PRYOR, OK —
On Wednesday night, I sent out a series of angry tweets about the Thunder's Western Conference semifinal loss to the Grizzlies. It was a real stream-of-consciousness; I had a few gems in there, and a couple I can't reprint in this publication for various reasons.
I'm rereading them now, and some of the claims I made were ridiculously in-the-moment (“Kevin Durant should have passed out on that last attempt,” “Randolph is the best PF in the league”) and others were pretty on-target (“Reggie Jackson's Westbrook impression is about as good as Jay Pharoah's Obama on SNL — serviceable, but missing a heart”).
One of my rambling tweets really stuck out though: “Hard to pick a Grizzlies series MVP, but I'd go with Patrick Beverley.”
Beverley will be forever booed in his returns to Chesapeake Arena for (intentionally?) bumping knees with Russell Westbrook in Game 2 of the Western Conference first round, forcing the formerly indestructible point guard to undergo season-ending surgery for a torn meniscus.
We're all still wondering the same question: Would the series have been different if Westbrook hadn't gotten injured?
We can say whatever we want, but the point isn't about whether the Thunder would have won or lost with Westbrook running the point. We all can agree their chances would have been better, but the season is over. We'll write and talk about it all we want, but it won't change the fact that a bum knee is a bum knee, and Westbrook is just another addition to a heaping pile of players who fell victim to circumstance (Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose leap to mind).
Hindsight is 20/20, but prognostication is a much more fun and much less finite form of hypothetical projection. So, here's a not-so-bold claim for next season: the Thunder will win it all.
I really don't see any way they won't. We can talk later about the Lakers or Heat making a case for the 2014 title, but right now, this is about the Thunder.
Each year since 2009, OKC has progressed further in the playoffs (with a completely healthy roster) than they have the year before. The train was derailed this year, but I don't think we can underestimate the importance of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sitting at home, watching the Grizzlies, Spurs and Heat tangle for the championship they know — KNOW — should be theirs.
Motivation has never been a problem for the Thunder core, and it won't even come into play this offseason. Durant is an absolute surgeon. When he loses a patient, the first thing he does is check the log to see where he went wrong so it never happens again.
What he learned from this postseason? As good a surgeon as he is, he can't operate alone.
Westbrook will heal, and like the Sixty-Million Dollar Man that he is, he will come back stronger and more powerful. Even Skip Bayless can't doubt that.
It may not seem like it now, but the future of this team has never looked brighter.