The Thunder season starts Wednesday in Utah. The next two days we’ll give you some Thunder news.
Today: A few things to anticipate
For months, the story of the Oklahoma City Thunder for this season has been about what it doesn’t have.
No Russell Westbrook, no Paul George, no Kevin Durant – and yes, people still talk Durant when talking Thunder – and no chance for a championship.
You know it’s going to be a different kind of season when more chatter is about the past than it is about the future. That’s what happens when you have a team gutted of superstars and out of the championship talk for the first time in a long time.
According to ESPN’s Royce Young, the team parking lot has changed, the actual temperature has changed and the attitude has changed, too. That’s what happens when Westbrook, who held the organization captive since Durant left, is gone, too.
OK, fine, the Thunder aren’t going to win anything other than possibly a shot at the lottery this season. We’ve probably known that for awhile. But there are a lot of things to look forward to seeing. Here are a few:
Chris Paul: Paul is every bit the competitor Westbrook is. He’s absolutely just as fiery, tries just as hard and often times is bristly with his teammates. But one thing Paul does is make his teams better. He did it with the Hornets, he did it with the Clippers and he took a Houston team to a 60-plus win season in his first year with the Rockets.
Now a lot of people will want to compare Paul to Westbrook. That’s fair. Westbrook is more explosive, he’s younger, a better overall player, but Paul is on his way to the Hall of Fame. He’s an assist-first point guard and better shooter than Westbrook . His down year, 36-percent on 3-pointers, makes him look like Steph Curry compared to Westbrook, and Paul isn’t allergic to defense, either. Who knows how long Paul will be in Oklahoma City and whether the Thunder will trade him, but while he’s here you can expect an inspired and consistent effort every game. If Paul stays the season with OKC, this team won’t be terrible.
Billy Donovan: Anyone have any idea if Donovan can coach or not? There’s not a lot to go on here. Aside from a brief period during last season when Westbrook decided he didn’t need to be a hero every night, Oklahoma City was never going to be a great team. Westbrook limited everyone else’s movements so much, and it wasn’t like Donovan was going to call him out on it, that it was too hard to tell if any real coaching was going on.
We’ll find out this year. There will be lots of moving parts and Donovan will get to experiment with a lot of different, young pieces.
Steven Adams: By all accounts, Adams was the lone man out last season. Often times, he’d be forgotten entirely with George and Westbrook running the show. That won’t happen this time around. Name a big man who didn’t get better playing alongside Chris Paul. You can’t, because big men excel with Paul.
Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan, Clint Capela. All of them had their best years because of Paul, who doesn’t pass because he he’s run out of options, but passes because he wants to. Expect Adams to be the latest beneficiary of Paul’s ability to throw the lob. Expect an improvement over last year for Adams, too.
The schedule: If you’re a fan of the Thunder and their chances for making the lottery, this is the season for you. Check out what the schedule looks like.
Last year, the Thunder had an easy schedule to start the season. This season it’s the opposite. OKC’s strength of schedule through November is the toughest in the league, and if OKC falls apart, it could speed up the process of trying to deal players. OKC opens Wednesday at Utah, plays against the Warriors, Rockets and Blazers in their first five games.
A slow start could result in shipping off valuable assets – and nearly everyone is expendable. If OKC does that, the lottery, and maybe even a high lottery pick, is a likely destination.
Tomorrow: Predictions on the upcoming Thunder season