Tag Archives: Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA Quarterfinals: Worst to First

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED???

The NBA Playoffs will get underway on Saturday, and hot off the press after last night’s action, we have a full slate of first round match-ups to sink our teeth into. While this particular writer is shedding a tear because the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t even come close to making it (again), this season’s playoffs promise to be one of the more entertaining ones in recent memory. The Boston Celtics were able to snag the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since their 2008 title run; a huge milestone in the Brad Stevens era and one that will likely raise the expectations of Boston fans as the playoffs get underway.

There are four teams in this year’s playoffs that didn’t make it in 2016: The Wizards, Bucks, Bulls and Jazz. The Wizards, Bucks and Bulls all made it back in 2015, but the Jazz haven’t made it since 2012 when they were swept by the Spurs in the first round. With all of the changes that happened last off-season, we’re in for one insane playoff stretch, and it all starts with the first round on Saturday. We took a look at all of the matchups and ranked them by interest level, so when you sit down in front of your T.V. on Saturday, you’ll know what to turn on. Without further ado, here is the 2017 NBA Playoffs first round match-ups, ranked from worst to first.

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  1. Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

Meh.

The Toronto Raptors did pretty much what you’d expect them to during the 2017 season. They kept up with the Celtics and Cavaliers and contended for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, eventually finishing third and drawing a matchup with the Bucks. The Raptors do have some new faces this season that they can use to their advantage in this series; primarily Serge Ibaka.

The key for Toronto is going to be their ability to shut down the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The bigger guys on the Raptors’ roster are going to have a handful trying to defend Giannis, but if they’re able to slow him down and Kyle Lowry has a good series, there’s no reason why the Raptors can’t win this in 6 games. It could be one of the more competitive series in the first round, but aside from Antetokounmpo, there’s just not enough star power to make this an interesting series.

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  1. San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)

This feels like a movie we’ve seen before. These two teams have squared off in a playoff series four out of the last seven seasons, and the tread on the old tire of interest is wearing a little thin.

The highlight in this match-up is the battle of the brothers. While Marc and Pau Gasol may have both passed their prime by a few years, it adds a little bit of intrigue to a series that will otherwise be overshadowed by a great Western Conference series that we’ll get into later. The Grizzlies upset the Spurs as the 8 seed back in 2011, however, and it would take a shocker like that to get us to turn our heads away from some of the other great action going on around the NBA.

  1. Washington Wizards (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)

Well, here we are again. Another year, another Hawks team that hovers in the middle of the playoff race and will be gone by the Conference Finals. Of course, the big difference this year is that they have Dwight Howard. I don’t see many people out there pushing the idea that Dwight Howard (of all people) is somehow going to push Atlanta over the hump, and this is a Wizards team that could be poised to knock them out early. After missing the playoffs last season, Washington is the four seed this year, earning home court advantage and a chance to knock off a very beatable Hawks team.

The Wizards went 3-1 against the Hawks during the regular season, the most recent of those being a thrilling 104-100 victory back on March 22. If Dwight Howard can somehow wake up from the five year nap he’s been taking and make a meaningful impact for this team in the playoffs, we might have something to talk about here for the Hawks. If not, it will be business as usual, and they can start making their tee times by the end of the month.

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  1. Boston Celtics (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)

The Chicago Bulls’ motley crew of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo did enough to squeak in to the playoffs at the last second as the 8 seed. At different points in their career, all of these guys were dynamic players who could shift a playoff series just by stepping on the court. Butler is still that player, Rondo can impress occasionally, and Wade, when he’s not battling injuries, is a serviceable veteran player who can hit big shots when it matters.

The end result of all of these things is a team that is often inconsistent and frustrating, but if everything were to click at once, they could make this a series. That is going to mean slowing down Isaiah Thomas, however, and that is no easy task to say the least. Thomas is averaging 28.3 PPG in his last ten games, and the Celtics have a renewed sense of confidence after claiming the 1 seed in the east. Although it is a 1 vs. 8 matchup, these two teams split the regular season 2-2, so we could be in for at least a six game series if all goes well for the Bulls.

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  1. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)

If the Cavaliers had drawn a first-round match-up with the Bulls, this might be a little bit higher on the list. Of course, we’re always up for watching a great duel between LeBron James and Paul George, but this doesn’t appear to be more than a small roadblock for the Cavaliers. An interesting side note here, however, is that Lance Stephenson is back with the Pacers, and the last time he was in the playoffs, he was whispering sweet-nothings into LeBron’s ear. With that in mind, we ask Lance Stephenson please, give us more great theater like this. I want to turn on SportsCenter and see more of Stephenson trying to get under LeBron’s skin. Yes.

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  1. Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Portland Trailblazers (8)

For the casual NBA fan, the name Jusuf Nurkic might not ring a bell. Nurkic was drafted 16th overall by the Bulls in 2014, then traded to the Nuggets on draft night. Now, standing at 7ft 0in, he is the second tallest player on Portland’s roster, and he could play just enough of a role to make this more than a four game sweep for the Warriors. If Damian Lillard can also put the team on his back, we could be talking about a five or six game series, but don’t hold your breath. Golden State is just getting warmed up.

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  1. Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

The Los Angeles Clippers are in a weird spot. They have largely underachieved the past few seasons, but in a conference dominated by the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, it’s not like they ever had much of a chance. They’ve been playing very well lately, however, and their starting five are as good as anybody’s in the top of the conference (ok, maybe not the Warriors, but who cares).

The Jazz, on the other hand, are a new product. They last made the playoffs in 2012, and the only holdovers from that team are Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward. The Jazz were sneaky good this season, finishing with a record of 51-31. For comparison, that is the same record the Cavs and Raptors finished with this season. They might not be much compared to the powerhouses of the West, but they could become the little engine that could if they’re able to advance to the second round and steal a few games from the Warriors. Don’t sleep on the Utah Jazz, you heard it here first.

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  1. Houston Rockets (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)

Now here is the juiciest of juicy match-ups. Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden in what amounts to the MVP-Bowl of playoff series. It’s fun enough watching these two go at it for one game, but the possibility of 4,5,6, or perhaps even 7 make this must-see television for the first round. This is what everyone is going to be talking about. During the regular season series, Houston went 3-1, with both teams averaging well over 100 points in each of the four games (Houston averaged 115, while the Thunder averaged 111).

The fireworks, however, came in their final match-up of the regular season, when the two teams combined for 262 points in a 137-125 Houston victory. The interesting stat in that game? James Harden was Houston’s fourth leading scorer, while Westbrook dropped 39 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. If they’re able to beat the Thunder and the ever-bucket-draining Westbrook in this series when Harden has a quiet night like they did on March 26th, there just isn’t much wiggle room for the Thunder to be able to take this series. Russ will have to play like a madman, and we’re assuming he will. Will it be enough? Who knows. That’s why they play the games.

 

Russ’ Journey

This journey started in early August crushing spectators reports of Russ leaving Oklahoma City to form a super team in Los Angela’s with fellow UCLA alumni Kevin Love.  Shortly after the Warrior’s signing of Kevin Durant. Russel Westbrook singed an extension with the team that would make him a free agent in the 2017-18 season.  It’s evident of the amount of love shown between Russ and the faithful of Oklahoma City.  He had high expectations all year; most felt if the Thunder were going to remain relevant in a very tough Western Conference then Russ would have to carry the team.

Throughout games in prior seasons we’ve seen glimpses of what he could do when Kevin Durant wasn’t on the floor.  It was clear that with or without Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook was always going to play his game and put up high number while doing so.  He is a true commander on the court proving to be a leader on a very close team in OKC.

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Fast forward to the all star break, by already posting 27 triple-doubles at this point in the season it was obvious that MVP talks have begun for Westbrook.  At this point in the year was it possible for Westbrook to approach, tie, or maybe even break Oscar Robinson’s legendary record of 41 triple doubles in a season?

Yes it was, currently with four games remaining Russ remains tied with Oscar Robinson.  One would think it’s more than likely that we see this record be broken.  Russel Westbrook hasn’t missed a game all season and is playing the highest level of basketball out of anyone in the league (yes that includes LeBron James).  Also, he’ll most likely finish the regular season averaging a triple double.  For a Point Guard that’s huge, because that means he’s averaging over 10+ rebounds a game.  The NBA world expected Russ to have a good season, but no one thought he’d take over like he’s doing.  He carried this team and made his teammates look good with his strong play and put his team in a solid position to make something happen with their season.

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Regardless, if he remains tied or breaks the record this was a historic season for Russ.  By showing this consistent performance and unique swagger that makes him stand out; it truly cemented him among the leagues elite.  His performances were the reason that his team sits at 6th in the West and will most likely stay there going into the playoffs.

Even if the record is broken and Westbrook is named the league MVP the journey still isn’t over.  Most likely the Thunder will have a bout with the Houston Rockets in the first round.  The Thunder endured a lot of drama with Kevin Durant this off season, but with a player like this on the squad the sky is always the limit. Russ isn’t trying to only be the MVP or hold the NBA’s most triple doubles in a season all time; he wants to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.  He’s one of the most competitive players in the league, every thing he does on the court is to try and win a championship.

NBA All Stars: Who should the starters be?

The NBA All star voting concluded on Monday leaving some people with questions as to how legitimate the voting system has become in the NBA. Golden State Warriors Center Zaza Pachulia has racked up enough votes to possibly become the Western Conference stater at the 5 position. Over 21 million votes have been cast in this years voting, which is a 142% increase from last years game. The starters are determined by voting that is combined from the fans (50%), players (25%), and the media (25%). The starters for the All Star game will be chosen tonight on TNT on a special edition of NBA tip off. We pick who SHOULD start the game.

Eastern conference:

Guards:

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Kyrie Irving

Irving is averaging 23.6 points per game along with 5.6 assists. During the season, Irving has put Lebron in the backseat for some clutch moments including the dagger on Christmas day against Golden State. One of the best young players in the game, Irving is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.

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Isaiah Thomas

Thomas is averaging 28.7 points per game combined with 6 assists. This season, Isaiah has put the team on his back which has garnered him the nickname “King of the Fourth”. Thomas has taken over games time and time again averaging the most points in the 4th quarter in the NBA.

Frontcourt:

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Lebron James

James is obviously a shoe in to be an all star because he is the BEST player in the league, no questions asked. James is averaging 25.6 points, 8.1 assist, and 7.8 rebounds per game. James can do anything on a basketball court, he has great court vision and superior athletic ability making him the most dangerous player in the game.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Greek Freak jumped onto the scene last year with some impressive highlights, but this season he has really turned into a fantastic player. Giannis is averaging 23.7 points, 5.6 assists, and 8.7 rebounds per game. He has shown is freakish athleticism time and time again this year with highlight reel dunks. The 22 year old has a very bright future.

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Joel Embiid

Embiid is the first draft pick to somewhat look like he is going to pan out like they planned. Embiid is leading the Sixers, averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. “The Process” is dominating the game down low.

Western Conference:

Guards:

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James Harden

Harden is my favorite for MVP right now. He’s taken an average Rockets team and made them one of the best teams in the league. Harden is averaging 28.9 points, 11.6 assists, and 8.3 rebounds per game. The former backup to Russell Westbrook has moved past him for best point guard in the Western Conference. Harden controls the game and limits his turnovers making everyone around him better.

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Russell Westbrook

There are really no words to explain what Russell Westbrook is doing to the league this year. Although his turnover numbers could be much better, you can’t ignore his stats, 30.6 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.6 rebounds per game. Averaging a triple double has been damn near impossible in the NBA. But if he continues down this road, it could go down as one of the best statistical season ever.

Frontcourt:

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Kevin Durant

Durant has received a lot of hate for he offseason move to the Warriors. It has not gone as well as some people imagined, but Durant’s play has been consistent as he had a 40 point outburst last night against his former team in the Oracle. On a team with a ton of scorers, Durant is still averaging 26.7 points per game on top of 4.7 assists and 8.6 rebounds.

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Kawhi Leonard

Arguably one of the most underrated players in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard has become THE guy in San Antonio. He is the complete package, an excellent defender, paired with ability to score at will. Leonard has become a top tier player in the West. His stats aren’t indicative of how important he is to the team, with 24.8 points, 3.1 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game.

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Anthony Davis

Davis is a premier player in the NBA. He is the best center in the NBA and is carrying an awful team down in New Orleans. Davis is averaging 28.8 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. If you could start your franchise with one player, this guy has to be close to the top of the list because he is a fantastic talent in the NBA.

Tune in to NBA Tip off on TNT tonight to see which players receive the honor of starting in this year’s All Star game.

 

NBA Weekend: What to Watch

This weekend, the NBA features a decent slate of games, so if you find yourself bored waiting around for a crazy NFL Sunday, check out some of these match-ups.

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There are several awesome games tonight. The Miami Heat will travel to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers, a matchup that used to be somewhat interesting, but is now just a reminder how quick things change in the NBA. In 2010, Heat vs. Cavs meant LeBron was going to be booed at Quicken Loans Arena. In 2014, LeBron returned to Miami with the Cavaliers to face Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat. Now, Wade is in Chicago, Bosh has no foreseeable NBA future, and James has been back in Cleveland for over 2 years.

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The Toronto Raptors will travel to Boston to face the Celtics, with the Celts trailing the Raptors by 1.5 games in the Atlantic Division. Al Horford missed a crucial game-winning layup earlier this week, so we’ll see if he can rebound against a division rival.

Other games of interest around the league Friday include Rockets at OKC on ESPN, followed by Suns at Lakers.

On Saturday, Miami will tip-off in Chicago, and for the second time Erik Spoelstra will coach against one of his former superstars. The Heat have certainly been placed in a tough position after losing Bosh and Wade in the offseason, and will have to retool if they hope to content in future seasons.

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The Warriors will face the Grizzlies as they look to continue their dominance of the Western Conference, and the Pelicans will travel to LA to face the Clippers on NBATV to round off the Saturday action.

On Sunday, there isn’t a ton of action, but the game that stands out the most is Celtics at Thunder. Russell Westbrook has been on a tear as of late, and the Celtics will be fresh off a home game against the Raptors.

 

The Russ Stops Here: Fallout From the Westbrook Decision

Last week, Russell Westbrook chose to resign with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In doing this, Westbrook did what few superstars have done in his generation; he showed patience. The deal, which weighs in at just over $85 million, locks Westbrook in until at least the end of the 2017-18 season. While it’s not the long-term deal many Thunder fans would be more comfortable with, it offers the organization some reassurance that Westbrook isn’t going anywhere. Additionally, it ends weeks of rampant speculation that Westbrook was considering other teams, and allows us all to slow down for a minute and stop daydreaming about potential trades that would bring him anywhere from the Celtics to the Nuggets (seriously. The Nuggets were even in it. You can’t make this stuff up). Instead, we can perform a post-contract autopsy and examine exactly how this affects the balance of the NBA.

With Westbrook resigning with Oklahoma City, we now have a bit more clarity on how things will look in the Western Conference. Obviously, it’s hard to make an argument against the Warriors, no matter how hard a revenge-fueled Westbrook will try to change that narrative. Golden State, however, is in a rare territory. There’s almost no way to preview how they will play, because we’ve never even seen an NBA roster of this magnitude. Sure, the Heat had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but even that is small potatoes compared to this Warriors squad. The only hope for the rest of the West is an epic collapse, or an unfortunate injury. That being said, there is a part of me that can see things derailing for Golden State. Is there such a thing as too much talent? When you can only play five guys at once and only one person can score each possession, that might be a valid question. Does it become ineffective to use that much firepower? That remains to be seen.

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Westbrook will certainly come out guns-blazing against Golden State, and the Oklahoma City Thunder as a whole could be poised to have a better season than most would think. If you’re Thunder GM Sam Presti, you feel as though you’ve dodged a bullet. Instead of losing two star players in one offseason, you lose one and have two seasons to figure out what you want to do going forward. This coming season, we will learn a lot about Russell Westbrook both as a player and a leader. Many people are calling him the early favorite for MVP, but only time will tell. With the emergence of Steven Adams in the postseason and the newly acquired Victor Oladipo, Westbrook still has a respectable squad around him. It’s no title contender, but it’s also no group of misfits. Should the Thunder finish well in the Western Conference and pull together a playoff run, that would do wonders for them in acquiring free agents for the 2017-18 season. Blake Griffin is an early candidate, but this is all very far down the road. One thing, however, is sure about next season; Russell Westbrook is about to give the entire NBA a giant middle finger.

Kevin Durant Joins Warriors, Heads Explode

In the wise words of Drake and Future, what a time to be alive.

The Kevin Durant sweepstakes turned out to be a lot more than anyone bargained for, including the Celtics, who actually ended up with a legitimate shot at Durant, making use of New England icon God Tom Brady in their pitch. After the sudden acquisition of Al Horford and rumors that the Celtics were targeting Jimmy Butler, the team and its fans were quickly thrown into a 24-hour period of complete free agent frenzy, the likes of which we haven’t seen since, oh that’s right, never. One of the more bizarre yet somewhat expected moments of the Durant extravaganza was when reports surfaced that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer actually cried during the team’s pitch. Real, genuine tears. I guess we should expect as much from a guy who sits with the fans and behaves like your obnoxious friend who paints his stomach every time he goes to a Patriots game.

The past week has certainly been one of the more interesting ones in recent memory for the NBA fan, as free agency heated up in ways we haven’t seen since 2010, which was highlighted by LeBron James and his polarizing free agency selection, famously aired in prime time as “The Decision”.

That was then, this is now, and Kevin Durant has flipped the basketball world upside down by taking his talents to Golden State to play with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Let me repeat this for emphasis. Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the NBA today, the 2014 league MVP, will be joining forces with the splash brothers and Draymond Green, forming what appears on paper to be one of the most skilled lineups in NBA history.

It’s a move that many, including myself, highly doubted Durant would make, considering his ties to Oklahoma City and the success they had last year despite losing to his new team in the Western Conference Finals. There is no doubt that this team will be great, but Durant’s decision carries a lot more than that. Durant’s choice to join up with an all-time great team has opened up several debates, and the actual basketball team is only a small part of it.

Pardon me for a moment while I advocate for the old geezers of the NBA who view this trade as an abomination of everything they stand for. You see, years ago, back in the heydays of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, players had a stronger tendency to stay in a place that allowed them to compete head-to-head against other superstars, a battle of one star and their supporting cast versus another. However, in today’s NBA, there is a strong inclination for players to link up with other stars, thus forming a “super team”.

In recent memory, there have been a few of these teams, all of varying success. Many people point to the 2008 Boston Celtics as the league’s first team in the “big 3” era, with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all playing vital parts in bringing a championship to Boston. They weren’t met with a ton of controversy for this, but the recent super team of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh left a bad taste in the mouths of NBA fans who would rather see more parity in one of the most predictable leagues in modern sports.

Many people are drawing comparisons between the 2010 Miami Heat saga and this latest installment of free agent frenzy. However, we must be careful with these comparisons. LeBron was met with harsh criticism for the way in which he announced his decision, and less harsh criticism for the choice itself. He was labeled as a villain, betraying his hometown in search of titles. If you rooted against LeBron James and the Heat then, how could you possibly root for the Warriors now? This is a textbook example of a player chasing rings, and that is fine for some people. It is fun to watch this greatness, even for those who are only watching in the hopes that it crumbles. Durant has every right in the world to go to the Warriors, and it’s honestly hard to blame him given their talent. He’s not up on a stage surrounded by fog machines yelling “not 5, not 6, not 7”, but if LeBron was criticized for linking up with former enemies on the court, shouldn’t Durant face the same criticism for joining a team that just crushed his title hopes as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder?

This story will be very interesting to monitor over the summer, but one thing is for sure: The Warriors just adopted another splash brother, and he is ready to make some waves.

NBA Free Agency: The Kevin Durant Sweepstakes

The Kevin Durant sweepstakes of the 2016 NBA Offseason is a lot like the Powerball; you can try, you can cross your fingers and hope, but deep down you know some jerk from Oklahoma will probably win it anyway.

 

NBA Free Agency begins this Friday, and this season, it’s all about Kevin Durant.  For the past few years, the media has been hyping up Durant’s potential free agency, and now that it’s finally here, put in your earplugs, because there’s about to be a whole lot of noise. It was initially announced last week that Durant would meet with 3 teams: The  Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors. As the weekend progressed, 3 teams suddenly turned into 6 (maybe 7?) as the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics will reportedly sit down with the 27-year old former league MVP and state their cases. To make matters even more confusing, it is also being reported that Carmelo Anthony is trying to recruit Durant to the Knicks as well. The truth is, by the time July 1st gets here, the number of teams in on the Durant sweepstakes could be well over 10.
Look, it’s fun to speculate. I could write a feature-length story about each of these teams and how Kevin Durant would fit with their current roster. I could talk about how deadly he could be with the Warriors, and how much they’d have to give up to get him. I could go on about how much he would change the dynamic of the Boston Celtics, and how he would be the first major free agent to ever sign with the team in their storied history. It’s fun to think about these things, and over the next few days, people will. However, in the end, it doesn’t matter because the chances that Durant leaves Oklahoma City this offseason are slim to none. Guaranteed.

Despite losing to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals in one of the most demoralizing ways imaginable, the Oklahoma City Thunder still give Durant the best chance to win a title next season. In order for Durant to join the Warriors, nearly half their team would have to be scrapped, and that’s not just no-names. Bringing in Durant would mean the departure of players like Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, and potentially even Shaun Livingston. It is much more likely that the Warriors would go after a second-tier star player like Dirk Nowitski or Al Horford, both of whom are more realistic options than Kevin Durant. The Thunder were minutes away from going to the Finals, and who knows what they could’ve done if they made it. Durant said that his choice will be a “basketball decision”, and if that means he’s looking for a place he can win, he should look no further than home.

Over the next few days, we will hear a lot about each of these teams and their respective pitches to land Durant. We will learn way more than we needed nor wanted to know about Durant, like whether or not KD is the kind of guy who likes city nightlife, or if he prefers to stay in a small market. We will hear every possible storyline from his meetings, what the body language was, what their pitch was, how long the meeting was, the list is endless. It’s okay to watch all of this and take notes, but just understand that in the end, the chances he actually leaves OKC are very, very small. The media knows this, but it’s not like they’re going to ignore this story. It’s way too damn interesting.

The Loser’s Corner

I think we need to rename the Washington Wizards the Washington Lizards, because they definitely take the L on this one. Remember in 2013 when they were the presumed destination for Kevin Durant this offseason? Every move they made was done in order to lure Durant, and now they probably won’t even get a meeting with him. After a dreadful season and an uncertain future ahead, it’s gotta sting for the Wizards to sit and watch the guy you put so much effort into out talking to other people… Wait, we’re still talking about basketball, right? I feel like I’m writing a relationship advice column all of a sudden. I know you’re heartbroken, Washington, but don’t worry! At least you have the Nationals!