It´s do or doom for the OKC-Durant collaboration. For the Oklahoma City Thunder it´s either a championship or saying goodbye to their former regular season MVP franchise Player. Durant said recently he is the best player in the NBA. Some took this comment lightly, reading it as a silly self-motivation remark, perhaps. No one can question Durant’s passion for the Thunder and to the faithful Oklahoma City crowd. Nevertheless, you wouldn´t find many people betting on his return to the Thunder after yet another disappointing season. It´s OK to be ambitious. Now let´s just C if this can be achieved in the incredibly competitive wild wild west.
A STEP FORWARD
Last season unfortunate injury made Durant a simple spectator of where Oklahoma City Thunder was going. Quietly from the bench, he could assess the promising (or not!) evolution of their colleagues. He was probably trying to envision an OKC team that could go all the way. Before the trades took place, Thunder looked like a lost team. Every now and again there were some good individual performances but overall, it was appalling to see the former 2012 NBA Finals team losing miserably night in and night out.
From a certain point, though, a dormant shining light began to shine even brighter. Russel Westbrook had his jump into real stardom, a quantitative and qualitative jump that made even his most recurrent critics acknowledge the impressive run of games which suddenly put him in the conversation for the regular season MVP. We all saw the evolution of Westbrook. No more indecisions and foolish moments… just a sheer will to dominate and make his presence felt.
After the trades, OKC fans saw the beginning of the end, on that long excruciating season which saw their franchise player go down – and with him, all the OKC chances for getting a title. Nowadays, people in Oklahoma rejoice as they realize they have 2 true superstars at their disposal. Probably the best 1-2 punch alongside with Kyrie Irving and Lebron James. The transformation was complete. Durant´s injury allowed space for Westbrook to become the true superstar we always knew he could be. Now the OKC aren´t solely dependant of one superstar.
WILL THE NEW FACES EXORCIZE THE GHOST OF THAT “LOST THIRD ELEMENT”?
By this point, no one can seriously say it was better to keep Ibaka instead of Harden. It’s not that Ibaka isn´t a very good player (in fact, he is one of the best at his position!) but then again, he is no superstar. With more minutes, Harden exploded and became one of the current offensive juggernauts of the NBA. According to the NBA Scholar he is, undoubtedly, the best Shooting Guard at this moment: https://www.nbascholar.com/2015/08/21/top-3-shooting-guards/
The trade brought a new vitality to the OKC season. It was a huge success. Although Oklahoma City lost a promising offensive player in Reggie Jackson, the fact they addressed many problems on the roster in one single “move” was remarkable. When we look at the OKC roster right now we can see an amazing quantity of above average players side by side with reliable solid players, like D.J. Augustin, Mitch McGary, Nick Collison, Enes Kanter. The lack of outside shooting was also corrected as the OKC now have three of the best 3-points shooters in the game – Durant, Novak and Morrow – plus Kyle Singler, who is also a good spot-up shooter.
This is, without a doubt, the most complete roster OKC has had during Durant´s “reign”. His “realm” is now made of another superstar, a very good big in Ibaka, plus two different centers who can complement each other quite well, given their different attributes (Kanter more of an offensive mindset center and Steven Adams a more old school hard defense center).
Regarding the role players, OKC now has a proper substitute point guard to Westbrook in D.J. Augustin, who can distribute and play alongside veterans such as Novak, Singler, Collison and Morrow. The X factor in this roster is the evolution (or not!) of the enigmatic Dion Waiters, able to rise and produce amazing basketball moments as well as make the wrong move at the wrong time. Will all of the new faces be able to exorcise Harden´s ghost presence? That moment he went away… how differently would it have been?
A TITLE OR BYE BYE DURANT
The “flirtation” between the Wizards and Kevin Durant has been extensively reported. Returning to his roots would be a nice change of scenery in case OKC can´t get the NBA Title. At this point, that seems inevitable, more like a consequence of losing again. Durant would not want to stay forever in a franchise that can´t “give” him the Title he is desperately trying to achieve. He has already went through the phase of the individual glories: the scoring titles, the MVP honors, worldwide recognition as one of the best.
For Durant it’s time to do or doom. In the time he was sidelined he watched how the Rockets became stronger. How the Warriors managed to win their Title. How the Spurs have became even deeper. Chris Paul and his Clippers are going through the same process. They just assembled a team which is regarded by many as the best Clippers roster ever.
Will Billy Donovan preach D? Or will he and his staff go for a more free flowing offensive basketball style? How will Durant coexist with his “new found superstar” friend? Will this eclectic bunch of players manage to create the necessary chemistry to go all the way? These are all intriguing questions that soon will be answered. The preseason is coming in a few days, Thunder fans will be able to see if this team has what it takes. The western conference seems to get harder every year. There is no more room for mistakes.
Next season it will be a victorious OK to C Durant staying as Champion or a sad OK to C Durant leaving. After all, the OKC franchise was built around him.