Andrew Gilman

Andrew Gilman: Thunder’s Decent First Half May Lead to a Dangerous Future

Andrew Gilman: Thunder’s Decent First Half May Lead to a Dangerous Future

You good with lowering the bar?

There hasn’t been a lot of oddity to this Thunder season.

Think about it, Russell Westbrook has been great – we expected that. Steven Adams has improved, Enes Kanter has played well and Victor Oladipo has proven to be an adequate complement to Westbrook.

All of those things are the opposite of shocking. Pretty much, preseason predictions on the Thunder to finish somewhere in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff teams seem to be on pace.

Nothing much to see here. Keep moving along.

Meanwhile, none of the above should be much different in the second half of the season. Westbrook will keep his assault on the NBA going in full-force. Adams and Kanter and Oladipo and whoever else will continue to bring pretty much the same thing they did through the first half of the season. Sure, there have been some minor positives and some take-aways, too, but there’s no real reason to think much will change going forward.

But there is definitely something that should change, and it has nothing to do with what’s on the court. It has everything to do with you.

The Thunder are not going to miss the playoffs – they are six games ahead of the No. 8-seeded Trail Blazers – so that lead isn’t going to fizzle, but they are also 7.5 games behind the No. 3-seeded Rockets. Basically, the Thunder could finish anywhere between No. 7 and No. 4. It would take something significant for anything other than those things to happen.

That means it’s time for fans to change their expectations. This Thunder team is stuck in a dangerous spot, far enough from challenging for a championship and too far removed from a lottery pick.

Are you ready to accept it, because it’s not all that pleasant?

The Thunder were built on the lottery and turned their winnings into becoming one of the NBA’s elite. General manager Sam Presti deserves a lot of the credit for that, snagging Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant. Those players turned around a franchise, but those players aren’t together any more and the Thunder have slipped into the NBA’s version of purgatory – likely not going to be good enough to go deep into the playoffs and certainly not apathetic enough to give up on the season and become lottery worthy.

And being in the middle of the NBA isn’t a pleasure cruise. It’s an island of irrelevancy. Does anyone really care about the Pacers or the Bucks or Utah? Sure, those teams show flashes of excitement and bursts of energy, but only the fans of those teams care about those teams.

Until this season, fans of the league cared about the Thunder, like they do about the Warriors and the Cavs and a few select others. That’s about to change as OKC goes from compelling to becoming a second thought.

So this is where you need to start thinking differently and start preparing yourself for a long stretch of average-ness, if that’s even a word. Westbrook keeps the Thunder in the playoff picture, but Westbrook and his friends can’t do much more than that. As shown in previous years, attracting big-name free agents to come play here is something less than rare, it’s not happening. That means, Presti has to find success in the draft. Not the lottery, the draft. He’s done it before, snagging Adams and Serge Ibaka, but finding front-line talent in the back end of the first round is like making a 12-foot par putt. Oh, it can be done, but more likely than not, you’re missing and tapping in for bogey.

The lottery provides a reprieve for those teams and their fans looking to make a leap. A championship chase is worth the effort. Think about it, you loved the Thunder when they were part of the discussion. Now OKC is neither of those things and heading into the last half of the season, it’s up to us to accept that.

Ready?

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