Thunder started heavy on wings and came up light
PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder’s season.
After his side-step-and fire dagger fell, he raised his hand and waved the Thunder into a final collapse. All Russell Westbrook could do was walk off amid a sea of deafening noise mixed with frustration and unmet expectations.
The Thunder was bounced from the playoffs by Lillard’s heroics in a 118-115 Blazers win, as Portland mounted a 12-point comeback in the fourth quarter to oust OKC 4-1 in the first-round series.
On the other end of a memorable final push by the Thunder fronted by
It’s left the Thunder with the undersized Raymond Felton (6-foot) and Dennis Schroder (6-1) as patchwork wing options off the bench. Donovan has soured on using the limited Abdel Nader. Deonte Burton never received much of a chance to solidify a rotation spot.
The lack of options behind starters Terrance Ferguson and Paul George have required George to log heavy minutes. George, averaging 40.5 minutes per game in the playoffs, would have played a ton anyway, but he’s often subbed out in brief, minute-long intervals because the Thunder can’t survive without him on the court.
"Honestly, it’s been fine," said George, ice wrapped around his right shoulder and left knee at shootaround Monday. "With as much movement as C.J. is doing, as much he gets a screen, the stamina’s been pretty fine, surprisingly.
"I’m not too tired or worn out on the offensive end. Playing 40 (minutes) a night, I’ve been holding up, so I think I’m in good shape with that."
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Whether at full strength or not, part of a larger issue general manager Sam Presti has to address in the offseason is getting better on the perimeter.
The Thunder has George, Roberson, Ferguson, Nader and Diallo under contract next season. Since signing a three-year, $30 million contract in July 2017, Roberson has been able to play only 39 games. Even if Roberson were available, his lack of shooting limits spacing in the Thunder’s offense. Nader’s contract is non-guaranteed.
The Thunder is over the salary cap and more than $60 million into the luxury tax. The avenues to improvement are trades and a mid-level exception projected at $5.5 million to offer a free agent.
That number doesn’t buy much of an upgrade on the wing in a market starving for the position, nor do teams part willingly with competent wing players in trades without asking for a lot in return.
"That’s part of it, but it’s something we’ve dealt with for a period of time," Donovan said of the wing depth issues. "It’s just kind of the reality of the situation. I’ve just tried to focus on the group we have here and try to do the best we can with the group we have here."