(SportsNetwork.com) - The 2012-13 season ended horribly for the Oklahoma City
They represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals in June of 2012,
only to lose to the Miami Heat. They shipped reigning Sixth Man of the Year
James Harden to Houston in a cost-cutting move, but the Thunder didn't miss a
OKC finished with the best record in the West and had the No. 1 seed.
Optimism brimmed at a chance to avenge their Finals loss.
Then, horror befell the Thunder.
Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley went for a steal as the teams were
heading to a timeout and injured All-Star guard Russell Westbrook's knee. He
was out the remainder of the postseason with a torn meniscus.
The Thunder's realistic title hopes were dashed. They lost to the Memphis
Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals and regrouped for this upcoming
One small problem arose.
Westbrook's meniscus healed properly, but as training camp began, there was
swelling in the knee. It was determined a stitch came loose and Westbrook
underwent arthroscopic surgery and will miss four to six weeks of the regular
"We're down a man right now, but we're not down," head coach Scott Brooks said
after an early practice. "This team is built on toughness. This team is very
resilient. We have players with high character that understand the situation
that we're in. We have a good team. We're going to continue to move forward as
an organization and as a group of basketball players. We're excited about what
Westbrook is no ordinary "man." He is an All-Star and an elite scorer and
plus-defender. His loss is tough, but Brooks is right, the Thunder are by no
OKC may lose some early ground in the standings, but with Kevin Durant, a
legitimate MVP candidate, the Thunder should still be in the top four of the
An additional problem that may arise for Oklahoma City stems from a bench
loss. Harden has been gone for a season, but his replacement, Kevin Martin,
who had a strong season for the Thunder, bolted for the Minnesota Timberwolves
via free agency.
Who replaces him and Harden as the bench star is a big question.
But Durant is capable of carrying a team on his back. Don't shed too many
tears for the Thunder just yet.
2012-13 Results: 60-22, 1st in Northwest; Lost in West semifinals to Memphis
KEY ADDITIONS: C Steven Adams, F Andre Roberson, F Ryan Gomes
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Reggie Jackson
SG- Thabo Sefolosha
SF- Kevin Durant
PF- Serge Ibaka
C - Kendrick Perkins
KEY RESERVES: G Jeremy Lamb, G Derek Fisher, F Nick Collison, F Ryan Gomes, C
Hasheem Thabeet, C Daniel Orton, F Perry Jones, F Andre Roberson, C Steven
FRONTCOURT: Over the last four seasons, Durant has finished second, fifth,
second and second in MVP voting. He's made four All-Star teams and made four
consecutive appearances on the All-NBA first team. He is the game's most
gifted scorer, whose rebounding and assist numbers have gone up in the last
two seasons. He is the second-best player in the league and has the dumb luck
of being in his prime while LeBron James is as well.
Ibaka enjoyed a great 2012-13 season just after signing a four-year, $49
million contract. His scoring increased by almost 4.0 ppg and he's already led
the NBA in blocks the last two seasons en route to All-Defensive first team
honors. Can his scoring go even higher than 13.1 ppg? Probably not, but Ibaka
is an All-Star in the making.
Perkins is only 28, but is entering his 11th season. Some were surprised
Perkins wasn't amnestied by the Thunder considering he's due about $18.6
million over the next two years. His numbers, including minutes, all declined
BACKCOURT: Westbrook is not a traditional point guard, but how do you replace
23.2 ppg (which ranked sixth) and 7.4 apg (which tied for seventh)? The answer
is, you don't. Westbrook is a shoot-first lead guard, which rubs people the
wrong way, but, prior to the injury, he played every game of his entire
career. Westbrook is a decent defender who gets steals and when he gets going
toward the basketball, he's unstoppable. A rested Westbrook come the
postseason would scare me.
Jackson will most likely become the starter while Westbrook rehabs. Jackson
started in his absence during the playoffs and averaged 15.3 ppg. He's a
fantastic option for two months and the experience gained will help when he
goes back to the bench for the postseason.
Sefolosha is out there for his defense, but he shot 42 percent from beyond the
arc last season and attempted 3.2 long balls a game, which was a career best.
BENCH: So who does take that bench starring role?
The smart money is on Jeremy Lamb, who, like Martin, came over in the Harden
deal. He was a capable scorer at UConn and is a good shooter, but is a guy who
played all of 147 minutes last season, his rookie one, going to make that huge
Jackson and Fisher will man the point guard bench spots when Westbrook
returns. Fisher is closing in on "E" in his career, but is a smart veteran.
Collison is just a prototype bench big man. He can play both spots and for 20
minutes a night, the Thunder get everything he has. Collison is a good
defender and banger.
Thabeet, Jones and rookie Adams represent some great future talent. Are they
close to helping this season? Maybe Thabeet, or Jones.
Gomes was brought in as Durant's backup, but anyone want to bet Durant is top
five in minutes played this season, especially with Westbrook shelved for two
COACHING: Brooks is a former Coach of the Year and is one of the game's best,
partially because he's had so much talent. This season will be more of a
challenge considering the disappointment of last year's playoffs, Westbrook's
injury and the lack of a bench star.
Luckily for Brooks, he has a lot of veterans to lean on. He lost one of his
top assistants, Mo Cheeks, who left for the Detroit Pistons head job. Brooks
will have to gather his team and tell them the first part of the season may be
rough, but it will all pay off come the postseason.
OUTLOOK: Any team with Durant is a title contender. The Thunder had a
legitimate chance to go all the way with a healthy Westbrook last season.
The Martin loss will hurt. There is no one on the bench who is a proven
scorer. Sefolosha is a premiere defender, but sometimes, in crunch time,
Brooks will need someone else who can put the ball in the hoop out there.
Maybe Lamb becomes that, or maybe Jackson's scoring increases with the
confidence he gains as an early-season starter.
Don't look for the Thunder to reclaim that No. 1 seed in the Western
Conference. Westbrook will miss too much time in the beginning for that to
remain an attainable goal.
But OKC will be there in the end. The Thunder should be among the four or five
teams with a realistic chance to win an NBA title. The bench could use some
help, but the nucleus, led by Durant, is still excellent.
The Sports Network