There aren’t a lot more satisfying things for a man than to finish up a little project or job and then stomp proudly over to that cursed to-do list and cross it off. Feels good.
So like a nagging wife, I’m giving Oklahoma City a little to-do list for the preseason. And more like a nagging wife, I have little faith the team can actually complete all the tasks on the list, to which I’ll cross my arms and nag them from my seats high above in Loud City.
To-do #1: Establish a consistent starting lineup.
Right now, the probable starting lineup for tonight’s game against Minnesota is Earl Watson, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison. The likelihood that’s the starting five for the first 15 games? Unlikely. The team has got to use these meaningless games to figure out who plays well together and who should start.
To-do #2: Find out if Russell Westbrook can play at the League level.
The consensus after Draft Day 2008 – Thunder GM Sam Presti took a chance on the UCLA guard. Why not D.J. Augustin? Why not Mario Chalmers? Why Russell Freaking Westbrook? Well, after summer ball, Presti had to have had a little smug smile on his young, chiseled, wrinkle-less face. Westbrook played top-notch and had the look of a real-deal NBA guard. He could defend, he could handle the ball and he was athletic – boy was he athletic. But that was against other first and second year players and a couple fifth year guys that were hoping and praying to make a preseason roster. But now Westbrook will have the chance to handle real NBA pressure and defend real NBA scorers. It will be interesting to see how he does.
To-do #3: Mesh, jell, chemistrify, mold, whatever.
I mentioned it in No. 1 briefly, but this team needs to figure one another out. There’s a bunch of new pieces and the team’s average age is 24. Desmond Mason and Joe Smith are new acquisitions. Westbrook, D.J. White and Kyle Weaver are new to the League. Robert Swift hasn’t seen a competitive basketball floor in years because he’s injured all the time. And then there’s a couple of guys that are up in the air whether or not they’ll make the roster that are new. Oh yeah, and then there’s the whole “brand new to Oklahoma City” thing, so they need to jell to the City and its fans. Just get used to playing here and living here.
To-do #4: Stay healthy.
I guess this doesn’t apply to you Robert Swift (or any other center on the team for that matter) since you’re already hurt, but the team needs to stay injury-free. There isn’t a lot of depth here so if one or two main cogs go down before the season even starts, this thing could get ugly. P.J. Carlesimo has already said Kevin Durant and a few others won’t play all the games, but the key is don’t take any unnecessary chances. The guys trying to make the roster – have at it. John Lucas, dive on the floor, jump on people’s backs, climb inside the rim – do whatever it takes to make it. But the mainstays need to stay clean, especially players like Westbrook so he doesn’t lose his season before it even gets started and then is set back a year.
To-do #5: Look good.
This means a couple of things: 1) Literally, look good. Look spiffy in the new duds, put on your headbands and armbands and act like this is the big-time. Start getting your mind revved up for the actual season. 2) Look good by playing good. If the team exceeds expectations and plays tough defense, doesn’t turn the ball over and has someone emerge as a decent second scorer, then that builds confidence going into the regular season. Confidence is a wonderful thing, but it’s a tough thing to build. Look at the pre-2004 Red Sox compared to now. Then, they were looking for something to go wrong so they could say, “Oh, here we go again” but now, they know something is about to go right so they can say, “Oh, here we go!” A big key is building that winning, confident attitude.
There’s five, pretty simple things to try and do. I know they probably won’t get around to all five, but just tackling two or three would be a nice start.