Expectations are high for the Oklahoma City Thunder this year. They could even win the West, but beating the basketball odds will be a completely different story.
Remember when the Oklahoma City Thunder used to print money? They were profitable every season from 2008-09 until last year, when injuries left them just out of the playoffs at 45-37 SU and 39-41-2 ATS. Now that both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are presumably healthy, expectations have been cranked up again for the 2014-15 campaign. The Thunder are firmly in the Top 5 on the NBA futures market as we go to press; their basketball odds for winning the title range from +500 at 5Dimes to +900 at Sports Interaction.
Maybe this will actually be their year. But we're skeptical about putting the Thunder in our NBA picks at these prices. A lot of things still have to go right for this franchise – starting with their one major offseason “upgrade,” which may or may not be an upgrade at all.
Get Thy Bearings
We're talking, of course, about head coach Billy Donovan. He's finally left the cozy confines of the University of Florida to take over the reins from Scotty Brooks, who received mixed, but mostly positive reviews, for his work between 2008 and last year. Donovan was a hot commodity after leading the Gators to back-to-back National Championships in 2006 and 2007; he even agreed to coach the Orlando Magic in 2007 before getting cold feet and returning to Gainesville.
College coaches have had a spotty record in the NBA over the years. It's usually fine when someone like Brad Stevens takes over a young team like the Boston Celtics, but look at what happened to Rick Pitino with the same team in the late '90s, when Pitino was also the GM and the CEO and team president. Donovan apparently did; he reportedly chose the Thunder at least in part because of the trust he built with GM Sam Presti and his personnel decisions.
I Love My Shirt
So why did the Thunder choose Donovan? Perhaps it has something to do with Durant and Westbrook. This is a critical season for the franchise, with Durant on the last year of his contract and both players needing to be on the same page to enjoy any success. Donovan has built a reputation as a leader who gets his players to buy in, and with all the roster turnover there is these days with free agency, the more important it is to develop lasting relationships between coaches and their superstars.
Assuming Donovan establishes that kind of rapport with Durant and Westbrook, and assuming they stay healthy this year, all the other pieces appear to be in place for the Thunder to contend for the title. That's if Enes Kanter (24.9 PER, +1.2 BPM) can mesh with Durant, and if Serge Ibaka (16.6 PER, +0.8 PER) can find his groove again after a down season. Seems like too many questions that need to be answered before we're comfortable recommending OKC for your basketball picks.