“Think about when they get good,” he said.
“Think about if they make the playoffs,” I said.
He shook his head. Almost impossible to even conjure up the thought. Then he took it up a notch.
“Man, think about like a Western Conference finals series here in OKC. Wouldn’t that just be … insane?” We both sort of just laughed. Yes, it would be insane, especially because the team in front of us was a long way from it. We were watching Earl Watson and Robert Swift with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. We were watching a team that would eventually finish with 23 wins and use the lottery pick they got to take a bearded man named James Harden. There was no Serge Ibaka or Kendrick Perkins. No Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook or Thabo Sefolosha. Heck, Scott Brooks wasn’t even officially the head coach yet.
At the time, all of that future talk seemed so far, far away. Andy and I both grew up with Jordan’s Bulls, but some of our favorite memories of the NBA was watching the Western finals with the Lakers playing the Blazers and Kings. That was some serious stuff. Intense games, wild crowds, huge moments.
And now look: The Thunder are in the Western Conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks. Four wins away from the NBA Finals. Four! That group of 20 year olds is now a group of just 22 year olds. It’s like the Thunder skipped a step or something. No long suffering for us. The most we did was in that inaugural season, and we were all too fired up to even care.
Even with that surreal turnaround, there was a sense of expectation in this postseason. After winning 55 games and having home-court advantage in the first round, beating Denver was expected. Then after OKC drew the Grizzlies instead of the top-seeded Spurs, advancing was supposed to happen again. Anything less, despite the pretty amazing season, would’ve been disappointing.
Finally, though, the Thunder are playing with house money. Finally, the expectations for more have been shed. But here’s the thing: Even with that and even with the incredible transition we’ve seen over three years, an opportunity is here. The Mavericks are far from an elite team and the Thunder, whether we’re afraid to actually admit it, are very, very good. Championship good? At this point, why not?
I still can’t shake thinking back to dreaming of the Western finals, though. To actually be here, well, I can’t say I saw it coming. It’s the good life right now. Some teams go decades without playing games like we’re about to watch. Sam Presti has tried to craft a roster that would be in these situations consistently for years to come. This was the plan; this was the vision — just not so soon.
But the Thunder don’t seem to operate on the same clock of all the prognosticators. They do things at their own pace, which happens to pretty darn fast. People are still going to say it’s too much too soon for this young group, that next year they’ll be ready.
Well, next is here. Next is now.
Young founded DailyThunder.com.