Tonight is the night we’ve been waiting for since May 30th. Our season came crashing to an end after having a 3-1 series lead on the NBA’s best regular season team in history. Not to mention the defending NBA champions.
After the heartbreak of the 2016 Western Conference Finals Thunder fans were immediately thrown into a world of worry. There were clashing feelings as NBA fans everywhere wondered if Kevin Durant would stay or would he go? He went. On July 4th he announced he was joining the Golden State Warriors – just to get blown out on opening night by the tried and true San Antonio Spurs. While the Thunder made a number of offseason moves, losing Durant was clearly the largest. Serge Ibaka was moved on draft day, and Dion Waiters took his talents to South Beach.
But now we get to see where this team is headed. We get to see Russell Westbrook finally be the unquestioned leader of this team. We get to see him be the unquestioned best player on a team for arguably the first time in his career going back to college. Thunder fans have focused on seeing Russell Westbrook tear up the league like he did when Durant missed most of the season with a foot injury.
We have also been excited about seeing Steven Adams play a more integral role in the offense and continue to improve dramatically from season to season. There are quite a few new faces from rookies Alex Abrines, Domantas Sabonis, and Semaj Christon to some newly signed veterans in Joffrey Lauvergne and Ersan Ilyasova. The most exciting new face to join the Thunder came to us in exchange for Serge Ibaka. His name is Victor Oladipo and for the last three seasons he’s been my favorite non-Thunder player to watch. He’s an exciting, slashing guard that seems as if he will fit in perfectly with the team.
The Thunder does not have a difficult schedule to start the season, but with so many new pieces it make take a few weeks for the team to gel and figure each other out. Look for Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, and Enes Kanter to carry the load early while the new guys figure out the system and tendencies of the longer tenured Thunder players.
I may be biased, but I have higher expectations for this Thunder team than most of the national (and even local) sports pundits seem to have. I think this team easily wins 50+ games and has a first round home court advantage in the playoffs. I am not sold on the LA Clippers being the third best team in the Western Conference and could see the Thunder challenging for that spot. Third place through fifth place will likely end up being a toss up between the Thunder, Clippers and Trailblazers, but that requires all three teams to stay healthy.
We’re going to be in for a fun ride this season, Thunder fans. Just remember the season is 82 games long. Don’t be reactive. Billy Donovan has a true opportunity to shape this team in a way that plays his style of basketball without having to cater to Kevin Durant’s flimsy will in trying to get him to stay. This team will be unlike any other we have seen in Oklahoma City.
Forever and always, Thunder up.