It has been a tumultuous past couple of months for the Oklahoma City Thunder, to say the least. They lost a heartbreaking series against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, a series which they dominated the first 4 games only to see Golden State come back and crush their championship hopes.
On draft night, OKC traded big man Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for guard Victor Oladipo and the No. 12 pick, which they used to draft Domantis Sobonis. Then, in the beginning of July, superstar Kevin Durant hit free agency and joined the very team that ended the Thunder’s playoff dreams weeks earlier. As if that didn’t cut deep into the die hard, blue-blooded veins of the OKC faithful, reports surfaced in the following days that Russell Westbrook wouldn’t sign a contract extension “under any circumstances.”
Fast forward a few weeks later, and now Thunder fans can breathe a lot easier. Despite all of these earlier reports that Westbrook was all but gone, Russell and the Thunder agreed on a 3-year, $85 million contract extension, with a player option for the 2018-2019 season. Given the short length of the contract, it appears that Westbrook will be looking to cash in after the next salary cap jump next summer, while giving GM Sam Presti a couple of years to lure another star to OKC to play alongside Westbrook.
While losing a player of Kevin Durant’s caliber is a huge blow, the Thunder will still be a very good team next season. While they most likely won’t score as much as they did, they will be a very physical, defensive team. This, I believe, will be their calling card next season. With Westbrook and backcourt mate Victor Oladipo, they may very well be the best defensive backcourt in the NBA. They will be able to give fits to any backcourt that opposes them. And in today’s guard-heavy league, this will be greatly beneficial to OKC. Andre Roberson is a solid defender in his own right. Down low, OKC has two brick houses that will bring toughness inside in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. Adams is the better defender/rebounder, while Kanter will be able provide some reliable low-post scoring. With the departure of Ibaka, 3rd-year man Mitch McGary projects to see a solid increase in minutes at the 4, with Ersan Ilyasova and the always reliable Nick Collison to relieve him.
With two guards that love to drive the lane, having guys that can hit shots from the outside is a plus, and OKC has them. Anthony Morrow, Ersan Ilyasova, Kyle Singler, Cameron Payne, and Alex Abrines are all guys who could thrive off of getting open looks from OKC’s backcourt driving the lane and causing the defense to collapse.
Given the pieces that they have, and an extra motivated Westbrook that will be on a mission to destroy everything in his path next season, I expect the Thunder to be in the thick of the playoff race in the West. My projection is a 6 seed.
Huge Bucks, Packer, Brewer, Predator and Badger fan. But above all, just a lover of sports in general. Can’t wait to bring you some sports articles from a serious, yet humorous, perspective.
With the signing of Kevin Durant to the Warriors, the idea of super teams is making a lot of people nervous. Fans are worried about their teams not competing, players are worried about never getting that ever-elusive ring, and even commissioner Adam Silver does “not think it is ideal” to have super teams. I’m here to tell everyone to relax and enjoy the ride. When you look past the immediate threat to your favorite team and start to look at the big picture, it becomes clear that WE ARE WATCHING HISTORY!
Basketball history is separated by the greatness and dynasties from so called “super teams.” Those teams are how we define the era. Bill Russell’s Celtics in the 60’s, the Showtime Lakers in the 80’s, MJ and the 90’s Bulls, and the Lakers of the early 2000’s were all super teams of their respective eras, and as a result, they are the teams we remember. We remember being amazed at Michael coming back and winning 3 more titles or the slick passing of the Showtime Lakers, but what we don’t remember are the average teams that win a title in a down year. Super teams provide a storyline that keep people talking about the NBA just a little bit longer, which is what it needs at a time when the NFL is quickly becoming a 12-month sport. The season, the playoffs, the draft, free agency, the Olympics or FIBA World Championships… these are all elements that keep us talking about the NBA year round. Kevin Durant and the Warriors have single-handedly taken over water cooler talk at work… at least this year. Without these storylines, professional basketball will fade into the background, like baseball. The MLB’s best players even admit that their sport lacks star power. The NBA doesn’t, and what better way to amplify that star power than to have them join forces and make history.
Kevin Durant to the Warriors has provided us with the narrative that will define the rest of this decade. The Warriors, newly retooled, are the largest roadblock to Lebron’s quest to end his career as the greatest player ever. Because of Kevin Durant and his decision, the 2010’s are shaping up to become one of the most important decades in NBA history, and we should all be grateful. If Golden State wins it all, they could be one of the greatest teams ever assembled. If they lose, it could be one of the greatest upsets in sports history. Free agency moves like LeBron’s in 2010 and KD’s this year are what leaves an imprint in the minds of basketball fans for years to come.
NBA fans better get used to the idea of super teams… because it has existed for decades, and it won’t be changing anytime soon.
Avid sports fan specializing in NFL and NCAA football. University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate. Living in Madison, WI. Go Badgers!