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Path of Destruction: The Warriors are the Thunder’s dream realized

The Thunder have fallen from assumed “team of the future” into near irrelevancy after the Warriors assimilated their best player and created a dynasty.

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Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Destruction Index

Oklahoma City Thunder level of destruction: Implosion Imminent

They are maintaining an external facade of power, but rotting from within.

Golden State Warriors impact on their coaching careers: 6/10

  • Scotty Brooks fired after Thunder failed to make playoffs the year Warriors won the title.
  • Billy Donovan’s Thunder blew a 3-1 lead to Warriors in Western Conference Finals. Job could be on the line if Thunder fail to get out of the first round for a third straight postseason.

Warriors impact on franchise’s culture: Too massive to be quantified by the brains of mere mortals

  • Thunder’s best player, Kevin Durant, defects from OKC to join Warriors
  • In light of the Warriors Super Team era, Thunder look insane for not retaining MVP candidate James Harden
  • Paul George and Carmelo Anthony acquisitions did not result in playoff success.
  • MVP Russell Westbrook is obsessed with gathering triple doubles because he knows the Warriors have rendered his chances of winning a title obsolete

What becomes of a dream deferred?

The summer of ‘12 was the year the precocious Thunder stormed the NBA Finals and put the league on notice. Durant’s teammates at the time were the explosive young backcourt tandem of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, with the athletic Serge Ibaka providing elite rim protection.

They had an epic postseason run, eliminating Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tim Duncan in a two month span. After watching OKC erase a two games to none deficit to win the series, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich marveled at what many were considering a juggernaut in the making:

“This has kinda been like a Hollywood script for OKC. First they played Dallas and then the Lakers and now us. That’s 10 of the last 13 championships, I don’t know if anyone has ever done something like that before and that’s incredible and I think it’s pretty cool for them.”

The only thing left for these #wunderkidz was to defeat the original Super Villains, the Miami Heat, in the NBA Finals. Don’t forget, the NBA pundits were split fairly evenly on who would win the title in that matchup (12 ESPN experts out of 20 picked OKC to defeat Lebron James’ Heatles).

The Thunder would win the first game, but drop the next four as Miami won James his first title. Still, their loss seemed to be a necessary growing pain, a lesson in experience that would only strengthen them in the long run. When all four of their young studs were selected to play in the 2012 London Olympics, it was further evidence that OKC was an anointed team, destined for the heights of basketball glory.

Or so they thought.

The Oklahoma City franchise soon learned that nothing is guaranteed in the hunt for rings.

During that fall, the cost-conscious Thunder saved $4.5M by trading Harden to the Rockets. He was 23 years old, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, and had a season left on his rookie contract. This trade was inexplicable at the time; Bill Simmons referred to it as “The Harden Disaster”.

  • 2012-2013: A postseason, freak knee injury to Westbrook left Durant by himself, and the Thunder were defeated in the second round by the Grit ‘N’ Grind Memphis Grizzlies.
  • 2013-2014: Durant wins MVP and the emotional tribute to his mother during his acceptance speech melted hearts. The Spurs then ripped their hearts out as OKC was ousted in the conference finals as Ibaka struggled with a calf injury.
  • 2014-2015: Durant has 30 points at halftime of a hotly contested regular season game against a young, surging Warriors team. He breaks his foot attempting a drive on Marreese “Mo Buckets” Speights, and his season ends. The Thunder’s season goes into a spiral under Westbrook’s command, and they fail to make the playoffs. The Warriors go on to win their first title in 40 years.

In light of the Warriors ascension from doormats to young basketball lords, the Thunder could tell their window was starting to close. Allegedly, there was tension between their volume shooting point guard Westbrook and their introverted scoring machine Durant. They fired their plucky, but strategically challenged head coach Scotty Brooks, and replaced him with the bad guy from every 80s movie, Billy Donovan.

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz
Coach Billy Donovan, thinking of a diabolical scheme
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors and Thunder would clash a total of ten times that year. The Warriors swept the regular season 3-0, including one of the greatest games in NBA history: an overtime thriller when Steph Curry tied the record for most threes in a game. Oh yeah, he also hit the game winner from 50 miles away and Crip-Walked on their court.

When the two teams met in the Western Conference Finals, the seething Thunder morphed into the toughest opponent the Warriors have faced to date. The Thunder bullied and out-executed the Warriors to seize a 3-1 lead in a series full of highlight reel plays and nut kicks. Westbrook also made sure to mock the Unanimous MVP Curry’s defense after Game 5.

For reference, here was Westbrook’s stats through five games with Curry defending him:

Foolish mistake, Russell.

The two-headed monster of Westbrook and Durant ran out of gas trying to close the casket on the Dubs, and the Warriors clawed out of the grave with all-time great performances.

The Warriors overcame the Thunder in an epic seven games bloodbath. Although the Warriors had seized the mantle as the future of the league, the Thunder were right on their heels. After the champs fell in seven games to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals, Andre Iguodala emphatically said the Thunder were the best team the Warriors had faced that postseason. With both teams boasting a young core, the Thunder threatened to vie for the Western crown for the forseeable future.

Except, the Thunder ran out of time. Durant had witnessed the glory of the burgeoning Golden Empire, and was ready to start a new chapter. The “Slim Reaper” shocked Westbrook, the Thunder, and the world by joining the Golden State Warriors.

KD was baptized into the Splash and was assimilated to create the “Hamptons 5”: the “most diabolical five-man unit in basketball”.

The Dubs have won the last two titles with Durant on the roster, and three out of the last four seasons have ended with a championship. Durant has won the Finals MVP the last two seasons. The Golden Empire has now been fully cemented in Oakland, and it rules the NBA the way many thought the Thunder could have.

Meanwhile, the Thunder have never recovered from blowing that 3-1 lead and losing their best player. After all of the passive aggressive cupcake memes and a failed superteam experiment, the Thunder are ultimately irrelevant to the championship scene.

Westbrook has desperately attempted to stay in the news by racking up triple doubles, even winning an MVP in Durant’s absence. Yet, the Thunder have failed to escape the first round over the the past two seasons, and their roster is a huge question mark heading into this offseason.

The Warriors are the living, breathing incarnation of the dream the Thunder had six years ago. They have surrounded the once-in-a-lifetime talents of Durant with an MVP point guard, an elite shooting guard, and a versatile defensive anchor.

The difference is, the current Warriors’ ownership doesn’t seem short-sighted enough to break it up over a few million dollars. They also ensure that team chemistry is of the highest priority, something Durant detected and envied as an opponent.

The best the Thunder as currently constructed can do to get revenge is to maybe steal a game or two from the champs during the boring slog of the regular season. The Warriors won’t allow anything more than that for these bitter jabronis.

I can empathize with OKC’s fanbase to a degree. Both of our franchises came from relative obscurity to wrestle for the crown; it was either them or us. I wonder, is it worse to be a has-been... or a never-was?

To Westbrook’s credit, he and the Thunder are at least keepin it gangsta on IG. Check out what Russ posted the day after Durant finished off a Finals sweep with a triple-double:

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