The OKC Thunder lost the sixth and deciding game of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals to the San Antonio Spurs -- at home and the Spurs were without Tony Parker. Why can't the Thunder make the leap with two superstars, UCLA's Russell Westbrook and the young league MVP, Kevin Durant?
Despite a brilliant 34-point performance, Westbrook's questionable shot selection down the overtime stretch—to say nothing of Durant's scoreless frame—is sure to raise anew concerns over whether these Thunder truly have what it takes to make good on their tantalizing talent.
This article mainly blames Westbrook and the coach, Scotty Brooks.
I'm not a fan of the Thunder ownership, but I am a huge Westbrook fan. To my eyes, he single-handedly brought the Thunder back in the fourth quarter and forced overtime while the soft MVP disappeared. I'm not going to make a Westbrook vs. Durant argument because I lose that nine times out of ten.
I'm dazzled and bemused by the Spurs. Greg Popovich has to be the greatest coach ever, behind John Wooden, to keep this team hanging around since winning a championship in 1999. And it's ironic that 39 year old Derek Fisher was on the court and played 33 minutes, starting the fourth quarter and overtime. This is the Derek Fisher who made the miraculous 0.4 second shot in 2004 that put the Lakers into the NBA Finals over the Spurs. By the end of the Phil Jackson era, despite the history, Fisher needed to go. I can't believe he's still around, and could become the next coach of the Lakers or Knicks. You can't win with Derek Fisher plaing 33 minutes.
Can this Thunder team win an NBA Championship?
The Thunder came around at the wrong time. The Heat likely has two more championships left in them, and, IMHO, the Clippers, Rockets and Pacers are rising, and will keep the rings off the Thunder's fingers.
Three issues are usually cited when writing about the Thunders limitations:
1.Scotty Brooks is not a good coach
2.The sleazy ownership is too cheap and inept to put together or keep a championship lineup.
3.Westbrook and Durant cannot coexist.
Scotty Brooks was once an asscending wonder boy having brought the raw Thunder to the brink of defeating the champion Los Angeles Lakers in 2010. They made it to the NBA Finals in 2012, but stalled. Brooks' odd rotations, including the overuse of Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher, have attracted heavy criticism, and he is thought to be on the hot seat.
The ownership, not wanting to re-sign him at market rate, let James Harden go in 2012. This is perhaps the fateful decision. I'm not sure Thunder had a big three -- Harden was the sixth man of the year in 2011-12, but I don't know how you break up the Western Conference champs -- who are particularly young. Miami, for example, tried to find the fourth and fifth piece in order to win the championship. Luckily for Miami, they were built in their current configuration before the last collective bargaining agreement was signed. It's a lot harder -- almost impossible -- to put the pieces together beyond two or three big salaries, given the new salary cap and franchise tax. James Harden was willing to play at below his free agent rate, but the ownership still did not renew his contract. I don't understand. Are they going to start all over again by trading Westbrook, or just stand pat because they fill their arena -- in all white -- every game anyway?
Westbrook and Durant clearly had words during the game five loss. There's been speculation about their compatibility for three years. Westbrook seems to not accept the "Dwaye Wade to LeBron James" role. How do you look for your own shots when the league MVP is standing a few feet away from you?
I don't think Durant has Westbrook's "alphaness" in him, but that's an argument for another day. Trading Westbrook for draft picks or an established player would be insane. This is a young team -- how do you break it up and start all over again when you have two of the league's five best players? No one seems to know how Durant really feels, but I suppose if he tells the ownership to press a button, then they will press a button.
There's not an easy answer for the Thunder. My advice? Keep the core of Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka together, fire Brooks, and find one more piece that is going to work. It's easier said than done. The collective bargaining agreement makes it tough, and the Clippers were just bought buy a man with a net worth of $20 billion (minus $2 billion if he paid cash).