I hope you appreciated Kevin Durant's brilliance last season, because we're going to get about 25 percent less of it this year, and that leaves the Oklahoma City Thunder with a lot of questions. When the Most Valuable Player will return from his right foot fracture remains unclear. He underwent surgery Thursday to repair the "Jones fracture" — a break in the fifth metatarsal, which runs from the pinkie toe toward the heel — and will be re-evaluated in six weeks. While there's no guarantee that surgery will prevent recurrences of problems with the foot in the future, the surgery will reportedly improve his outlook moving forward ... after, of course, six to eight weeks of recuperation. [ Yahoo Sports Fantasy Basketball: Sign up and join a league today! ] Either way, for about 20 games, the Thunder must replace Durant's league-leading scoring and his playmaking. And his long-armed, quick-footed defensive presence. And the openings he creates for teammates when terrified defenses tilt toward him. Spoiler alert: They won't. Oklahoma City will be worse than we expected, and the difference is enough to decrease its odds of winning a championship . In a conference thick with contenders, a couple of extra Ls can mean dropping a couple of spots in the standings; running the Western gauntlet without home-court advantage seems unlikely, even with a recovered Durant. But while Durant's injury depresses, his absence intrigues. What will a team so reliant on his brilliance rely on now? “One of the ways to improve your team and make up for loss offensively is to play even better defensively and reduce the net rating between the offense and the defense,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti told reporters, according to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman . “[...] in Kevin’s absence, continuing to build a defensive identity is going to be really important in making sure that we are as balanced as ever offensively.” But doubling down on defense evokes visions of opponents ignoring Kendrick Perkins, gladly leaving Perry Jones III and Andre Roberson alone, and putting everything they have between Russell Westbrook and the rim. Scott Brooks needs new answers; he must get creative, drawing inspiration from the reality that, for now, his team will only go as far as his chaos-agent point guard takes it. What will that look like? Will Brooks give the Thunder's intriguing but incomplete youth the opportunity to hold down the fort? Or will he hunker down while the storm passes and just hope the roof doesn't collapse? Whichever approach Oklahoma City takes, can it avoid falling so far off the West's pace that even Durant's return can't keep its championship hopes from being dashed once again? 2013-14 season in 140 characters or less: Russ gone . Russ back ! Gone . Back ! KD's now terrifying , even if he doesn't want to be. MVP season; even better speech . Injuries , again, suck . Did the summer help at all? It definitely helped those eager to discuss Durant leaving Oklahoma City in free agency in 2016. Not sure it helped the Thunder on the court, though. OKC lost three rotation members — longtime starter Thabo Sefolosha, who joined the Atlanta Hawks; Derek Fisher, who became the head coach of the New York Knicks; and Caron Butler, a February addition who signed with the Detroit Pistons. Then again, considering Sefolosha was nearly unplayable in the playoffs, and that Fisher and Butler were arguably worse — Oklahoma City played 7.2 points per 100 possessions better with Fisher off the floor, and 6.5 points-per-100 without Butler, according to NBA.com — that could be addition by subtraction ... if the guys filling those minutes have improved.
The Scoop:"The opportunity to play quality minutes and be a mentor to these guys, share my experiences and get us over the hump was big," said Butler. "Adding that leadership in the locker room and on the court, I definitely feel I can do that. I like helping guys get better, competing and being part of that shock factor." The quality minutes part of the quote is interesting as the Pistons are a bit crowded on the wings, but even with playing 27 minutes per game last season Caron averaged just 9.7 points and 2.0 three-pointers per game with the Thunder last season. Those numbers aren't really serviceable in standard leagues, and he's more of a deep league play for owners seeking 3-point shooting.
This offseason makeover for the Detroit Pistons is a bit different than last year's. Instead of making a big free agent signing and adding another key player via trade, the Pistons have made quieter moves this summer, adding better outside shooters to a team that's missed the playoffs for the last five seasons. Detroit introduced D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler at a news conference Tuesday after signing the two free agents. The 6-foot-7 Butler played 56 games last season for Milwaukee and Oklahoma City, averaging 10.5 points and shooting 39 percent from 3-point range. ''Obviously both these guys played in big games, in big roles for their teams this past year,'' said Stan Van Gundy, who took over this offseason as Detroit's coach and team president.