How could I put anyone else in this spot?
Outside of just the absolute insanity of watching a team with two legitimate MVP caliber players, watching the Thunder this year is going to be the best thing in the world just because of the expectations. If you think that Lebron James has championship or bust expectations that’s nothing compared to what’s going to be happening in Oklahoma City this year.
True, the Durant to Washington theory is probably less than reality after the big time smackdown that the Thunder laid on the Wizards, going up 30 points on the former-Bullets even after KD sat down with a hamstring injury. In fact, as the season has progressed, and as incredible as Westbrook has looked since the end of last year, it would be practically idiocy to go anywhere else in the league. A lot of people smarter than me have speculated that Durant’s free agency will end in a one-and-one deal where Durant signs a Lebron-esque one year contract with Oklahoma City to take advantage of the giant cap jump next year and lock it down for five years in the summer of 2017. And really, outside of the more wild Golden State salary clearing hypotheticals, there isn’t a better basketball situation anywhere else for this guy to go. Durant is staying ing OKC.
Which is not to say that there isn’t any pressure going on in the NBA’s best tiny-market town. Last year marked the first time since the Seattle move that this Thunder team was unable to make the postseason, even with Russell going absolutely bananas down the stretch. With the way Golden State has looked this year and San Antonio pulling off the Lamarcus Aldridge sweepstakes, OKC is almost an afterthought in the Western Conference championship playoff picture. Whether they want to be flying under the radar or not, these guys are in some serious show-and-prove mode coming into the season.
I love it. I completely expect Durant and Westbrook to be in total F you, some men just want to watch the world burn, mode. If you thought KD didn’t just die a little bit inside when Carmelo stole the scoring ring from him that one year, you are out of your mind. This guy is going to aim for 40 a game while hopefully playing more stretch 4, small-ball as new head coach Billy Donovan will get a little more creative with what has been one of the league’s more vanilla offenses over the last four or five years. If we get to see a little more of that lineup, with Serge Ibaka sliding down to playing center or if Dion Waiters finally decides to get himself off the island and play up to his top 3 pick potential in a contract year, these guys have more than enough potential to be the best offense in the league. And that’s even before you consider bringing in one of the NBA’s only max contract super-subs to throw down a nice 20-10 from the low post.
Yup, the Enes Kanter thing is going to be another interesting wrinkle here because there is a chance that the Thunder have a horrible, horrible defense this year. That last clip is an example of an unending youtube stream of soft transition defense and poorly timed fouls from the Turkish boy wonder, a pretty fun deep dive if you have the time. The ugly secret, though is that Westbrook and Durant are far worse defenders than you would expect from people with their talent and level of athleticism. Both of them can be good when they’re dialed in, but they carry far too much of the load offensively and gamble the passing lanes aggressively, which can lead to some bad miscues. With the limited offensive games of Steven Adams and the can’t-hit-the-barn-door shooting of Andre Roberson, Donovan is going to be forced into some tough decisions of defense for offense, which could lead to a lot of blowout 120-115 games.
And we love that kind of thing for the leaguepass rankings. Look, this Thunder team is unquestionably one of the best in the NBA with arguably the single deepest roster outside of Golden State. Still, they’re far from perfect and will have a ton of unanswered questions hanging over them with Billy Donovan’s rookie coaching season, Kevin Durant’s injury concerns and impending free agency, and the whole fate of a team that has always managed to come up short of their potential in the playoffs. When you think about the star power. When you think about all the scoring and the new pieces on this team. When you think about the collective chip on their shoulders and taking it out on the rest of the league. Well, I don’t know how anyone else could be in this spot.
Rings or bust.