Saturday was a special day for Oklahoma City.
For Russell Westbrook, who will have a running mate this fall.
For Billy Donovan, who now will have the luxury of job security.
For Sam Presti, who will be seen as the free agent whisperer – the guy who helped convince a star to pick the midwest over the west coast.
While every Thunder fan celebrated Saturday night retweeting pictures from a decadent pool party, cheering on the words from Paul George, consumed by fans as, “He picked us. He chose OKC. He really, really likes us,” the truth is, as of Sunday morning, past the superficial, cosmetic delight of telling Laker fans to “Suck It,” the Thunder are not any different than they were a year ago when they spent prolifically and won moderately.
Cheer on the Thunder. Nearly everyone is, from media members to ex-media members now running for governor, that’s fine. But when you put the giant foam finger down, the face paint comes off and everyone gets past the, “We told you so, people really do love Oklahoma City,” phase, it’s clear the Thunder have the exact same problems as the team that wasn’t able to get past mighty Utah in the first round of the playoffs.
A season ago, the Thunder were undone by their own apathy in the regular season, a lack of identity, mixed with a woeful shortage of chemistry. Unless Oklahoma City does something wildly different, there’s no reason to think the same thing won’t happen again. What’s different? Ask yourself that. Nothing’s changed except our hearts are a bit lighter.
Only now, in addition to having the highest payroll in the history of the NBA, the Thunder are also dealing with a Carmelo Anthony situation that possibly could have been avoided.
If George and Westbrook are the conductors, Anthony will be the reactor. Last night’s promise from George and today’s report that George is expected to sign a four-year deal, guarantees Anthony’s role won’t change next season, and that’s not something that Anthony is going to like. Without George, Anthony’s role could have been massaged into something different. With George, this guarantees the status quo, which Anthony has already balked at. And unless Anthony himself does the changing, which isn’t likely, considering he has a proven track record of not being anything but Car-ME-lo, this team will head into the season with a significant deficiency.
Anthony, who went from passive aggressively saying he wasn’t going to come off the bench to aggressively telling everyone how much he’s sacrificed, has already taken apart two franchises, fracturing Denver and then the Knicks. The summer of George will turn into an Anthony winter of discontent. Anthony’s already expressed his displeasure. Hard to imagine that will somehow just go away as his playing time erodes.
Perhaps the Thunder will figure a way out of its Anthony situation. Buy him out, work a trade. Who knows? Either way, the Thunder are not markedly different from last season’s team, other than everyone’s feelings are pacified for the time being. They still have a bench shortage. They do get Andre Roberson back from injury, but they still have all the same problems, too.
Last night, Westbrook called George “the most-loyal.” Everyone cheered. The music blared. Toasts of champagne and pats on the back for all. It was a huge, “I told you so moment.” Nothing like sticking it to L.A. Nothing like being caught up in the moment and losing yourself in championship dreams.
It is pretty cool George chose Oklahoma City, chose Westbrook and makes the Thunder a relevant playoff team for the next few seasons. It’s pretty cool that everyone around team feels legitimized by a superstar picking Oklahoma City over Los Angeles. It makes us feel good.
It doesn’t mean the team is any better, though.