Now or Never?
The upcoming season for the Oklahoma City Thunder will be the most important in franchise history. OKC’s end result may determine the direction of the organization for the next decade. If the team fails to live up to championship expectations, then this may be the final time the Oklahoma City faithful will watch Kevin Durant suit up in a Thunder uniform. However, there is reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season as a healthy Thunder team are among the favorites to come out of the stacked Western Conference.
It won’t be an easy task as the Warriors look to make their way back to the NBA Finals and San Antonio Spurs made the biggest off season move with the signing of four-time NBA All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. But that doesn’t seem to affect the confidence of four-time scoring champ Kevin Durant, as the soft spoken superstar proclaimed that he felt he was the best player in the world over the summer. The former MVP will reunite with last years scoring champ, Russell Westbrook, to make a push for a NBA championship. But what will be the difference between this years team and the previous Thunder squads?
It begins at the top, as rookie head coach Billy Donovan makes the move from collegiate basketball to the NBA. The stigma of a rookie head coach not being able to succeed early in their career was washed away as last year’s Finals featured two rookie head coaches David Blatt and Steve Kerr. In addition, former Butler head coach Brad Stevens made the leap from college to the NBA coach look as smooth as can be. Lastly and most importantly, Donovan is known for building strong relationship with his players, as well as holding them accountable, something that former coach Scott Brooks may have lacked.
Last year, the core players of Durant, Ibaka, and Westbrook missed a combined total of 88 games. The lack of time on the floor led to just 45 wins and a missed opportunity to compete in the playoffs. If the Thunder are able to remain healthy, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with as the tandem of Durant and Westbrook is among the leagues best, and the addition of Enes Kanter looked to be a promising fit last season. In just 26 games, the former third overall pick in 2011 averaged 18.7 points per contest, and appears to be a viable scoring option to lift the burden off Durant and Westbrook.
Young teams get bounced from the playoffs a couple of times before some of them are able to get over the hump. Although the Thunder are still young, they have the experience of a team that is ready to win it all. The core three of KD, Russ, and Ibaka have been together since the 2008 campaign. With playoff battles in the Western Conference, and even a Finals appearance in 2012, the Thunder are ready to finish the ultimate goal of winning a championship.
In the back of the minds of the players, front office, and every OKC fan, is the notion that this season may be the last time the team has title aspirations for a long time. A season that may determine the future success of the franchise. The time is now for the Thunder to get it together, and with the combination of health, experience, and quality play from leaders Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder appear ready and eager to make the final push to the top a successful one.
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