OK, probably not. But it could feel that way for at least a few days. And what is sports media if not a place for quick reactions and overreactions? Hear me out, though. I think there’s at least a chance that Thursday’s trade of Jeff Green could end up killing off a little of Oklahoma City’s family-oriented, Thunder U mentality.
I don’t pretend to know what Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook or anyone else thinks. But I’m pretty sure I know how I would react in this situation if I was in my early 20s.
I’d roll my eyes, at least for awhile, whenever Sam Presti or Scott Brooks or anyone else mentioned how the team is a “family” that grows together. “Well I guess Jeff wasn’t a part of the family then, huh? I guess we only grow together until you trade one of us away, huh?”
We got an inkling into how some members of the team are feeling with some tweets Thursday by a few of the players. At least for now, it seems like they’re taking it pretty hard. And I know that’s how I would have felt too if one of my good friends at that age was taken away from me under circumstances beyond my control, and especially if those circumstances were under the control of an authority figure whom I trusted.
It’s a hard comparison to make, sure, because it’s not like any of my college friends could have been traded away. Those that left did so under circumstances that they did or could have controlled, like transferring or not making the grades or something like that. But still. Your teens and early 20s are when you make the strongest bonds of friendship in your life. And Durant and Green were rookies together and had spent their entire professional lives together on Thursday, with Westbrook coming just a year later. James Harden, Eric Maynor, Serge Ibaka and others seemed to slide right into the group and become fast friends. Durant calls his teammates his Thunder brothers for a reason.
Without a doubt, for all of them Thursday was the biggest “this is a business” shock of their young professional lives. Sure, they were close with guys like Kyle Weaver, but ultimately they know what could and does happen to guys at the end of the roster. But I suspect that even though they all also know that nearly everyone is subject to a trade like what went down Thursday, few really thought Green would get traded, especially when nothing had gone down until that close to the deadline. Just like most Thunder fans thought that if Green left at all, he was most likely to do so of his own volition as a free agent at the end of the year, the players might have been just as inclined to think so as well.
So the worry for Thunder fans, even though Durant is locked up for the foreseeable future and Westbrook will probably follow suit this summer, is that Thursday could be a big step in a process that we see happening to many athletes across the country but had hoped it was something to which they were immune: the way so many pro athletes become jaded and scarred by the business as time goes on. If the Thunder doesn’t somehow rise to championship contention over the life of their contracts, could the team’s biggest stars use this moment among other factors as justification for leaving someday? “I used to think I owed it to this team and this town to stay here for the long haul and fight for the championship. But where was the loyalty when they traded my friend? Maybe the grass is greener elsewhere.”
It’s dangerous to assume what someone else is thinking, especially when you don’t have the chance to really pick their brain. But again, I just know what I would be thinking if I were their age and in their shoes. And one thing I know for sure, having gone through tough times at that age and at others, like most folks, is that painful memories do get less painful as time passes. They’ll feel better next week than they do this week.
And, of course, a couple of playoff round victories could make a lot of people feel a lot better. Like maybe Kendrick Perkins, who was a little upset at being traded himself. Winning cures just about everything in sports. If the Thunder, as now constituted, can make some serious noise in the playoffs this year, maybe Perkins sticks around and this team could make a real run at things. And maybe KD, Westbrook and the gang feel a lot better about the situation. Maybe Thunder U would be here to stay after all.