Enjoy It While It Lasts
Rylan Stiles is the host of Locked On Thunder.
That’s been a phrase used for this Oklahoma City Thunder team since the opening tip-off way back in October. Back then, this team was viewed as an island of misfit toys that had a 0.2 percent chance to reach the postseason. Many believed this team would sell at the deadline, and they may have were the Miami Heat not focused on landing a big fish in next year’s free-agent class.
House money is a good way to put this season into perspective. For the first time since 2008, there is no Russell Westbrook attacking the rim at The Peake (or inside the Disney World bubble) in a Thunder uniform. There is no pressure to win, there are no championship expectations. For the first time since 2008, half the fanbase has already hopped into the tank for next year with visions of Cade Cunningham making the short trip to OKC from Stillwater dancing in their head.
However, like 2020, this season did not go the way we all expected. It is time to shift, and change our expectation level, and our opinion. I know it sounds radical that in 2020 we can come together, admit we are wrong, and change course, but I promise we can.
I’ll start: I thought this team would struggle just to get the eighth seed.
A season to celebrate
Who would have thought we would be here? No, I do not mean in the middle of a global pandemic and in the midst of one of the biggest and most significant social movements we have seen in America1
. Who would have thought the Thunder would be here?
Take yourself back to August of last year. A simpler time, I know. You were getting ready for another college football season that was certain to happen after yet another heartbreaking postseason loss for the Thunder, being waved off the floor by Damian Lillard in Portland.
Paul George was gone a year after he decided to stay. The face of the franchise–Russell Westbrook–was reunited with old friend James Harden in Houston, and once enemy Chris Paul would soon become this team’s new leader. There was also one other key source of frustration…Most of the fanbase wanted Billy Donovan fired.
Today, Billy Donovan is knocking on the door of the Coach of the Year award by the media after already being crowned the best coach by his peers. Chris Paul has a seat at the MVP conversation table, and the Thunder were on pace to win 50 games for the first time since KD departed prior to the hiatus.
Why are Oklahoma City Thunder fans so scared of expectations for this team? This is something I have talked about a lot on the Locked on Thunder Podcast. It is time to stop holding the failures of past teams against this current squad. I believe the Thunder should have been favored over every possible first-round opponent not hailing from L.A.
If this team drops yet another first-round series this year, there is no way it will hurt as bad as it did when Ricky Rubio and Damian Lillard punked this organization each of the last two seasons. However, the last two squads showed us who they were while under-performing in the regular season, and we still did not believe them entering the postseason.
Let’s not make that same mistake this time. As the postseason takes off, it is time to fully jump on board with this team. They’ve shown us who they are: Since Thanksgiving, the Thunder have been one of the best teams in the NBA. That is a large sample size. This team is no longer a Cinderella story or a fun little team. This squad has the ability to win a playoff series for the first time since Kevin Durant left the franchise high and dry, and possibly even more.
The year of uncertainty will continue for this team into 2021 (hopefully the same won’t be true for our society). That is something as Thunder fans we have never been able to say before. There has always been a familiar face to bank on. Westbrook, Durant, Harden, Serge Ibaka, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and now, Chris Paul. Next season might be the first time in franchise history the Thunder don’t have a shoo-in future Hall of Famer on the floor. The first full tanking era in OKC Thunder history could begin sooner than later.
Many of you are fully on board with that idea, and some wanted to start that process this season! I would just warn, be careful what you wish for. While I have full confidence in Sam Presti, rebuilds in a small market are always a crapshoot. These next few weeks could be the last meaningful, competitive basketball this organization plays for three or four years–if not longer.
So join me and rally around these guys for this postseason run. Have hope, have expectations, invest in this team, be ready to get hurt again. Care about these games more than you reasonably should, because there is a real chance the scoreboard for the next 164 games or more after this season will not matter at all.