clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Spurs' eye view of the 2016-17 OKC Thunder

The 21st of a 30-part series previewing the upcoming season.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Russell Westbrook: Lovable gritty underdog?
Russell Westbrook: Lovable gritty underdog?
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Supersonics Oklahoma City Thunder

Last Season: 55-27, 3rd Seed in West

Off-season Gains: Honesty, integrity, leadership, not having Dion Waiters, SG Victor Oladipo (trade), PF Domantas Sabonis (draft trade), PF Ersan Ilyasova (trade), SG Alex Abrines (draft stash), PF Joffrey Lauvergne (trade), PG Ronnie Price (free agent)

Off-season Losses: SF Kevin Durant (free agent/Golden State), ambiguity about who the first option is, army of therapists and spin-doctors needed to keep Durant mollified after the media was being mean to him, awful tattoos, championship contention for the foreseeable future and quite possibly ever, rivalry with Spurs, PF Serge Ibaka (trade/Orlando), SG Dion Waiters (free agent/Miami), SG Randy Foye (free agent/Brooklyn)

Off-season Stock: They lost the best player in the history of their franchise. I can't even (ahem) imagine what that feels like.

League Pass Team?: Hell yeah! We can just watch Westbrook try to kill everything 1-on-5 without having to worry about standings or consequences. In a way he'll be the kind of freak show novelty that people treated Boban Marjanovic as last year. And you'd have to pay me all the money to miss any of their games vs. the Dubs.

So, anything interesting happen over the summer?

Oh, right, LOL.

Now the Spurs are too classy to ever revel in the misery of another franchise. Fortunately, I am not employed by the Spurs. I don't even live in Texas anymore. I can enjoy this without guilt or consequence!

"But Michael," you're saying. "Have some sympathy for Oklahoma City fans. They didn't just lose a player. They lost a part of their city's identity. A civic institution, almost, just snatched away overnight."

Uh huh. There's KD, y'all, flashing you deuces.

And you know what? They should be happy he's gone. No, not from a basketball standpoint (because they'll unarguably be worse without him) but at least from a karmic one, where they no longer have to put up with his mood swings, passive-aggressiveness and pretense.

Here's Durant dismissing Reggie Jackson, whom the Thunder had just traded away to Detroit, "for not wanting to be here," and here he is, in a Sports Illustrated profile by the incomparable Lee Jenkins, beaming with joy about what he's helped build in OKC.

And here's Durant this week, explaining his decision to join the Warriors, via The Mercury News:

He called it an ‘easy choice': "It felt like it was a perfect fit. It was something I was searching for when I sat down and talked to these guys. I wanted to see if what I've heard and what I've seen on the outside is really true. Do these guys really genuinely love each other? They work together. You hear family a lot. That's just a word sometimes, but this is really a lifestyle here. You can feel it when you walk in the door, in the practice facility, everybody is just together. That's something that I can appreciate as a basketball player and someone who values relationships. You can tell that that's what they stand on, that's what we stand on. I feel really grateful to play for a team like that and play with a bunch of players who are selfless and enjoy the game in its purest form. They make it about the players, they make it about the environment, so it was really an easy choice."

Here's Durant saying he spoke with Russell Westbrook, informing him of his decision to leave the Thunder.. And here's Westbrook, refuting that, along with a story saying it was just a text message.

Here are a couple stories from OKC writers slamming Durant for leaving. And here was Durant's camp, in response, basically throwing Westbrook under the bus as an excuse.

Here's Durant explaining why the Thunder don't have to pass the ball and here's Durant explaining that the Warriors offense is a lot more sophisticated and fun than what he's used to, but quickly adding "that's not a knock on Oklahoma City."

And now, finally, here's Durant admitting he was rooting for the Warriors to lose in the Finals. Why? So he'd have a convenient excuse to join them as "the missing piece" rather than openly ring-chasing with a two-time defending champion.

If that wasn't enough, he got tattoos of Tupac Shakur and Rick James on his left leg over the summer, to go with the portrait of Jesus he has on his back, which you know, is the agreed upon "Big Three" so that's not weird at all.

So, anyway, he's gone, and so is Serge Ibaka, whose trade to Orlando on draft day for Victor Oladipo everyone in OKC swore up and down had nothing to do with Durant. Where does that leave the Thunder now?

With Westbrook trying to dunk the ball hard enough to shatter the Earth's core, thus denying Durant a chance at a ring. Westbrook's whole season will be uncontrolled, unmitigated fury until body parts start flying off. I'm not sure if he'll be deliriously happy to have the freedom to be angry or frighteningly furious because he's so content, but I think I'm more excited about watching the Thunder than the Warriors this season. After all, you know what Dubs games will be like. Rote, systematic destruction almost every night, an unmitigated barrage of bombs. Thunder games on the other hand will be wild, unpredictable mayhem, total chaos. They could score 60 one night and Westbrook himself could score 60 the next. It's going to be madness.

And good luck to Billy Donovan on reining any of it in.

The Oladipo acquisition didn't make sense to me. I like him a lot as a player, but how does he fit with Westbrook? He's not a catch-and-shoot guy. He's not a shooter, period. He's another freak athlete who needs the ball. Pairing Russ with a poor man's Russ seems like an odd move, especially with Andre Roberson (who can make threes vs. the Spurs and no one else) at the three. Don't you just pack five guys inside the paint and dare them to shoot? What am I missing here?

Steven Adams has been my favorite Thunder for a while now. He's also a lunatic, like Westbrook, but more charming, and with cool Tim Duncan stories. I genuinely felt bad for him, the way Draymond Green kept "accidentally" kicking him in the Kiwis in the playoffs, but Green got his comeuppance in the end. Adams isn't the most versatile scorer in the world, but he's really strong and athletic and a terrific dive man with decent hands and one of the best defensive bigs in the league on the other end. His ascension made Ibaka expendable, in a way.

We'll have to see if the Adams-Enes Kanter can work full time. It did against the Spurs in the playoffs, but no so much against the Dubs. Kanter's defensive issues are well chronicled, but with Durant gone his scoring will be vital. Hell, he's their best remaining three-point shooter. Domantas Sabonis, the lottery pick they also acquired along with Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova, is not the passer and basketball genius his old man was, and he's about three inches shorter. He's more nimble though and can also shoot it from outside pretty well. Maybe he'd be a better fit next to Adams, leaving Kanter to continue as an instant-offense sixth-man.

Beyond that, what can you say about this bench? Cameron Payne? Ronnie Price? Kyle Singler? Ilyasova was a productive stretch-four on the Bucks once, but wasn't the same guy for the Pistons or the Madge. Their best hope is Alex Abrines, a 6'6 23-year-old Spanish wing who averaged 8.9 points in 19.3 minutes for FC Barcelona Lassa last year in the Euroleague and the ACB. Oh and Nick Collison is still around, somehow having outlasted Durant.

We got a sneak preview of what this was going to look like in 2014-15 when Durant missed most of the year with a broken foot. Westbrook will wreak havoc, he'll try to take on the world, 1-on-7 billion, and maybe wind up hurting himself in the process due to some fatigue-related injury. The Thunder might be like a college team, shooting terribly from the floor and finishing with more turnovers than assists on a nightly basis. It'll be fun for a while, and then maybe a little sad by February or so. They've got two Turkish guys (well Kanter is claiming Switzerland these days because of messy real-life politics, but still) so I almost feel obliged to pull for them as gritty underdogs, but make no mistake, this isn't going to end well. I see them topping out around 36 wins and well short of that, obviously, if something unfortunate happens to Russ.