Because the move from Seattle brought more than just a new identity, this year will be a learning experience for everyone. Gone are the fears that the team will be temporary, and gone are the playoff hopes. Oops, I meant that to be not so harsh, but that is the reality facing Durant and Co.
Carbert gave more insight on the Thunder's shining star, and now Durant has to hope a few of the leftovers from the northwest brought their game with them. Playing in the Western Conference is tough enough by itself, and OKC did little in the off-season to improve the potential for the 08-09 campaign. I chose to only list the last names in yesterday's post since most or all will be a one-and-done for the Thunder. Out of those seven players, I think three at the most suit up next season in Oklahoma City.
Enough with the negative, however, and on to better and brighter things! Namely the strong young core that GM Sam Presti is building around Durant. Green, Westbrook, and White offer hope, and a few diamonds in the rough from overseas round out a good supporting cast. Even if OKC improves by ten games this season over last year, another high draft pick awaits. That is a story for another time as today is all about the Sonics' holdovers.
Damien Wilkins and Mouhamed Sene are the two from my list who represent what the Thunder hope to get out of this year. Wilkins is Durant's back-up and what amounts to a seasoned veteran on the young squad. He is entering season number five in the NBA and brings family experience to the court.
Damien is the son of Gerald and the nephew of Dominique, two long-time stalwarts who combined for over 20 + years of pro ball. Even though his scoring average has improved each of the four seasons, the rest of the stats haven't seen the same increase. Wilkins is the type of player OKC will have to make a decision on after this year, and his play off the bench will be pivotal to the team's decision.
If he can knock down some 3-pointers or provide a spark for the Thunder in a sixth-man role, Wilkins will not only win over the Oklahoma City crowd but also the management in the process.
On the other end of the spectrum is Sene, the third-year pro from Senegal. Knee surgery ended his 07-08 year, and he wasn't expected to play for some time after the injury was found to be worse than expected. The basketball gods were smiling on the Thunder center once again this summer, and Sene practiced full-speed this week. He won't be ready for opening night but is a game-changer with a huge wingspan. It is vital for OKC to improve defensively, and blocked shots are the name of the game for Sene.
Coach P.J. Carlesimo has a daunting task ahead of him this season, but future success is within reach. Players like Wilkins and Sene are crucial to the growth of the Thunder, who have to prove they are more than just a one-trick pony. Providing support for Durant is job number one, and the who is not nearly as important as the how. OKC has the pieces to stay competitive but proving they belong will be the story for the 2008-2009 season.