The NBA can be known as a make-or-miss league at times. That means, in some games, some shots fall and some don’t. Sometimes you get the short end of the stick because of a tough bucket and sometimes you get the tough bucket yourself. The league is wildly unpredictable from game to game, even though by the end of the 82 game stretch things even out.
Because of the make-or-miss nature of the NBA, teams should always strive to have more highly skilled players who can make those shots rather than miss them. We see it every year in the NBA Finals. Some team will pull away toward the end because of an improbable run or some stonewall defense. It’s just the nature of the game.
Russell Westbrook is one of the shot creators and shot makers in the league. He will miss four to six weeks, according to a report from The Oklahoman. Kevin Durant will likely miss another month of the season with a Jones fracture in his foot. The Thunder are without Reggie Jackson with an ankle injury and Jeremy Lamb with a back strain.
After Westbrook went down, the Thunder only had eight men on their bench available for last night’s game against the Clippers. They almost capitalized on a rusty Clippers’ team opening their season in front of their new owner, but fell just short of the victory. The Thunder came within one point until they just did not have anyone to go to in the waning moments of the game to get a bucket.
That loss may end up being essential, because with it the Thunder start off the season 0-2 and are without both of their star offensive players and any plus shot creator on their roster. Sebastian Telfair is the only point guard currently on their roster. Perry Jones may be their most versatile scorer at this point. Serge Ibaka, for all of his pluses, is not built to carry an offense on his back. The Thunder are going to have to defend like bats out of hell and hope they can muster up a few more points than the opposition.
In a tough, offensively inclined western conference that will be a tough task. They will be competing against teams like the Clippers, the Trail Blazers, the Spurs, the Mavericks, the Suns, the Rockets and the Warriors for a playoff spot. Those teams are all top notch in the league and none are as beat up as the Thunder are. They will catch no breaks in the west.
The Thunder have just had terrible luck so far this season and it hurts their title chances immensely. This brings them from being a title contender to a probable lottery team and it’s not because of what is happening on the floor. The Thunder playing in the Finals in 2011-12 looks like their peak at this point and it does not look like they’ll be getting back anytime soon.
Of course, their players will return, but by then it could possibly be too late. Durant and Westbrook are great enough to make a run on their own, sneak into the post season as a lower seed and pull off an “upset”. But this is the first case anyone will bring up when talking about championship windows.
The Thunder went from having four legitimate stars in Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and James Harden to only having one of those guys on the floor today. Hindsight is always 20/20, so it is hard to say Clay Bennett and company were wrong for trying to be frugal when it came to retaining all four of those guys.
Bennett knew he had one of the best three players in the league in Durant and possibly another top five player in Westbrook. In most eras, that would be enough to win a title. There is no way the Thunder could have predicted how tough the western conference would become or that the front offices around the league would become smarter so quickly when it came to drafting and team building.
The influx of stars teaming up in the western conference does not help either. Chris Paul moved from being a Hornet to a Laker to a Clipper and is now teamed up with one of the best power forwards in the league in Blake Griffin. The Spurs are still the Spurs, even if they are old as dirt. Dwight Howard moved from Orlando to Los Angeles to Houston and is now teamed with the superstar the Thunder chose to pass up on. Portland just fell upon a gem in Damian Lillard and, in combination with Lamarcus Aldridge, they’re destroying nets around the league.
Keeping James Harden would have meant a year or two of eating the luxury tax at most and facing the repeater tax, but that team could have easily been a title contender in the west. The Rockets would not be as good, the Thunder would be that much better and the shape of the league would be so different.
But there is no way the Thunder could have predicted such a huge cap jump from $58 million to $63 million and there is no way they would have known the NBA’s newest television deal would be so lucrative. These things are just hard to see before they actually happen and the Thunder did not. Theoretically, they could have a four star team right now but it just did not work that way.
You want the Harden trade to go away and you just want to accept the Thunder for who they are, but it just keeps coming back over and over again with every injury the Thunder suffer. Westbrook has had knee complications, Durant has his foot injury, Ibaka was sidelined right before the western conference finals and came back when it was too late for the Thunder to make a run.
This league is tough and unforgiving. The Thunder are finding out just how hard it is to predict things from night to night. There is no way to know how many years your window will be open or when it will be open again. There is no way to find out how tight of a squeeze it will be to fit through that window, but you can determine who is going to come through that window with you. The Thunder did that with the decisions they made, and now they are seeing the results.