With the departure of a certain super-star that I am not supposed to talk about any more (Kevin Durant for those that have been under a rock the past 4 months and for those that are sick of hearing the name, just ignore this little aside), most of the national sports media has latched onto the narrative that the Oklahoma City Thunder have little or no shot at a title this season.
Oddly enough, that same conclusion was drawn this time last season, the difference being that the Thunder would suffer while a highly successful and two time National Championship winning college coach, Billy Donovan, made the transition to the NBA.
Before you jump to the comment section with the “and we were right!” rebuttals about last season, let’s revisit some comments made by an observer very close to last season’s results:
In other words, according to Andre Iguodala, a man that had much more than a front row seat, by playoff time the Thunder were not only contenders, but should have won it all.
In his second post with us here at Welcome to Loud City, our very talented writer Scott Levy wrote:
Oklahoma City remains an exceedingly talented and worthy team despite the departure of
Kevin Durantthis offseason. What OKC is not, though, is a title contender.
True... right now, that is true. If the playoffs started today, the Thunder would get their heads handed to them on a platter, but here’s the thing. The playoffs don’t start today... or tomorrow for that matter.
Scott, please don’t see the post I’m writing today as any form of disrespect. Quite the contrary. See it as the ultimate compliment that you inspired another writer to opine an alternate perspective.
If it were me, I would slightly modify the second sentence quoted above like so:
What OKC is not, though, is a title contender, at least not at this point.
Because “at this point” last season, the Thunder team that included "He Who Must Not Be Named" sat at 5 and 3 and considering how a couple of those first 8 opponents finished, the losses to Houston and Chicago, in retrospect, would be considered bad losses for a "title contender." In a small bit of irony, the Thunder’s third loss in those first 8 games was to the same Toronto team the current Thunder lost to Wednesday night.
Thus, at this point, last season’s team was not considered a title contender, and we know how that turned out. The mad scientist, Billy Donovan, drove us nuts all season long with crazy line ups and strange rotations, then took all the information he had amassed throughout the season and had the Thunder on the very cusp of reaching the Finals….. and then, in a tragic twist of fate, when the time came for a certain “Dark Lord" to seal the deal, he choked like he had a chicken bone stuck in his throat. Believe it or not, that is not intended as a dig on said super star… they just happen to be the facts.
Now “He Who Must Not Be Named” has moved on to a new set of playmates and the non-contender narrative is re-born.... and so is the mad scientist, apparently.
Thursday we saw Billy pull one of those crazy rotation stunts everyone is so fond of. With a 12 point lead and the Thunder seemingly on a roll, Donovan inserted Kyle Singler. WHY?? Nobody, and I do mean nobody, detests seeing Kyle Singler on the floor more than I do. I have spent the last day and a half trying to figure out why he still gets minutes and have come to only one conclusion that makes any sense.
I don’t think Donovan is evaluating Singler any longer when he is on the floor. I think Singler’s absence in last season’s playoffs backs that up, but there is something that Kyle does, or perhaps doesn’t do, that helps Donovan evaluate someone else who is out there with Singler.
Singler’s value to Donovan is that he executes plays the way Donovan wants them executed. He sets the proper screens when he is supposed to, moves when and where he is supposed to move, etc. He can’t shoot worth a hoot, but if I’m right, what he does is eliminate variables that may skew the results of the player, or players Donovan is really looking at…whatever or whoever they may be. In other words, Singler is the placebo, the control group in a science experiment.
There are some things I am certain about. One of them being I spent last season squealing like a pig every time Singler arrived at the scorer’s table. My disgust had gotten so bad that at the one only Thunder game I have ever been able to attend in my life J.A. Sherman sent my son’s phone a text warning me that Singler was about to enter the game and asked me to stay calm. True story. THAT is how much I detest seeing Singler in a game.
Another thing I know, when playoff time rolled around, is that Donovan played Singler just long enough to confirm his season evaluations, and Kyle was essentially a ghost for the remainder of the post-season.
I spent the summer waiting for the news to come that Sam Presti had traded Singler, but evidently there wasn’t much interest around the league in babysitting a player that at one time last season had the worst recorded PER in NBA history, and one who happened to carry a $5 mil price tag.
Now, he’s back... AND PLAYING!!! OMG!! Why? There has to be a reason and it sure ain’t his ability to score. His defense isn’t much to write home about either. So why?
The answer must lie somewhere in the explanation I just offered because the other thing I am certain of is this: Billy Donovan, like Sam Presti, doesn’t think the same way as we mere mortals do. For what it’s worth, this is what I’m holding on to.
Average to below average people generally think in two dimensions:
Presti and Donovan are examples of eternalists, people that understand that all points in time are equally "real," as opposed to the presentist idea that only the present is real.
Pops is another example of an eternalist and that’s why he scoffs at most members of the media because they focus only on the here and now. Probably because the vast majority of the media are presentists, almost by definition. Pops has reached a point in his career in which he is secure in the knowledge that he is essentially immune to the wrath of the mass sports media world and so he just basically blows them off and only shows interest in those deeper questions that touch onto that fourth dimension, time.
Pops’ treatment of the media reminds me of a quote from Oscar Levant:
“There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.”
So the next time I see Singler come in the game, I am going to take my medicine and shut up. I’m just going to tell myself, “Donovan is doing this because he knows the outcome of this game in November, December, etc, when one considers the time-line continuum, is irrelevant compared to what can be learned that will have a positive effect on the outcome of the truly meaningful games in April, May, and hopefully, June.”
I’m going to do that because I didn’t do it last year. As much as I defended Billy Donovan as the season progressed, because I still knew he possessed qualities absolutely essential to elite leadership, I had doubts. Going into the playoffs, I told Sherman that if the Thunder could push the Spurs, the season was a success. You have heard the saying “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” Well, Billy Donovan isn’t going to fool this old fox twice.
He wasn’t the liability most thought he might be last season, he was a huge asset, and now that he has a season under his belt, he is an even a bigger asset to the team’s goals. Finally, to seal the deal that it is too early to count the Thunder out, I’ll go you one better and play my trump card, the other eternalist in the Thunder’s deck, Sam Presti.
Think back to February and Presti’s big move to complete the team before the playoffs. He picked up Randy Foye for DJ Augustin. Goodness, I’ve heard feathers make a bigger splash than that and at the time the consensus was, “Is that all Presti can get?!?”
Four months later, we learned that was all the Thunder needed, and Presti will do the same thing this year. It may be big or it may be small, but he and Donovan will put their rotating tesseract brains together and get what the Thunder need. Which brings me to my conclusion:
At this juncture, the statement is absolutely right: the Thunder are not a playoff contender. But after the transformation we saw from the beginning up through the playoffs, I have to add.... at least not at this point.
On a side note - Check out Levy’s post on Oladipo, excellent work. I also read the intro and I hope Scott’s hair isn’t at the mercy of Westbrook’s focus on winning the MVP award. Russ hates individual awards if they aren’t sitting next to the O’Brien Trophy.