The Thunderous Intentions staff got to together to answer five lingering questions about the Thunder.
1. What was going through your mind when the Thunder were officially eliminated from the playoffs last night?
Andrew Kennedy: I knew this was coming but it still hurt. The biggest disappointment is just that we don’t get to watch this team anymore and the season ended so early in the year.
Eli Friedman: I was heartbroken and just had a weeping, sorrow feeling inside of me. You knew the Thunder were gonna lose at some point without Westbrook, but to be eliminated with four straight losses, and lose in that kind of game with Durant going 5-21 from the field, it hurts.
Trenise Ferreira: “Wow, Russell Westbrook was really a lot more of an impact player than anyone gave him credit for.”
Cyrus Geller: Honestly I wasn’t feeling much at all. I think it was only a matter of time before the Thunder were eliminated without Westbrook. It’s not like we were expecting the Thunder to win the NBA finals without Westbrook at their disposal. Obviously it was very disappointing to see their season end, but I am really more excited for Westbrook to get back to 100% and to see how the Thunder do next season.
2. How should we remember this season?
AK: They had a great year winning 60 games in the regular season despite trading James Harden right before the year. Even so, it is ultimately a disappointment. The Westbrook injury is a valid excuse for why they came up short but the team still should have been more prepared to play without him.
EF: At the end of the day, the Thunder got better this year. A 60-win regular season, and another year for the young core to grow and mature. We should remember this season as a year the Thunder were ready to make another finals run, but Westbrook’s injury really hurting them, making a slight bump in the road.
TF: The Thunder performed extremely well during the regular season, and still have all the tools to make a championship run. The loss of Westbrook early in the playoffs obviously proved to be a bigger hindrance than initially thought, but this team will rise again next year and make another push for a title that continues to allude them.
CG: A season of great improvement, with a huge dose of bad luck to end it. I think that this years Thunder team was much better than last years team, even though James Harden is now gone. Everybody on the team showed a lot of improvement, and I think that if Westbrook hadn’t gone down against Houston they would have rolled to the NBA finals. It is just sad to see Russell go down and virtually a whole years work is thrown down the tube. Horrible luck for OKC.
3. How has the Thunder playing without Westbrook changed how valuable you feel Russ is?
AK: I think it just reinforces how valuable Thunder fans know he is. What he does was impossible to replace for the Thunder and I don’t know if any player in the league could. My issue is that Scott Brooks has an offense in place that relies on Westbrook too much which eventually led to the team’s early exit.
EF: I was greedy. I never pictured the Thunder without #0 on the floor. Without Russ, the Thunder are hopeless. It goes to show you how valuable a PG is to a team. The Thunder were missing a guy who gives you 24 points, 7 assists, and a good 8 rebounds night in and night in.
TF: Westbrooks value is very apparent to me, now. When the Thunder traded away Harden for example, his impact wasn’t really felt, and it is clear to me now that it’s because Wetbrook was there to be KD’s right-hand man. Without him, the Thunder appear very one-dimensional, unless one of the other role players choose to step up in a particular game.
CG: Before the playoffs even began I knew how much Russell meant to this team, but after seeing the Thunder struggle like this without him I really appreciate Russ much more than before. You don’t realize it too often, but Westbrook really saves the Thunder countless times when their offense stalls. Russ can do whatever he wants on the floor and OKC really missed that during these playoffs.
4. What about Durant playing without Russ. Have you changed at all how you feel about KD now?
AK: I honestly didn’t think he would put up the numbers that he did. I was overall very impressed with him. I guess I knew he had it in him but I thought he would have had a tougher time without Russ. He just keeps getting better every year.
EF: KD was brilliant and terrific all playoffs long. Although, he is only human. He needs his sidekick in Westbrook, to help him on the offensive end of the floor. Also, Westbrook makes Durant better. Some of the time, Durant brought the ball up, but with Westbrook, he puts KD into his normal position, allowing KD to relax and take the load off.
TF: My perception of KD hasn’t really changed. Before Westbrook he played with the kind of drive that insinuated he would do whatever it took to win, and I think that was even more apparent in the absence of Westbrook. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t do it on his own.
CG: If anything I have gained even more respect for KD. He pretty much single handedly closed out the Houston series, and then eventually just became too exhausted to carry an entire team throughout the Grizzlies series. There was so much pressure put on KD, and even though they lost four straight games to Memphis, KD continuously gave it his all and produced for OKC. KD needs Westbrook to be 100% effective, but he definitely showed why he is the second best player in the NBA by shouldering the load and playing well after Russ went down.
5. What do the Thunder need to win a title?
AK: Wait until other teams get old and worse. This Thunder team is still young. They have a core in KD, Russ and Ibaka that will only get better as the year’s go on and they will be together for a long time. The team is in good shape to surround those three with solid pieces. Wait for LeBron and the Heat to start to decline and give these guys a few more years and ultimately I think that will be all it will take to win a title.
EF: An inside scoring presence. The Grizzlies are winning games because of the two guys down low in Z-Bo and Gasol. If you look at the Heat last year, Bosh was that guy and the year before that it was Tyson Chandler for the Mavs. You can’t win without a guy who can clog the lane and give you points in the point. Oklahoma City has a great guard game in Westbrook, Jackson, Martin, and you can conclude KD, but there front court struggles. Sam Presti needs to go out and get a big men who can give the Thunder 15 a night.
TF: To win a title, the Thunder need a healthy Russell Westbrook, and a third player a la Harden to shoulder the burden down the stretch. Overall, I think this team has many of the parts needed to make a championship team, they just all need to be functioning at an optimum level at the same time.
CG: A healthy Westbrook, the Ibaka that we saw during the regular season show up in the playoffs, and more Reggie Jackson. If Westbrook had been healthy I think the Thunder would have gone to the NBA finals this year. He is a huge part of this team and as long as he is healthy I think OKC will be fine. Now, in order to get over that hump and beat Miami I think that Ibaka has to play much better in the playoffs than he did this year, and I want to see a LOT more of Reggie Jackson. Jackson showed during these playoffs that he is a very good offensive player, and I really hope Scott Brooks plays him a lot more next season. If that happens, and Ibaka continues to make that 15-16 foot jumper in the postseason, then I think the Thunder will have a legitimate shot at winning the championship next season.