm going to just play the year out and have fun and not worry about it. I'll let them figure that out and discuss all that.''
Harden said his immediate concern is winning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, along with Durant and Westbrook. Ibaka could also be in the Olympics, representing Spain.
``I love it here. This team is like a family, like we're really brothers,'' Harden said. ``We hang out most of the time every single day. You can't find any other team like this. I love it here.''
The Thunder have been able to keep their youthful core together, with their best players still under their less-expensive rookie contracts. Durant got his extension two summers ago, and Westbrook signed his new deal in December.
As more of the team's nucleus gets fatter contracts, the luxury tax becomes a bigger factor.
``They know they're a big part of what we do here. They know how much we value them as people first and as players. They know how much the city loves them,'' Durant said. ``So, let them do what they do. My job is to be a great teammate and a great friend to them.''
Presti also must decide whether to keep Fisher, who signed with the team after the Lakers traded him in March, and whether to re-sign Mohammed after he agreed to a one-year deal last offseason.
Backup point guard Eric Maynor, who missed most of the season with a knee injury, is in the same situation as Harden and Ibaka.
``I can just put that in one word: sacrifice,'' Maynor said. ``If we really want to continue, I feel like we've got something special here. I feel like if guys sacrifice getting something done, then everybody will be here.''