George Berry: What now for Steven Adams' NBA future?

OPINION: For the third straight year, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been handed a first-round exit from the NBA playoffs.

This time, their demise has come at the hands of Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, the best of seven series finishing 4-1.

Unfortunately, the 118-115 game-five loss will go down in the history books in the most heartbreaking way possible for Thunder fans.

With no time left on the clock, Lillard drained an 11-metre buzzer-beater - that's four metres outside the three-point arc - then immediately waved farewell to Kiwi Steven Adams and the Thunder, as his home crowd erupted in elation.

That salty and sarcastic gesture from Lillard was actually pretty symbolic. This off-season, Adams may be waving goodbye to a few of his teammates - that may even see him leaving the franchise he’s been part of for six seasons.

In years past, that might have seemed laughable, but now it’s pretty serious. As a Thunder fan, their early exit of this season was not surprising and it's hard to see how the franchise can head into next season, thinking they can win it all with the squad and approach they currently have to the game.

One thing is for sure - this off-season will not be fun for the Thunder's front office.

A team packed with promise, spearheaded by All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George, were tipped as top contenders at the beginning of the season. Analysts even said they had a chance at taking down the Golden State Warriors dynasty.

The reality has been anything but that and the playoffs were a shining example of that. The spotlight now shines on some concerning key facts and stats.

Wednesday's game was Oklahoma City’s ninth straight road playoff loss - they haven’t snatched victory away from home since Kevin Durant shockingly left the franchise nearly three years ago.

So, what do they do from here?

Do they blow it up, and ship the heart and soul of their team, Russell Westbrook? The 30-year old had a woeful series and, in reality, hasn’t been able to take his team to the next level in his 11 seasons with the club.

In the series just gone, Westbrook shot the ball 111 times, only making 30 of them. For a man getting paid US$206 million dollars over five years, those statistics and his questionable decision-making are simply not acceptable.

Do they trade Aotearoa's finest?

Adams had a career year in many facets of his game, including points (13.9) and rebounds (9.5), and should be swept into the ‘keep’ pile for Thunder general manager Sam Presti, despite being less than effective in the playoffs and sitting out crucial moments of the series.

Don’t discount a move, though.

The NBA is a savage league, when it comes to wheeling and dealing. During this season’s trade deadline, one player was traded to three different teams within 72 hours and another was traded while he was playing for his old team. 

Oklahoma City coach Bill Donovan
Oklahoma City coach Bill Donovan - for now? Photo credit: Reuters.

One pretty realistic cut from the squad is coach Billy Donovan. The 53-year old former New York Knicks player has under-delivered since taking at the helm, despite having plenty of talent to work with, and his seat will be very hot over the off-season.

Let’s be frank here - Portland won this series because they played simple, yet effective team basketball. The Thunder, as they have done for years and years, played ‘hero ball’.

That tactic hasn’t and simply won’t get them any further than they’ve been in the playoffs for the past three years.

Many haven’t wanted to admit it, but this dire situation the Thunder are now in has been a long time coming.

Now we sit and wait in anticipation.

George Berry is a Newshub sports reporter.

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