(Sports Network) - Basketball's best young team kicks of its season tonight when Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder host the Chicago Bulls.
After a breakthrough year that included 50 wins and an exciting first round loss to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, the Thunder had a very productive offseason.
The club signed Durant, the star of USA Basketball's gold medal winning team at the FIBA World Championships this summer, to a long-term contract extension, picked up its option on reigning NBA Coach of the Year Scott Brooks and secured general manager Sam Presti to a multi-year contract extension, all of which will allow the organization to grow with the group of people that created one of the league's most dynamic franchises.
Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, another ascending star, spent the summer toiling and improving with Team USA, while second-year guard James Harden figures to have a bigger impact this season as does young big man Serge Ibaka.
Add defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha, capable center Nenad Krstic and shooters Daequan Cook and Morris Peterson to that mix and it's easy to see why Oklahoma City is considered one of the sexiest teams in the NBA this season.
In Chicago, conventional wisdom says the Bulls failed this offseason.
After all, the Bulls were supposed to be in hot pursuit of the game's biggest prize, LeBron James, and came up empty. In fact, when one ill-informed ESPN talking head proclaimed Chicago the favorite to land the narcissistic one, dozens of lemmings fell in line to drink the Bristol Kool-Aid, convinced the Windy City would land LeBron.
Instead, King James took his throne to South Beach and the Bulls were forced to scramble and cultivate a Plan B that included signing power forward Carlos Boozer away from Utah, and inking a number of complimentary parts like former Jazz guards Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver.
The moves certainly weren't high-profile. but if you look at what new coach Tom Thibodeau has at his disposal, Chicago now looks like a player in the revamped Eastern Conference.
Thibodeau, a defensive mastermind, inherited a pair of elite frontcourt defenders in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, the game's best young point guard, Derrick Rose, and a solid small forward in Luol Deng. The addition of Boozer, Brewer and Korver to that mix looks tailor-made.
Rose will be able to play pick-and-roll all day with Boozer, and the former Jazz stalwart is also a top-tier scorer with his back to the basket, meaning the Bulls will be a much tougher team to defend in the half-court come playoff time.
Meanwhile, Korver, one of the game's best pure shooters, will help space the floor, and Brewer is the type of slasher that could excel running with Rose.
"We've got basketball players," Rose told Bulls.com. "I don't know about everybody else's team, but my team is ready to fight. We've got guys that just want to win. They aren't about their stats or anything. We've got legit winners."
The new plan with have to wait for now, however, as the oft-injured Boozer will begin the regular season on the sidelines thanks to a broken hand suffered back on Oct. 2. The break of the fifth metacarpal required surgery that was expected to keep Boozer out for eight weeks, which would have him back in the lineup in early December
These two teams split the home-and-home season series a year ago with each club winning on the other's home floor.