Everyone is talking about the San Antonio Spurs as the new favorites to win the NBA championship. The Golden State Warriors are the defending and looking very strong champions. The Cleveland Cavaliers are re-loading and if healthy might actually be the best team in the NBA. And how can one forget about the Los Angeles Clippers, vastly improving this free agency? Somehow, everyone has forgotten about the Oklahoma City Thunder.
You see, the numbers put up by Russell Westbrook last season didn’t leave a lasting impression. It’s all about what your team does with you, not what you do without any team success. Just ask Tracy McGrady, who never got past a first round in the postseason before he became a garbage time player for the San Antonio Spurs.
Kevin Durant hardly played last year. Westbrook missed a big chunk of games. Kendrick Perkins left. This wasn’t the Thunder we were used to, the team that made the 2012 NBA Finals and the 2014 conference finals, while Durant was the reigning MVP. Reggie Jackson was unhappy and left. Enes Kanter started putting up impressive numbers. The bottom line was the Thunder missing the playoffs, and people are mostly talking about Durant bolting in 2016 to Washington, Los Angeles, New York or Miami than the Thunder being title contenders.
But in every season since the 2011-2012 one, when the Thunder made the NBA Finals with home court advantaged and fell apart after winning game 1, they’ve been the favorites in the eyes of many to win the title. One year it was a Westbrook injury. Another season it was Serge Ibaka missing two games and then coming back but not having that momentum-moment being enough.
Always falling too short? The Thunder still have talent. And a new head coach. And a healthy Durant and Westbrook. Scott Brooks was often criticized for having no clue in running an offense, and simply relying on isolation plays for his two stars. Donovan should bring a new look to this offense, although when you have such immense offensive talent in these two players, it’s hard not to let them figure things out by themselves.
Dion Waiters, Kanter, Steven Adams, Anthony Morrow. The Thunder have a good team around the core that’s been promised a title for the last four seasons and is still waiting for a return trip to the finals. The key for Donovan will be sorting out the defense, and how to make it work during Kanter’s minutes, making Westbrook a big more committed to that side of the floor and bringing Durant back into focus – offensively he doesn’t need any help.
Championship favorites? Not with the Spurs and Clippers making big moves, the Warriors not losing anyone and the Cavaliers supposedly healthy and maybe even slightly improved. But the Thunder, healthy, are just as good as anyone else, with probably the best player in the NBA except for LeBron James. Not considering them as potential NBA champions would be a little bit foolish.