One of my favorite times of the sporting calendar–filling out my bracket sheet for the DT Western Conference Regular Season Seeding Contest. I’ve come to look forward to it as much as filling out my NCAA Tournament bracket for March Madness. I love the fact you have to select all fifteen teams 1-15 as far as how they will finish after the 82 game marathon NBA regular season schedule. It’s usually all decided on the final night of the season. Some tough calls this season in the even more rugged Western Conference, but here goes.
1 Golden State Warriors 9 Utah Jazz
2 San Antonio Spurs 10 Sacramento Kings
3 Oklahoma City Thunder 11 Phoenix Suns
4 Houston Rockets 12 Portland Trailblazers
5 LA Clippers 13 Denver Nuggets
6 Memphis Grizzlies 14 Minnesota Timberwolves
7 New Orleans Pelicans 15 LA Lakers
8 Dallas Mavericks
Three NBA basketball seasons have come and gone since OKC beat the San Antonio Spurs to advance to the NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. After losing Game 1 in OKC, the more veteran Heat won four straight games to claim Lebron James’ first NBA championship in his 9th season in the league. Mike Miller raining threes in the clinching Game 5 versus OKC is forever etched in our minds. Miami and San Antonio would advance to the next two NBA championships with each winning another NBA trophy. Golden State would beat Lebron’s Cleveland Cavaliers in the third season. Oklahoma City has yet to advance out of the West since.
James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets in the October following the Finals and the trio of Durant, Westbrook and Harden would never have a chance to defend their Western Conference Championship. Many still debate the trade and what would have happened if Harden remained in Oklahoma City. It’s hard to completely evaluate the trade given that in each of the following two seasons the Thunder showed flashes of brilliance which were dimmed by Westbrook’s knee injury via Patrick Beverly against the Houston Rockets. OKC would advance in six games versus the Rockets, but be eliminated the next round against Memphis. The second post season without Harden dimmed when Serge Ibaka’s leg injury altered the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs in an eventual six game series loss.
Season three post Harden offered no such drama. In essence, it was a season ended before it ever began with a sequence of injuries to almost every member of the team at one time or another. Instead of seeing Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka carry the team—it became a season in which players named Thomas, Telfair and Ish Smith played meaningful minutes while Kevin Durant missed fifty-five games. OKC never got healthy, plus the Reggie Jackson situation became a distraction and he was eventually traded to Detroit just before the trade deadline. Repeat…. Kevin Durant missed fifty-five games and Serge Ibaka sat the back end of the season as well. In a capsule—it was a nightmare of a season.
Westbrook was outstanding, but not enough as OKC finished tied with New Orleans for 8th in the West and did not make the playoffs due to the head to head tiebreaker. Golden State would eventually defeat LeBron’s Cleveland Cavs team to claim the NBA Championship. Scott Brooks would be fired. Florida coach Billy Donovan would be hired and an impressive coaching staff assembled.
With a healthy Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka once again (knock on wood three times)—OKC appears to be perched on the cusp of being elite once again as this season nears its beginning. Billy Donovan opens his first season as an NBA coach. Enes Kanter has been resigned. Dion Waiters has lost weight and hopefully the bad shot selection. Anthony Morrow is as good as any three point specialist in the league. Mitch McGary is instant energy off the bench. Steven Adams should be better this season when surrounded by better players on a nightly basis. OKC’s bench should be able to produce offensively. Andre Roberson starting as the shooting guard is still a work in progress…. only time and the health of the Big Three will determine if this works.
There is optimism with heavy expectations added to the mix as OKC attempts to get back to the NBA Finals. Anything less than a Western Conference Finals appearance would be viewed as a failed season. It seems like three NBA seasons have come and gone in the blink of an eye since the Finals appearance. Durant enters his ninth pro season, Westbrook his eighth. They’re not kids anymore. The innocence of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Jeff Green seems likes a lifetime ago. The NBA world watches. It should be a compelling journey either way it goes.
Greetings and welcome to OKCThunderGround for the 2015-16 OKC Thunder basketball season. Couldn’t ask for a better opener than the San Antonio Spurs. Plan to get started tomorrow with a season prologue and later a quick overview of the Western Conference before the opener.