That’s exactly what’s running through my mind about this upcoming season. On one hand, I’m stoked like a giant bonfire about this year. Kevin Durant and Jeff Green’s third year. Russell Westbrook’s second. James Harden, Serge Ibaka and the new guys. Scott Brooks’ first full season. The hype, the improvement, the expectations.
But those last three things are exactly what also terrify me. The hype. The (assumed) improvement. The expectations.
At media day, there was a running question that bounced from player to player: Are the playoffs a possibility? I was actually kind of shocked people were even asking about it. (I’m about to go exactly where you’d expect.) Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs. You kiddin’ me? Playoffs? Did everyone forget about last year? Did we forget this team started 3-29 and while it’s been turned over more than Courtney Love, it’s still basically the same core? It’s still a group of under 24 year olds that are very, very talented, yet pretty unproven.
This is what happens during a long offseason. Teams being chic picks. Teams build hype and expectations. Teams are declared on the rise and upcoming. How many years have we been waiting for the Texans to finally become that under-the-radar playoff team? I just fear that offseason of this could alter and distort realistic thoughts about the Thunder and make them a “disappointment” when nothing was disappointing.
And while reading story after story talking about how my team is going to be better was fun, it’s also slightly scary. Now, external expectation has been placed on this team, when they didn’t ask for it. Instead of being able to build and improve at its natural rate, now if the team starts slow or wins just 28 games, all of a sudden 2009-10 is a disappointment. Sam Presti is no longer smart. Kevin Durant isn’t a superstar. This team is probably a year away from reaching it’s apex. They could win this year, but it’s not expected. Does this make any sense at all?
At the same time, the team is responsible for living up to the expectation that’s been placed upon them at some point. While some things are a tad unreasonable (playoffs, 50 wins and such and such), if this team is one that we eventually will see become a consistent winner, it has to start sometime. Otherwise this plan ain’t working. That doesn’t necessarily mean RIGHT NOW, but at some time this year, we definitely need to at least see the steps being taken that direction.
It’s hard to stay reasonable sometimes because it’s easy to get excited as fans. It’s easy to stare through a tiny hole and see everything positive in a team instead of understand its faults. Just look back at some of my recaps during the not-so-excellent P.J. Carlesimo regime. I tried to find positives in everything when the reality was, the team stunk and was getting worse. It’s what we do. But tempering expectation is key. Presti’s plan is built on patience. And we have to be just that.
As Clark noted in his column, in other markets, this wouldn’t fly. But we’re in a unique situation here because we’re willing to give it time. Unless that is we spent a whole summer hearing how good we are and therefore, our once patient, reasonable expectations have now been built into potentially outlandish, over-hyped ones. Then we lose all our patience in the plan and expect the wins now. That’s what Bill Simmons and Ric Bucher said would happen! So why isn’t it?
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t expect great from this team. If we didn’t have the hope that this team could surprise and make a run, then what’s the point in watching? I think we all know a reasonable, sensible number of wins is around 32-36. A bold prediction would be 36-42. If you’re pessimistic, maybe you see 25-30. Anything under 25 is surely a disappointment. But even with all that, there’s that small Peter Gammons part in all of us thinking, “Hey, if things break right and Russell Westbrook becomes that superstar point guard, if Kevin Durant rises into the elite, if Jeff Green becomes a quality four, if the bench evolves and can produce, if James Harden is as good as advertised, if the veterans step up and lead, if Scott Brooks turns into a coaching phenom and Nenad Krstic returns to form, and maybe Presti makes use of the assets and picks up another quality player at the deadline, well, then this team could win 50 games and make a playoff push.”
The players have been trying to tamp down the expectations. The media manifested them and will continue to press it. It makes for good stories. But us fans have to do our best to stay reasonable. I’m excited and I have high hopes for this season. Best case, I’d love a playoff run. I’d likely tear my shirt off and run down I-35 screaming “Thunder Up!!!” if that happened. But you can’t let the hype get to you. Shaun Livingston said, “Of course the playoffs are a possibility. That’s what everybody wants.” But it can’t be expected. Unless of course if Russell Westbrook becomes that superstar point guard and if Kevin Durant…