The Oklahoma City Thunder are on pace for a 58-win season. The team has the second-best offense in the NBA, and stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combine to average 51 points per game. To say next to nothing of the 14.8 rebounds, 14 assists, and nearly four steals per game they combine for.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
They, are, brilliant. The defense needs sorting out, but that’s what the regular season is for, as first-year coach Billy Donovan works with a roster that doesn’t have much experience together.
Still, with the arc of the Golden State Warriors’ start and the threat of the ever-ready San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder have been overlooked a bit. To OKC star Kevin Durant, this is the fault of the media, who apparently can’t be bothered with the team.
"Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us," Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. "I mean, they don't like us. They don't like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don't like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they're not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.
"Especially since we've been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven't won and we've still got the same core, so they don't expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don't mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don't really care about them. Every day we're just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody."
Pallie, what “critics?” If the Thunder took the Warriors or Spurs in a 4-2 series, I wouldn’t bat an eye. Who amongst my lot would?
I suppose if you limit your exposure to national media to, say, basic cable television shows that pop up on a hotel room’s TV in the late morning/early afternoon after shootaround, and (let’s just spitball here) another basic cable brand of shows that features more shouting in the early evening, sure. You might feel like there’s a lack of respect.
Then again, if you’re scouring the internet and scoping out League Pass every night, it’s possible that the strain of disrespect could sustain. We’re halfway into the 2015-16 season, and few are talking about how the Oklahoma City Thunder have two stars working with MVP-level seasons right now. It’s all about those Warriors, the Spurs, and how the Cavaliers are going to be there in June.
Can you blame us?
The Spurs are working with a historic point differential, one that would leave the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls wanting to put a few more garbage-time layups on the board. The Warriors, even after Saturday’s loss in Detroit, have won 90 percent of their basketball games since October. They are on pace for 74 wins.
This stuff doesn’t happen a whole heck of a lot … and look, the Clippers are rolling without Blake Griffin!
And, I’m sorry Dr. Durant, but this team hasn’t “been together so long.” It’s not your fault, or anyone’s fault, but this core hasn’t really been anywhere
Injuries cut short the team’s title hopes in 2013, 2014, and last season. Furthermore (as I wave my index finger in the air and adjust the ‘Press’ pass in my fedora), only Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison remain from the team’s 2012 Finals run. This is not a group we’re used to.
This isn’t to say the Warriors or Spurs are rife with the remnants that OKC trounced upon four years ago, everyone has to update the operating system, but this akin to Michael Jordan triumphing his and Scottie Pippen’s championship chances in 1996 because he’d “been there before.” On a roster with 10 faces Michael had just met the spring before. And presuming he and Scottie had never won a championship.
Athletes have to find new ways to motivate themselves, especially in snowy January as the world watches football and only watches the NBA’s game highlights. We get it. Whatever makes it so you can entertain us League Pass dorks in winter while still staying fresh for spring, we’ll take.
The Oklahoma City Thunder front office, however, has created an uneasy sense of paranoia amongst its ranks that has filtered down to its players. This has nothing to do with the Thunder working up a fever in a one-horse town, because those sainted San Antonio Spurs (despite coach Gregg Popovich sometimes, genuinely, treating media members way worse than Russell Westbrook ever has) don’t have as antagonistic a relationship with the one that covers that lone horse.
Kevin, none of us are out to get you. If there is anyone amongst the presser ranks that is out to get you, he’s probably the sort of guy that lies about his high school athletic credits prior to criticizing ‘Kind of Blue’ for having too many “horn parts.” You don’t have to watch nor listen to people like that, and they’re hardly representative of the media as a whole.
In 2012, when then-coach Scott Brooks reminded his Thunder to end its season with chins held high, the media as a whole were apsatively fine with Oklahoma City representing the West every June for years and years to come. Even with the ascension of the Warriors and the continued brilliance of the Spurs, a Thunder placement in the Finals would still rank as a wonderful way to end a season. As in, “this season,” mind you.
Do what you have to do to motivate yourself, Kevin Durant. Don’t pretend like we’re not rooting for you, though. Because we are.
- - - - - - -