OKC IS STILL HEADING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
STILL HEADING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION, THE THUNDER’S TALENT MUST BREAK OLD HABITS TO ACHIEVE GREATNESS
Proceeding the most regretful and influential decision in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s history, there has been nothing but bad fortune since trading away 6th Man of the Year and MVP Candidate James Harden for “financial” reasons. There is no denying that they have had their fair share of bad luck, however at the same time, the old saying of “you make your own luck” couldn’t ring more true for the Thunder. They have been plagued by injuries more than most in recent memory, however, the biggest limitation on their franchise is the one they have put on themselves for some time now. They have dug themselves into a position where every game and season that passes us by, it becomes harder Gongfu Tea Cup them to break the subconscious shackles they are bound by. Let’s dive a little deeper.
For any franchise in the NBA, having two of the top five players in the league in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in one team would be a blessing and almost guarantee success, but not for the city of Oklahoma. Thus far, it has been a blessing and their primary hindrance all at the same time. It may be hard to contemplate, but an abundance of talent is not always the best thing when trying to establish a solid team and build good team habits. Translating talent into results sometimes proves to be the hardest aspect a coach can be asked to do. This becomes increasingly more difficult especially when you have two of the most dynamic scorers in the league that are accompanied by substantial egos and alpha male tendencies. The glowing aura that comes with such talent id intimidating and difficult to manage at times and has proved true in Oklahoma.
Scott Brooks was fired because reports were things in Oklahoma became too stale and they needed a change but what was stale? Having a winning record? Finishing top 4 in the West consistently? Coaching an MVP? Having deep Playoff runs? Making an NBA Finals? All Scott Brooks did was give the upmost freedom to players that have been blessed to play this game and ride them to success right? He just did what we all would have done right? What he did makes sense and was correct right….? Wrong! Scott Brooks became a prisoner to the talent as his disposal and passively deferred his responsibilities to the players that could take him places instead of trying to build a successful and withstanding culture with these superstars within a franchise. Instead of Brooks stepping in and creating winning basketball, not just a regular season juggernaut and a team to win a Championship, he succumbed and accepted that this talent alone would bring them to the promise land.
This is where Brooks made his biggest mistake, and by all early signs, the same is happening with new Head Coach Billy Donovan. I must admit I liked the moved from the Thunder to change the situation up and go for a new Head Coach that could change the culture but what I wasn’t a fan of was bringing in an unproven College coach who had not proved his worth in the NBA scene yet. I would have much preferred the Thunder take an aggressive approach and hire a Head Coach with an alpha male personality who wouldn’t be afraid to bring change and enforce himself, the likes of Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and Tom Thibbedaou come to mind straight away. Be it as it may, the system Billy Donovan ran at University of Florida was excellent and attractive with ball movement and team chemistry, yet, this hasn’t yet translated to the Thunder in their initial early season stages.
There have been a few observations I’ve made about the Oklahoma City Thunder so far this season. It confirms what I have been thinking for a long time, and unfortunately, the sad truth about the Thunder and their future.
It was a very interesting game against the Spurs the opening night because strangely, both teams now need to undertake each other’s style of play or aim to at least. The Spurs are trying to have two dominant players in Kawhi Leonard and Lamarcus Aldridge and Billy Donovan is trying to make the Thunder share the ball more (ALA the San Antonio Spurs). My observations from the first six games for the Thunder is they have not yet done that, and don’t look to be heading that way either.
In a lot of ways, it’s almost like the Thunder have TOO MUCH TALENT, yes I said it, too much. In recent seasons, they’ve had names such as Derek Fisher, Reggie Jackson, Kevin Martin, James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, Shaun Livingston and Caron Butler bless their roster at one point in time, maturity may have been a question mark over the Thunder at a point in time, but talent never has. They’ve groomed and nurtured two young potential franchise players into flat out superstars in this league but somewhere along the line something was lost, or rather, something wasn’t learned. You see, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are score first players, they aren’t the selfless superstar, willing passer and pass first player that the likes of LeBron James or Chris Paul are, and in here lies the ultimate problem. Their biggest challenge is, and always has been, finding the right balance between sharing the ball and giving the freedom to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to express their God given talents. This balance has not been found under Scott Brooks, nor does it seem to be heading in the right direction under Billy Donovan from what we’ve seen.
The Thunder will win games, a lot of games, because they have 2 of the top 5 players in this league at the moment on one team. They have an abundance of talent, however, even with all their wins and all their highlight plays, at the end of the day, it is not a recipe for success when trying to win a Championship.
We’ve seen it in recent years that teams need to play together, regardless of how much individual talent is on the roster. The San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat are evidence of this in recent years. The Thunder have absolutely no excuses this season, the front office has done an incredible job of constructing a roster with stability, no glaring weaknesses and the personnel to achieve something special this season. They have added productive, explosive and versatile pieces in Enes Kanter, rookie Cameron Payne, Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, DJ Augustine and held onto the already proven pieces of Serge Ibaka, Anthony Morrow, Steven Adams, Steve Novak, Mitch McGary and Andre Roberson. The Thunder are deep, very deep, they can put out multiple lineups, they can play big ball, they can play small ball, they can do it all, but they still don’t play together. Westbrook and Durant combined for 91 Points again against the Magic a few weeks ago and they still rely on Westbrook and Durant to carry them, but this approach will continue to only take them so far.
The Thunder will continue to play this way, and if they do, they will likely again fall short when it matters most, short of an NBA Championship.