Stage IV: Depression
“Why is this happening? All of that good planning is wasted, and what’s supposed a juggernaut could wind up as just another really good contender. It’s not like we’ve even won a ring yet; what if it doesn’t happen?”
It’s worth noting that if that’s the basement, things could be much worse.
But while there’s a temptation—both from Thunder and non-Thunder fans alike—to scoff at the idea of a team with Durant and Westbrook seemingly locked up for the rest of their careers not winning at least one ring, stranger things have happened. The Nash-era Suns never got one, nor did the Webber-era Kings or the loaded Blazers teams from the turn of the century. A freak incident (Malice in the Palace) tore apart a Pacers team that was emerging as a title favorite, while an onslaught of injuries wiped out two-thirds of the Oden-Roy-Aldridge core that was supposed to be Oklahoma City’s foil. The Mavs were supposed to win rings in ’06 and ’07; it didn’t happen until 2011, when they were presumably well past their title contending-status.
Nothing is for certain in the NBA – especially not with the West teeming with other talented squads, and teams like the Mavs and Lakers primed to make moves that could pry open their title windows for a few more seasons.
There’s also the unfortunate truth that no matter which of Harden or Ibaka winds up leaving, the Thunder lose a skill set integral to their precocious rise.
If it’s Harden, the Thunder forfeit their game-changing weapon off the bench; access to a game-changing weapon on the pick and roll; a deadly end game shooter; and most importantly, the player who will force the issue and get to the rim when Durant and Westbrook settle too often for jumpers late in the fourth quarter.
Lose Ibaka, and they’re without one of the mere handful of interior defenders who is mobile enough to close down the lane and clean up everyone’s mess inside, a commodity that isn’t omnipresent among championship teams so much as it is fundamental to their construction.
Right now, the Thunder possess every piece necessary to win multiple titles.
Short of adding a replacement for one of those two players, they will not three years from now.
Not that any of that precludes from racking up multiple titles. Durant and Westbrook alone ensure they’ll be in the title conversation for the next decade, and that’s before considering whether or not Harden or Ibaka will be along for the ride, or the cadre of role players like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison that are also locked up for several more seasons.
They might not be quite as formidable as they are right now, but they’ll be damn good for a long time.
Stage V: Acceptance
“It’s inevitable. All we can do is make the most of the time this team has together – starting with winning this title.”
And so we’ve arrived at a rather odd truth; the Thunder’s sense of urgency to win this title actually rivals Miami’s.
It doesn’t surpass the Heat’s, of course, because no fire could blaze brighter than the pyre Miami created for itself with self-promotion and absorption.
But it’s close. The grains of sand in the Thunder’s hourglass slip away with a definitive end date in mind, whereas Miami’s possible breakup is something that would initiated by a front office that holds the cards until the James-Wade-Bosh triumvirate could opt out three years from now, assuming any of them even want to.
There’s also the matter of competition; even if Miami loses this series, the East could be even easier next season outside of a healthy Chicago, given Boston facing a roster makeover of its own and Dwight Howard assuredly plying his trade outside of Orlando. The West, meanwhile, offers no such promises of relief.
Should the Thunder lose this series, it won’t be viewed as failure so much as a long past due coronation for the NBA’s maligned would-be King. But it would be in the scope of how long this combination of players has to reach the lofty heights so many expect of them, no matter how unrealistic they very well may be.
The grieving hasn’t begun in earnest, yet, but the plot has been chosen, the headstone engraved.
Oklahoma City’s clock is ticking.
And there’s no time like the present for the Thunder to live like they were dying.