Are Thunder a legitimate title contender?
by Shaun Powell, Sports on Earth
Life as a young Western Conference power on the verge of collecting championships for a decade was pretty short and sweet, wasn’t it?
It’s fair to wonder that about the Thunder and whether the team’s outlook has changed. Is Oklahoma City worse off than two years ago when Kevin Durant and friends found themselves leading the Heat 1-0 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals? The easy answer: Yes. But things are, of course, more complicated.
The preseason will begin to unlock some clues about where the Thunder are going, what shape they’re in and if they’re still in the title mix or will need more help to remake themselves into a team built for late June.
You could argue that no championship contender suffered more in the last 12 months than OKC, unless the Lakers and Celtics fit the “championship contender” description, in your opinion. The Thunder lost an All-Star in James Harden, won’t have Russell Westbrook until December after a second knee scope, are coming off a second-round elimination, are watching Kendrick Perkins age rapidly and didn’t add any proven help in the offseason. These turn of events rarely happen to a team with such a young nucleus; usually, only old teams (like the Celtics) crumble this quickly. But honestly: Isn’t OKC inspiring a lot less fear around the league nowadays, especially if you were among many NBA watchers who felt the Thunder were assembling a juggernaut for a mini-dynasty before the sucker-punch landed in their gut?