Ivey: Look out for Thunder
Michael Ivey | Tuesday, September 26, 2017
The Golden State Warriors remain the standard in the NBA. They have made the last three NBA Finals, won two of them, and are the favorite to repeat as champions this upcoming season.
But their road through the Western Conference might have gotten a lot harder.
On Saturday, news broke that the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired 10-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony in a trade with the New York Knicks for center Enes Kanter, forward Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round draft pick.
This trade comes just months after the Thunder acquired four-time NBA All-Star Paul George from the Indiana Pacers for guard Victor Oladipo and center Domantas Sabonis.
I could write about how impressive it is that the Thunder acquired two All-Star talents for a total of Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round draft pick, but I’ll save that for another time.
What I will get into is how much the Thunder’s title hopes have improved in such a short amount of time. In addition to the acquisitions of Anthony and George, the Thunder added veteran players in point guard Raymond Felton and power forward Patrick Patterson in free agency.
With these new additions playing alongside current league-MVP Russell Westbrook, the Thunder looked poised to be the biggest challenge to the Warriors for the Western Conference championship.
This is almost two years after the Thunder nearly upset the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. The Thunder held a 3-1 series lead, but lost the last three games of the series and were eliminated. This event set off superstar forward Kevin Durant’s leaving the Thunder in free agency to join the Warriors and significantly tilt the balance of power in the NBA.
With Durant, the Warriors finished atop the West standings and lost just one game in the playoffs to claim the NBA championship last season. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook had himself a season. Westbrook became the first player to average a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson did it in the 1961-62 season. Westbrook also broke Robertson’s record of most games with a triple-double in a season with 42. However, Westbrook didn’t get much help from the rest of the shorthanded Thunder and entered the playoffs as the sixth seed in the West. The Thunder were eliminated in five games by the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
The early first round exit led many to speculate that Westbrook would leave Oklahoma City in free agency, just like Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State, during the NBA free agency period in 2018. However, these trades and a bolstered roster have shown Westbrook that the Thunder are serious about winning right now. Heck, they might even add another former All-Star in Dwayne Wade, who was just released by the Chicago Bulls, before the season begins. Maybe the Thunder can convince Westbrook that Oklahoma City is his best option to win a title right now and convince him to stay past the conclusion of this upcoming season.
Or maybe, even if the Thunder do have a successful season, Westbrook, George and Anthony decide to leave the team and become free agents, as all three have the option to after this upcoming season. This possibility could lead to an even more desperate and motivated effort by the Thunder to knock off the Warriors while they still have this roster intact. After all, Westbrook hasn’t been shy about expressing his feelings toward Durant after Durant left town for the Warriors, and would love to be the one to spoil his former teammate’s effort at repeating a championship.
Whatever the case, look for the Thunder to make some serious noise during this upcoming NBA season.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.