First Team: The Lone Ranger
As the shock waves from Kevin Durant’s departure reverberated away, Russell Westbrook agreed to a three-year, $85 million contract extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder this Thursday.
What started in Oklahoma as a naturally formed group of super-stars with Westbrook, Durant, James Harden and Serge Ibaka has dwindled down to just one angry, fashionable point god. A similar thing has happened in The Dartmouth’s newsroom as most of the full-year directorate is gone, and I’m still here.
When the upstart, young and energetic Thunder made the 2012 NBA finals, the world thought it was seeing the rise of the next big thing. Instead, Harden left for Houston that off-season — and has made the NBA All-Star team every year since. Ibaka was traded to the Orlando Magic this past year, and KD decided to join the dark side of the force, becoming the NBA’s villain just as Lebron James’ favorability is starting to trend up. Some sort of crazy Kylo Ren/Anakin Skywalker analogy probably applies here. You figure it out.
Russell is that one friend that you love shooting hoops with but is still strangely aggressive off the court. The kind of dude that opens the door at Halloween with an angry resting face that makes you think maybe the blood-splattered apron is more than just a costume.
For years people have speculated about what Westy could accomplish on his own. There’s no question that this Thunder team is worse without Durant and Ibaka. What everyone is wondering is how bad will they really be? Are we talking 2014 Los Angeles Lakers or 2016 Lakers?
The Portland Trailblazers showed us in the playoffs last year that we will never really know what will happen to a team when a superstar leaves. With the Thunder, we might be looking at an extension of the “Ewing Theory,” which postulates that sometimes teams play better without their best player.
No matter how hard we tried to convince ourselves otherwise, Westbrook always played second fiddle to Durant — just ask Mark Cuban.
This is a classic superhero-sidekick movie, and we all know the way this ends. We’re at the part of the storyline where the superhero enters obscurity, and the sidekick takes over. There’s a new Batman in town, and newly-acquired, young-and-bouncy Victor Oladipo is ready to be Robin.
Prediction: Clay Bennett’s new and improved Thunder finish in the same spot (third) this year that they did last year. I can already see the early season articles crucifying the “Slim Reaper’s” decision to go out West, but the Dubs still take it all. A team hasn’t been this good since the Monstars.
Count the Thunder down but definitely not out. Russell is the big bad wolf coming to blow your straw house down. Watch out lil’ piggies.