Thunder has some tough decisions after Chet Holmgren’s injury

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The Oklahoma City Thunder is finally back in an enviable position: talented enough to tickle, but still young enough to lose without repercussions.

This was an indirect journey into hope, initiated by Kevin Durant’s 2016 departure. There was a MVP year for Russell Westbrook, a statistical blast that never promised much in the way of post-season success. Then the sudden arrival of Paul George, which proved short-lived and was soon forgotten. Chris Paul came to replace Westbrook for a memorable stopover, but he also soon sought greener pastures. Left in the wake of this star revolving door: Shay Gilgus Alexander, the 2021 lottery pick Josh Gedi and a comically long list of future draft assets.

But June brought the Thunder, who won just 24 games last season and 22 the year before, with a new franchise at Chet Holmgren. By July, Gonzaga’s No. 2 overall put Oklahoma City back on the “must-see” list of die-hard League Pass owners, thanks to his outstanding play alongside Giddey in the. Summer tournaments in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Unfortunately, disaster struck in August when 20-year-old Holmgren was He suffered a punctured foot While defending LeBron James during a game in Seattle.

Holmgren’s injury, which will require him to postpone the junior season, provides fuel for convinced critics His slim frame is 7ft 195lbs You won’t be able to stand the rigors of the NBA. Immediately, his absence destabilized the extended rebuilding effort in Oklahoma City properly as things began to take hold.

Rookie Chet Holmgren’s injury isn’t an anomaly — or an occupational fatality

The upcoming season was supposed to be an exhilarating, exhilarating experience for Thunder, with Gilgeous-Alexander the main choice, Giddey pushing the tempo and Holmgren stunning viewers with his skills in blocking and crafting shots. Thunder president Sam Presti has forged a wave of starters and bolstered his supporting team by rewarding Luguentz Dort (five years, $82.5 million) and Kenrich Williams (four years, $27.2 million) with new contracts. While there was bound to be growing pains, especially for the skinny Holmgren, Oklahoma City looked poised to climb over the Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets in the bottom tier of the Western Conference. This promises to be a step forward both competitively and aesthetically.

However, co-development remained a top priority for a list that was the youngest season in the NBA. Holmgren and Jedi display instant chemistry at the summer ball, anticipating each other’s movements and complementing each other’s strengths. When Jedi created Holmgren in pick-and-roll and transition, Holmgren’s length made him a natural target for the ball, and his ability to space out created driving lanes for his Australian teammate. Until Holmgren returns, the 19-year-old Jedi will need to take on a heavier scoring burden and resort more often to his shaky outdoor treasure.

There’s still plenty of time for Holmgren and Giddey to improve their relationship on the court, though the same can’t necessarily be assumed when it comes to Gilgeous-Alexander, who is entering his fourth season in Oklahoma City. The 24-year-old Canadian goalkeeper is arguably the lowest-grossing player in the NBA, averaging 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game amid a relative obscurity last season.

Gilgeous-Alexander is just starting a five-year, $173 million extension, but he will nonetheless generate an endless stream of trade rumors as he is a rising star in a small market playing for a team that’s still years away from the competition. Dignity Murray And the Donovan Mitchell Fitting similar bills, both were treated to packages laden with pick and anticipation this summer. As it happens, Gilgus Alexander has been on the other side of this recurring phenomenon as the focus of Oklahoma City’s brilliant 2019 comeback for George.

Set to go into this season without Holmgren or any major free agency additions, the best path forward for Thunder is to race to the bottom again. Despite its war chest of future recruiting choices, Oklahoma City has only one 2023 first-round pick to hunt potential franchisees like Victor Wimpanyama and Scott Henderson: its own. Pairing Holmgren (7-6 wingspan) and Wembanyama (7-4 with an 8-foot wingspan) would be a stunning proposition, a frontal tandem apt for “Space Jam 3.” To maximize its chances of making that happen, Oklahoma City should prepare for another round of purposeful loss late in the season.

Selling the continued patience of a player like Gilgeous-Alexander is tough, especially after he closed early on a draft-place corner in each of the past two seasons. This clever strategy has clearly benefited Oklahoma City’s long-term prospects, but it leaves Gilgus Alexander at a disadvantage compared to peers enjoying post-season performances and acclaim from all-stars. The franchisee can only play that card a few times before he makes a payout for as long as he promises.

Five young NBA players ready for all-star caliber seasons in 2022-23

San Antonio seems to have concluded that Murray had no talent for transforming the franchise and that it would have been better to seek a complete rebuild without him. Perhaps Oklahoma City will consider a similar account by the February or next summer trade deadline. On the flip side, 25-year-old Murray looked thrilled at the prospect of riding the gun to Trae Young on the Atlanta Hawks. Gilgeous-Alexander can’t be blamed if he got tired of starting summer vacation in March.

Holmgren can still fill that gap. Tottenham didn’t have another emerging star besides Murray, and they certainly didn’t have a major franchise with the best defensive player of the year making his summer league debut. Praised by Durant. Likewise, Utah Mitchell moved in part because her roster was short of promising youngsters.

If everyone in Oklahoma City stays focused on vision, Holmgren’s lost season can finally be remembered as an annoying side step on the path back to winning streak. After all, Joel Embiid blossomed into a MVP candidate after missing his first two years in Philadelphia. There are also plenty of bleak alternatives to consider when young people suffer serious injuries early in their careers.

“Can’t wait for the hoop again,” Holmgren Tweet Sunday, to express sentiments certainly shared by Thunder and his fans, who haven’t seen the team win a playoff series since Durant joined the Golden State Warriors. Given the sharp change in conditions this summer, the wait is bound to be painful.

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