The Oklahoma City Thunder are taking on the Orlando Magic tonight, a team that just had to go through one of the tougher things in professional sports.
Orlando saw its former star, Dwight Howard, return to their arena in a different uniform and torch them for 39 points and 16 rebounds last Wednesday night.
Nothing could have felt worse for an NBA fan.
Howard was loved in Orlando for many years. He led the Magic to an NBA Finals appearance in the 2008-09 season and he kept Orlando relevant among the elite teams in the league for many seasons. It wasn’t until the last few seasons that things started to get ugly.
Bolting for LA is nothing new for big, ringless stars in the NBA and that’s just what Howard did.
The Thunder have their own young stars right now in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Right now, it seems impossible to imagine one of them dawning a different jersey in their NBA careers. You could have said the same thing about James Harden a year ago though.
Durant’s contract will be up before Westbrook’s is. Durant is currently signed through the 2015-16 season and Westbrook through 2016-17.
Will the Thunder fans ever have to go through what Orlando fans have?
There’s one major difference that makes this comparison a little unfair and that’s that we are talking about Durant here. He just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could do to Oklahoma City what Howard did to Orlando.
But it’s not if Durant does exactly what Howard did. It’s just if there’s a chance Durant could not be playing for the Thunder after the 2015-16 season.
What if the Thunder don’t win a title during that time? What will everyone be saying about Durant and this franchise?
It would probably be a lot of talking heads saying Durant doesn’t have what it takes to win the big one. Or that Westbrook and Durant just don’t work together. Or that Durant needs LeBron to win a title.
It’s very reasonable to figure the Thunder could not win a title in that time span. Just watch LeBron play a few games and you start to think there’s no one out there that could beat him.
Durant may end up in the same position LeBron was in his last year’s in Cleveland. At that point, there may even be an opportunity to go play with LeBron whether it be in Miami, LA or even Cleveland. A lot can happen between now and then.
Thunder fans shouldn’t be too worried though. A huge reason why the James Harden trade was made was to ensure the ability to keep Durant past his current contract. If the Thunder were stuck trying to stay under the salary cap with Westbrook, Harden and Serge Ibaka also on the books in 2015-16, keeping Durant would have become extremely difficult.
Thunder GM Sam Presti has set this franchise up quite nicely for the future. He will continue to bring in young talent to surround Durant and be able to keep the realistic expectations as high as any team’s in the league.
You never know though. Nothing would be more heartbreaking for this city than seeing Durant leave. Let’s just now think about it.