Sports Illustrated gave us two great lists today: 20 things they’d miss about an NBA season and 20 things they wouldn’t. When it comes to the Thunder though, there’s a lot to miss. Oklahoma City has only had this team for three seasons but picturing a year without them isn’t easy. No Kevin Durant jumpers? No bland press conferences from Scott Brooks and Sam Presti? No stupid technicals from Russell Westbrook? It’s already painful.
There are millions of reasons (literally, meaning money) to have an NBA season but for a city completely banana sandwich crazy about its team, it’s deeper than that. Normally around this time, right before camp starts, I’d give you reasons to get excited about this season. But there’s a chance we might not have one. Instead, here are 35 things I’d really miss.
1. Good basketball. Pre-Thunder, Oklahoma was fine with college hoops. We were fine with whatever the Sooners and Cowboys gave us. In fact, most of us swore that the college game was better because of the student sections, pageantry, atmosphere, passion and bragging rights involved.
But after three seasons with Kevin Durant, the pick-and-roll and good shooting, it’s pretty obvious that there’s no comparison. The college game is still nice, but it’s nice in that I’ll-watch-my-little-brother’s-middle school-team-but-only-because-I-love-him kind of way. The talent gap is too much to ignore. And no, don’t tell me I could just go watch LeBryan Nash at Oklahoma State. I’m sure he’s going to be a nice player, but even Blake Griffin wasn’t Blake Griffin at OU. The Clipper version is about 200 times more exciting.
2. Perk. Not just because he’s going to be slimmed down and healthier this season meaning a much better team, but just in the few months we got to know him, we all fell in love with the big scowly bear. I know I’d miss those excruciatingly slow sentences and point-blank statements in that dirty Texas drawl.
3. James Harden’s beard. SI had this listed as one of their 20 things they wouldn’t miss about an NBA season and to that, I nearly stabbed myself in the neck with a ballpoint pen. Chris Mannix wrote: “But come on: The beard is getting unruly. What started as a little bit of scruff on draft night has turned into a long, shaggy mane that rivals that of Brian Wilson, Ricky Williams and Kimbo Slice. It’s become a national punch line (“Scientists fear that Harden Beard’s gravitational field may inadvertently disrupt the path of a stray meteor and bring it to OKC.”) and hasn’t landed him any Troy Polamalu-like endorsements. It was a good look for a while. Now it’s time to go.” I can tell you this: If Harden were to go the opposite route and shave his beard because of the lockout, I’m not sure I’d see any reason to even have a season. I mean, what’d be the point without The Beard?
4. Brian Davis and Grant Long. Can you imagine a season where we miss out on the unbridled and often uncomfortable enthusiasm of the Thunder’s two announcers? Wait, don’t answer that.
5. Rumble. He’s always good for at least 3.5 mild chuckles throughout the season.
6. Arguing. What will we all yell about if there’s no season? I guess we could just argue about things from LAST year all over again. But I’m not sure I can really make a good case now as to why Jeff Green should stay in the starting five now.
7. Reggie Jackson’s wingspan. The Thunder’s new draft pick has a wingspan of seven feet. He’s like a condor or something. I want to see that freakish, possibly mutant set of arms in action.
8. Scott Brooks surely improved last second plays. I’m positive that with a summer of reflection, planning and learning that Scott Brooks was ready to blow us all away with what he’s got drawn up for his guys to execute in the last 15 seconds of a tight game. Actually, I just saw his notebook. All it has is the letters “K” and “D” scribbled really huge on one page.
9. The Russ and Kev dynamic. Everyone wants to think there’s some kind of Kobe-Shaq riff going on between these two guys. And here’s the thing: With more time off between the last time we left them (Game 5 against the Mavs with Russ storming off the court, not shaking hands) and now, all of that chatter is just going to fester more. Those two are itching to get back on the floor again and prove to everyone that not only CAN they play together, but just remind everyone how they already have been.
10. The Russ and Perk dynamic. Do they hate each other? I have no idea. But we’d get nine good months of speculating, wondering and breaking down every little conversation and gesture between the two of them which would be AWESOME.
11. Serge Ibaka. Can he get 100 blocks in a single game? I doubt it, but I’d like to see him try.
12. Nate Robinson’s cheerleading. Last season he turned the Thunder’s bench into quite the mob of crazy, overbearing celebrating fools. Which Thunder fans ate up to no end but other team’s fans hated. Which made us love it more. And according to my metric that calculates how many wins an enthusiastic bench accounts for which I just made up, Robinson helped the Thunder win 0.003 games. Which is something.
13. Watching Byron Mullens not play. Man, I’m going to miss that.
14. Harden in the pick-and-roll. He’s going to be starter — I’m convinced — and he’s quietly become one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league. The way he patiently sets it up and then knows right when to attack — it’s beautiful. He’s always got his head up and he’s always ready to find an open cutter or his roll man moving towards the rim. I suspect Brooks will put the ball in Harden’s hands a lot in late game situations to run the pick-and-roll and play Westbrook off the ball more to combat some of last season’s issues. Which I think will be a wonderful thing. It was tremendous in Game 5 against the Mavs while they used it for a short time and it’ll only be better this year.
15. Nick Collison drawing charges. I don’t know what I love more — Collison sliding in and taking a charge on an unsuspecting player or Serge Ibaka swatting a shot into Loud City. Both are terrific in their own excellent ways.
16. The Skip Pass Play. I can’t get enough of it. But only when Daequan Cook actually makes it.
17. The Backdoor Play. I can’t get enough of it. But only… well, actually it almost always works. It’s like that go-to play you have in NCAA Football that works 99 percent of the time but you’re afraid to keep running because you feel like you’ve used up the amount of times it’ll work in one game.
18. 3’s down. I’m a big fan of pointless celebrations to commemorate three points in the second quarter of a meaningless game.
19. KD’s next evolution. Will it be a post game? Better ball-handling? Better creating? Better passing? Bigger? Stronger? Faster? KD’s not going to come back the same player he was a year ago. He spent a summer annihilating everyone on blacktops and he’s got a little more swagger and killer instinct to him. He’s going to have a season (or five of them) where he just destroys everyone (something like 30-8-4 on 52-38-89 percentages) and really takes a step into the “best player in the game” debate. Could this be one of those years?
20. Russell Westbrook’s next evolution. He already started it last year as he became more and more of a creator, even though nobody remembers it because the image of him shooting 30 times in the playoffs is emblazoned into their brains. But Westbrook was a double-double threat nightly, scored more efficiently and had multiple nights of 12, 13 or 14 assists. He’s maturing and evolving as a player and point guard and last spring was a lot of learning packed into just a few weeks. He’s going to come back better for it.
21. Whatever Sam Presti has up his sleeve. You know it’s something. But what will it be?
22. Those three games where a fan hits a halfcourt shot and the MidFirst bank guy pretends to be happy. I love those games.
23. That one game where they give away a ton of free t-shirts. Oh wait, that’s all of them.
24. The Peake. It just got a new name (and hopefully a new court), but it kind of feels like a new arena, doesn’t it? There will be more upgrades, some new features and a few new things to look at. Slowly, OKC’s arena is becoming like a real NBA arena. Just in time for ownership to ask taxpayers for a brand new.
25. The new practice facility. We won’t ever get to see it or use it, but just knowing it’s there is nice. State of the art, spared no expense and all of that. I can only imagine what kind of practicin’ was going to go on in there. The Thunder were going to be SO good.
26. KD’s tattoos. I was looking forward to that one game where KD untucks his shirt and all the super wealthy people in the first five rows see them for the very first time and are aghast at it. And then they’ll all call into the Sports Animal and tell their friends about it, as if it’s a remotely new development.
27. On that note, all the questions KD will be asked about them. Jenni Carlson’s column breaking down the meaning of them all and relating it to how despite that, KD fits Oklahoma’s down home roots was going to be great.
28. This guy.
29. Jeff Green’s return to OKC. It was going to be a nice night for sure. Whether it was with the Celtics or someone else, Uncle Jeff was part of not just the original team, but the original core that really built this franchise into what it is.
30. KD’s shimmy at the free throw line. Do I do that every time before I throw something at the garbage can? You bet I do.
31. Perk vs. Nene. Someone was going down this season. You know it was going to happen.
32. D.J. Boom. OK, I’m running out of reasons.
33. More left-handed Westbrook dunks. Because how pretty was this one? And Russ’s reaction was the best.
34. The Thunder. Cop-out reason, but I just really like watching this team. A lot of it’s because they’re my favorite team, but between KD and Westbrook and then James Harden and Serge Ibaka, it’s just a really cool roster. Plus, they’re continuing their rise in the West, possibly to a championship level. We’re in the golden age potentially of Thunder basketball. A superstar with a roster around him that can win. You can’t take these type of seasons for granted. OKC going to be one of the premier teams in the league again with all eyes on KD, Westbrook and the rest of the roster. It would just be a total bummer to miss out on all that.
35. The 2011-12 NBA Championship trophy. Because the Thunder were totally going to win it.