You there! Stop! Slowly back away from the keyboard before you do something you’re going to regret.
To those people whom I haven’t already lost to the comment section here to blast me, let me please say first that I don’t mean to call out or pick a fight with anyone. Every reader, commenter and non-commenter here is a valued member of the Daily Thunder community (and, I can safely assume, the Thunder community at large), let there be no doubt. A slice of vocal and loyal supporters is who you expect to see on a sports website comment board, and that’s what Daily Thunder has and what it ought to have. And a fan’s emotions are always rawest soon after a game ends, leading to hyperbole one way or the other depending on how the team fared.
But I think it’s important to recognize and address some of the fan sentiment shown the comment section of Daily Thunder’s recap of Oklahoma City’s home loss Sunday to the Utah Jazz highlights two important points at this stage of the season. Granted, vocal members of any segment of a fan base certainly do not always represent the majority of view points out there. It is certain, though, that comments on websites like Daily Thunder are a telling representative sample of how some of the most diehard fans are feeling.
So let’s paraphrase some of what was said in the first several dozen comments on Sunday’s recap. Russell Westbrook, not Kevin Durant, should be the team leader and No. 1 scoring option. It’s time to at least think about replacing Scott Brooks. The James Harden pick was a mistake. The coaching staff needs a shake-up. Jeff Green was a hot topic of debate, as he would be on Daily Thunder if Royce wrote something about nothing but puppies and sunshine.
Along with the general frustration and worry expressed in more even-keeled comments, the few outlandish remarks sent me clear message: People are a little too worked up and on edge this early in the season. I feel like people would be wise to keep two things in mind.
— The Thunder is 2-1 with Kevin Durant shooting 38 percent, James Harden playing poorly on offense, the rotation in flux and Nick Collison in a suit. None of these things will last the whole season.
For that matter nothing right now can be counted on to last the whole season. Point out any advanced or non-advanced stat you want — any statistician from grunt level to genius will tell you there isn’t a big enough sample size to make definitive judgments.
The Thunder looked bad Sunday night. The Thunder looked bad on plenty of nights in the 2009-10 season. The Thunder started out 2-0, then dropped three straight and hovered around .500 well into December. Much later in the season, people were plenty upset and afraid after blowout losses March 3 at Denver and March 21 at Indiana. Even later, the Thunder stumbled down the stretch and slipped away from contention for the No. 2 spot in the playoffs to No. 8 in a stretch that included an indefensible loss at Golden State. You may recall the season somehow ended up one box-out from pushing the Lakers as far as the Celtics did.
The bottom line is that any three-game stretch would be too small to make any sort of judgment on any player or coach. Put these same three games in the middle of winter under the same circumstances. Would anyone really be hoping for Sam Presti to be evaluating other coaching options if the Thunder played like crap on a Sunday night in January?
Actually, from here on out, the answer to that question may be yes. Which brings up the second point, one made before here and probably elsewhere.
— Never again will it be as fun as last season, unless and until the Thunder wins a title.
This isn’t the place for OU football talk, but it’s an obvious, recent and local comparison that can be presented in a few sentences, so you’ll have to bear with me.
The Sooners came from out of nowhere to win a national championship during Bob Stoops’ second season in 2000. The head-spinning, euphoric rise was unexpected and sudden, and a future of unbridled potential seemed guaranteed. What followed has been unprecedented and dominant success that has ultimately somehow failed to live up to yearly and daily expectations of the fans and media. In a decade in which the team won six conference titles (including 2000) and no one else won more than two, OU finished lower than or equal to its preseason AP poll position in every single season from 2001-2010. Wins are met with relief, not celebration, and losses are agonizing. Close wins are criticized.
That’s what the Thunder and its fans have in store for them this season and in the future. The stunning run from 23 wins in 2008-09 to three thrilling playoff games in downtown Oklahoma City last April was as good as it’s going to get in terms of pure fun until the season ends with a parade. I don’t know — should Oklahoma City be asking itself if it really knows what it’s in for? The Jazz — the same team that crushed the Thunder on Sunday — seem to have a pretty tortured NBA fan base after being consistent contenders, but never champions, for more than two decades. The Jazz made the playoffs for 20 years before missing out in 2004 and 2005, and the fans have plenty of fond memories of Hall of Fame players, big wins and big games, but they aren’t a joyful bunch.
I don’t think the joy is dead in Thunder fans. It’s hard to go from meeting the team at the airport in the spring to joyless in late October. But I do think things have changed, and if it’s not for the worse, it’s certainly become a more stressful environment. Each game becomes a microcosm of the season and the franchise’s mission, and it will be easy to make snap judgments and lose focus of long-term goals.
Having opinions and sharing them is part of what makes the world an interesting place. That includes criticism in general and the Thunder on this website. But for those who are seriously worried after three games, remember that there are 79 more and that Thunder fans should hang onto the fun for as long as possible. It brings to mind a favorite quote of mine from ESPN.com football columnist Gregg Easterbrook.
Don’t panic. There will be plenty of time for that later.