The playoffs are here and this is where we see which team has what it takes to win the Larry O’Brien trophy. A few of our society writers are going to indulge in some Western Conference basketball and give their opinions on a few topics. Our writers are:
DJ Allen – @djallen23
Martin Soaries – @marsoaries
Cyril Mpacko – @Cee_Armel
1.) Free agency is approaching for Kevin Durant. If they don’t win it all this season, what do you feel is his best option? Re-sign with OKC? Or go somewhere else?
Allen: As a Lakers fan, I would love to see him go to Los Angeles. But if I’m being unbiased, I feel it’s best for him to stay in OKC. He’s built his career there and the fans of Oklahoma City love him. He has an outstanding running mate in Russell Westbrook who’s playing out of his mind. They just need management to find the right pieces to surround them. They’ve gotten close but they’re not quite there yet.
Soaries: If the Thunder make it to the Finals, I think Durant’s best option is to stay. Maybe even a one-year deal and join Westbrook in free agency next summer. Anything less than that for Oklahoma City and I think he should explore all of his options. If I had any say in the matter, I’d like to see him consider the Knicks, Heat, Raptors, or yes, even the Warriors. A move to the Eastern Conference would be a major power shift.
Mpacko: I hate to say this, but it just might be an NBA Finals appearance or divorce for KD and the Thunder. Those of us who’ve followed the NBA religiously know just how small that championship window is with the same core group of players. Golden State has usurped OKC as the future of the NBA, and Durant knows that. Leaving a talented player like Westbrook would be hard, but Durant has to weigh all options if they do not get to the finals this year. New York, LA, Washington and even Miami could all be in play for KD.
2.) It seems to be a favorite for a Western Conference Finals between the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. Who are you picking in that 7-game series and why?
Allen: I’m taking the Golden State Warriors in 5. They’re on a mission and I feel a lot of that has to deal with all their doubters that arose following their championship last year. They beat the ’96 Bulls record and now their eyes are on the big prize. I just don’t see anyone stopping them. I believe they will beat the Spurs and then go on to win the NBA Finals.
Soaries: There are so many variables to consider if this matchup does come to pass. I give the slight edge to the Warriors because they still dominate tempo and have more dynamic firepower across the board, but given the magnitude and the depth on both sides I don’t see how anyone would think this series doesn’t go seven games.
Mpacko: Until the champion is dethroned, you have to pick them in any scenario. The Warriors have put together a regular season for the ages. There seems to be nothing, void of injury, that can derail them from their quest to become a dynasty. Not to mention the way they manhandled the Spurs in 3 of their 4 meetings. However, Popovich is the best in the game at planning and adjusting. If we are fortunate to see this series, it should be epic.
3.) The Oklahoma City Thunder sit at third in the Western Conference and no one is really paying them much attention. What do they need to do to get their name in that discussion?
Allen: Coming into the season, I had the Thunder winning it all. I really liked what they did during the offseason with the acquisitions they were able to pick up. But my only strife with this team was the shooting guard position. If Morrow, Roberson, and Waiters are knocking down open shots, then they can go far, but if not, then the Thunder can pack their bags and head home. Also, their consistency has not been there, especially in the fourth quarter. If they want to be taken seriously, they have to play hard for 48 minutes every single night.
Soaries: All the Thunder need to do is what they’ve been doing (and stay healthy) and they have a shot at a title. They’re always in the discussion because they’re one of the elites, but they’re just playing next fiddle to historic seasons of Golden State and San Antonio. Sometimes going a little under the radar can be a good thing, but no one should be discounting them.
Mpacko: Stay healthy for starters. Focus on the task at hand, and that is coming together as a unit and worrying about what they can control. They’ve played both Golden State and San Antonio very tough in their regular season matchups. They possess two wildcards in Durant and Westbrook. Not to mention a deep bench. They need not worry about Durant’s impending free agency, or who’s team it really is, etc. Take the playoffs one game at a time. If they can do most if not all of these aforementioned things, they should be in good shape.
4.) The Houston Rockets have been a huge disappointment this season. They went from playing in the Western Conference Finals last year to barely grasping the 8th seed. Where do you believe they went wrong this season and how can they fix it going forward?
Allen: Where the Rockets went wrong was not realizing what their identity was. Their consistently hasn’t been there all across the board. We’ve seen so many roster changes with this team during the season. Players coming and going. Coach McHale getting fired early in the season after taking this team to the Western Conference Finals. I believe there were a lot of little factors that went on this year that led up to them struggling during the season.
Soaries: I think the Rockets just need better talent. It’s never been enough to just stand on the pillars of James Harden and Dwight Howard and it’s caught up with them. Last summer they went after Chris Bosh which was the right thinking, because they’ve been a mess at power forward. I think their biggest flaw is related to the construction of their roster. They’re in a tough spot now because Dwight will be a free agent looking for a max deal this summer. They could use that money elsewhere if he walks, but replacing him with a top-tier guy right away isn’t guaranteed. The Rockets could be heading towards further digression.
Mpacko: I think they hit the panic button prematurely. Firing McHale that early in the season was uncalled for. Daryl Morey has done a good job in years past of putting puzzle pieces together. I truly think that he swung for the fences this year, and struck out. With that being said, things could’ve been worse. They could have missed the playoffs altogether. We know Golden State has had their number, but they are in a position now where they have nothing to lose. Could make for an interesting series between the Rockets and Warriors. If anyone can get hot in a week’s time, it certainly is James Harden. Any added production from Dwight Howard and company would be nicely received as well.
5.) Coach Doc Rivers has been on the record that this year its championship or bust. If they don’t win the chip this year, who are you looking to move this offseason?
Allen: I would look to ship out Blake Griffin if I’m Doc Rivers and company. He’s still a very valuable player that you can get a couple solid pieces for. I would look for a solid wing player and a power forward that can really stretch the floor. Griffin’s range has increased but he still likes to post and the lane gets clogged with Griffin and Jordan inside. Blake still has a lot of value and he’s one piece that might be worth placing on the market.
Soaries: An early exit from the playoffs has to force Doc Rivers’ hand, no matter what he says. His pride could take over and not having Blake Griffin for most of the season might influence perception on this season for the Clippers, but if a bold move is to be done I think it should involve Griffin. Chris Paul might be the more reasonable option as he’s the oldest of the Clipper core, but logistically I think the Clippers could bounce back quicker by getting some 3-and-D guys to compensate for Blake.
Mpacko: If someone had to go from this group, I’d say it would be Blake. He presents the piece that would yield the most return value on the open market. Not to mention, the Clippers went through too much of a hassle to bring DeAndre back last summer. Going out on a limb, I’d go as far as to say that Doc could be on the move as well. His questionable personnel decisions could leave him as the odd man out this summer if the Clippers don’t advance past the second round of these ever so important playoffs.