By Walter Agnitsch
It has been exactly one month since Kevin has left and put our state into its deepest sports depression ever. Have no fear Thunder fans, Russell Westbrook is here. And, even though the extension may only add one extra year since he has an opt out after 2017/18, everything he said today indicates he is here to stay. Suddenly, the discussion isn’t when the Thunder will start a fire sale but whether they are contenders in 2016/17. Not only has he lifted the spirits of the state, he has energized this organization from the depths of darkness. A lot of people not including me thought this was the end of the Thunder, that it was time to trade Russ and rebuild, even some of the crazy analysts thought that the Thunder would leave Oklahoma City. Not so fast though because Russ is here to stay and has given this writer not only the best birthday present ever, but hope that the Larry O’Brien will someday call Oklahoma City home.
This Thunder team might be a notch below what the Warriors and the Spurs are but the future is looking bright. They finally have a chance to build actual team chemistry. Some thought all along that it was Russell’s fault or the Thunder organization’s fault that this team’s chemistry was strained, but now we know it was Kevin the Slim reaper Durant being fake was the problem. The chemistry between Russ, Steven, And Enes is very strong and around that core the Thunder can build a championship contender. With the departure of Kevin and Dr. Neon Dion, players like Josh Huestis, Cameron Payne, and Victor Oladipo now have the breathing room to become superb NBA players.
The Thunder did a magnificent job of turning today’s press conference into a Russell Westbrook celebration with the slogan “The Roar Continues.” About 1,500 Thunder fans were outside the Chesapeake Energy Arena waiting to cheer on Russ as he walked down the blue carpet. As Russ ran down the carpet he had a smile from ear to ear and Thunder faithful were going nuts. This truly was a special moment in Thunder history.
If you think that It was some coincidence that this event was planned exactly one month after the Kevin Durant decision then you don’t know Russ. He clearly was sending a message that if Kevin thinks he cut the head off the Thunder monster then he has another thing coming. Russell speaking today was a breath of fresh air. He is a straight shooter and, unlike Kevin, he told us the truth. The truth he told was that Kevin never called him before or after his decision instead just sent him a text. Perhaps the best quote of the day was “If you know where you want to be, there’s no need to waste time,” Russ, the LA native, chose Oklahoma City to be the place where he wanted to stay. As every Oklahoman heard his words today, we couldn’t help feel a warm spot in our hearts after the KD heartbreak and then hearing for a month that Oklahoma wasn’t a place where superstars wanted to come and play.
I remember one night a few years ago, Russell was having a rough week playing and was warming up for the next game. He just missed a couple of free throws in a row and everyone cheered for him anyways. I think Russell has been changed by these fans and he loves us as much as we love him. “There is nowhere else I’d rather be than Oklahoma City…You guys have basically raised me,” was another quote from the press conference today. Russell is going to become the absolute leader and we will see the player with the most heart in the NBA gather the troops and get them back on track when the going gets tough. If Steph Curry decides to go home and play for MJ and his hometown after next year, which he Is at least going to think about especially if they do not win the title this year.
The Thunder are once again on track to win the NBA championship. They have cap space to bring in a top free agent — welcome home Blake Griffin? — and are a young team that will continue to improve. San Antonio will still have trouble keeping up with the Thunder’s speed and strength. The Warriors have tremendous offensive weapons but it is unclear how they will mesh together. Or how they will be able to defend other teams, especially in the paint. (And how quickly so many forget that the Warriors imploded in the Finals with KD’s new best friend finally getting penalized for yet another low blow (and spending the off-season trying to offend as many people as possible.)
Thunder fans celebrate tonight because Russell Westbrook just proved to the rest of the country that we still belong in the NBA. And we will be a force to reckon with.