The OKC Thunder: A Beautifully Flawed Team

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    Updated: June 10, 2014
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    The Oklahoma City Thunder are the most enjoyable anomaly in the Association. The Thunder are enjoyable for both good and bad reasons and it makes for entertaining television. But I’m sure the Thunder fans don’t find as entertaining as the rest of the country does. Another June arrives on the calendar, and with it comes another year of the Thunder not raising the Larry O’Brien trophy.

    With a summer of questions upon them, and an inquisition from the basketball world on why they failed to win the championship this season, the Thunder have some soul-searching to do. The Thunder seem to be on the precipice of greatness. But being on the “precipice” of greatness is essentially the equivalent of “close but no cigar,” or to put it in harsher terms, the Thunder simply aren’t good enough to get to the next level. 

    Everyone in the organization must look in the mirror, take a minute to really reflect on their shortcomings, then grow into real champions after that reflection. But it won’t be easy. Until they win a championship, they’ll be fun to watch, but always the bridesmaid and never the bride. But what must they do in order to finally lift a trophy?

     

    Sam Presti And This Roster Have Some Explaining To Do… 

     

    All American sports are divided into two seasons, regular and post season. The regular season is nothing more than a mirage or a facade masquerading as reality or even a dress rehearsal. And the stars of this dress rehearsal gone wrong are Thunder General Manager Sam Presti, and the Thunder bench. Two seasons ago Presti traded away fan favorite James Harden away for table scraps. By table scraps I mean Kevin Martin, Jerry Lamb and some draft picks. Kevin Martin has since bailed on the thunder, Lamb is a decent bench player but nothing too special from what I can tell, and we’ll know in the future about the picks. All this means is that the thunder essentially received nothing of consequence for a player just named to the All-NBA first team.

    Fine, Harden is gone, that’s the business. The next course of action is to surround your two Super Stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant with enough talent to get it done. Presti has failed at that aspect miserably. Remember the masquerading part I mentioned earlier? Well that was the Thunder’s bench during the regular season when Westbrook went down. Although KD absolutely carried the Thunder on his back in the incredibly difficult Western Conference, he had role players help him along the way. Guys like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Thabo Sefelosha and Caron Butler all contributed big. Those players helped hold down the fort in Westbrook’s stead. Unfortunately for the Thunder it was only good enough for the regular season.

    Barring an exceptional game for Reggie Jackson in the Grizzlies series where he bailed out Westbrook and Durant, the OKC bench was abysmal in these playoffs. Now, there’s one of two explanations for this. First, Either the bench wasn’t that bad and KD, Russ and Scott Brooks are to blame, (we will get into that more later) or the players simply aren’t good enough. I think it’s a bit of both.

    In an elimination game against the San Antonio Spurs the Thunder bench was outscored 51-5. How that’s even possible I don’t know, but it’s even more shocking when the guy who was doing the bench contributing was 37-year-old Derek Fisher. Presti needs to do what he must to get the Thunder better. The Thunder need an interior presence that can score and rebound (Sam Perkins can barely do both) and a few more shooters to help space the floor.

    The reason the Spurs and Heat are so deadly is because there are multiple players that can bury opposing teams from deep. Reggie Jackson and Westbrook shouldn’t be the go to 3-point shooters when they’re supposed to be facilitating. That’s on Presti. And if Presti wants the Thunder to succeed, it all starts with getting his stars more help in that starting five and off the bench; and quickly. If not, it’ll lead to a lot more early summer vacations in Oklahoma City. And possibly an early exit from his position as general manager. That can’t be good for business.

     

    To Brooks Or Not To Brooks, That’s The Question…. 

    Prior to the playoffs I thought Scott Brooks was one of the best young coaches in the NBA. He seemed like he had the Thunder playing at championship caliber level. Then the 2014 playoffs started and the Thunder played the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, and I felt like an idiot being such an avid supporter of Brooks. LaSportsaNostra writer and Original 5 member “Rose” had been telling me for months that Brooks was fools gold but I refused to believe it.

    That Grizzlies series was not only a match up nightmare for the Thunder of which Brooks couldn’t coach them out of, but young Grizzlies coach David Joerger was out witting and out scheming Brooks. I understand the Grizzlies were possibly the best number 7 seed in NBA history, but the Thunder do not run any sort of half court offense at all. Brooks allows KD and Russy to play hero-ball consistently in order to get past the Grizzlies. The same happened in the Los Angeles Clippers series and it took a herculean effort from both Durant and Westbrook to overcome both of the first two series.

    The majority of basketball fans, pundits, and analyst seem to feel that Brooks is out of his depth as a coach in the post season where it matters most, and the Thunder’s stars have bailed him out on numerous occasions. The problem is the Thunder aren’t the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks who will fire a coach and have two different coaches on their payroll. They don’t like to spend money where they don’t have to and Brooks will be with the team at least one more season.

    I honestly believe the Brooks experiment has run its course and the Thunder need a better coach. But maybe if Brooks brings in more offensively competent assistants to help design plays, or Presti gets him more firepower off the bench and in the starting five to cover up his lack of offensive vision, Brooks can lead this young team to a trophy. I don’t think Brooks is the man for the job but he will have another season to prove the basketball community wrong. Good luck.

     

    What To Do When There Are Two Batmans?…

    The Thunder have two super-stars at their help, and the notion in the NBA has always been that their needs to be a Batman/Robin dynamic. Two stars are great, but one star has to be the Alpha Male and run the show. That’s not how the Thunder operate, and KD/Westbrook gets a lot of praise while getting a lot of criticism for the way they play. Westbrook can be spectacular one minute and in the next have 2 turnovers, a technical foul, and cost the Thunder 8 points. But as the saying goes, “Westbrook is gonna Westbrook.” The other super-star and reigning MVP Kevin Durant show up huge in elimination games, but in other games he has stretches where he is far too passive to Russ.

    Now I don’t subscribe to the notion that since KD doesn’t have that “Killer Instinct” like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant that he will never prosper. Tim Duncan has never been a psychopath on the court and is one of the quietest and nicest men in basketball history, and he’s the greatest power forward ever; so spare me. What the Thunder need is someone to teach KD and Russ how to play the game in crunch time the correct way. No more hero-ball. There are games where Westbrook has 10+ assists and those are usually the games when the media and fans are about to start turning on KD.

    Westbrook makes sure in those games he gets KD to shine. And if you believe differently, go back to the first two-playoff series and see KD’s elimination game numbers including the game after the MVP speech. Look at Westbrook’s numbers as well in those games. The dynamic works for these two whenever their backs are up against a wall. As much as people try to cause a riff between them and enjoy watching either one or both fail, they don’t ever let it beat them. Which is a testament to them. They’ve always had each other’s backs and will continue to do so no matter how much a sect of people want them to fail or enjoy watching them fail. Westbrook is a lightning rod for criticism and Durant is said to be a member of Westbrook’s team as if he were the Robin figure.

    None of that will change until they win a ring. But they need to get smarter in the playoffs and I think they only do that under the right tutelage. Phil Jackson once said something that has always resonated with me for years about Michael Jordan. Jackson said when Jordan would start off slow, he would get every member of the team touches early so the guys could help carry the load and help him in the clutch. Jordan is always known as the supreme scorer but he got teammates engaged and often. During the MVP regular season run KD did the same with his squad while Westbrook was out.

    In the playoffs there wasn’t enough of this from Durant. Regardless if Russ is the point guard, KD has to take command and get the other players involved on some nights. There are other facets of KD’s game that needs improvement but that’s for another post. The Westbrook KD Dynamic can work, but only if they have the right coach and players to help them, and a growth in both of their games. 

    The Thunder championship window is closing and fast. The players are young, but if there is no championship brought in sooner than later, I can see both Westbrook and KD bolting for greener pastures. The Thunder have a lot of work to do and I hope they can do it. The Thunder a beautifully flawed team, and it would be a shame to see another dynamic duo like Russy and KD go ringless. But time is running out. You’re on the clock OKC, don’t mess this up.

    Follow @LSN_Frantz on Twitter

    Courtesy of nba.com

     

     

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