First off, congratulations to the United States team for winning the gold medal earlier today.
These group of guys sacrificed six weeks of their summer to do something no other USA team has done since 1994; win the FIBA Championships. They all put their egos aside and really did a great job coming together as a team in such a short period of time.
Now with the FIBA games over with, the media will now fall even more in love with Kevin Durant, if that's even possible.
It's almost because a daily obligation for somebody to write up a 1500-word article about how amazing Durant is. I've even fallen for it.
But in reality, Durant deserves it.
However, Durant wasn't the only Oklahoma City Thunder player that shined in international play. Russell Westbrook had to be the most valuable bench player for the United States. His energy off the bench gave the United States a spark every time and he seemed to have key plays in every game.
Both players improved a lot from these games, especially Westbrook.
Everyone knew how good the Durantula was going to be coming into these games. He was clearly the leader of the team and and the go-to guy in must-have scoring situations.
However, Westbrook was the guy who was the player with all the questions. Not a lot of "experts" had Westbrook even making the USA squad. However, he showed potential with what he could do and played lock-down defense all tournament long.
Both of these players now come back to Oklahoma City with amazing experience that can't be overlooked. With Westbrook learning as much as he did with Coach K, he could very well be in consideration for an All-Star appearance come this season.
With Durant's improved leadership and Westbrook's new-found patience, the Oklahoma City Thunder could have what it takes to challenge the Lakers for the Western Conference crown.
With the Thunder's two best players having a better understanding of what it takes to win in big games, why couldn't they challenge the Lakers?
And don't forget, the Thunder's version of Ron Artest also played in the FIBA games. Nenad Krstic represented Serbia and had a great tournament performance after that wild brawl.So with three players playing in a very physical string of games, it will absolutely show in games against physical opponents like Denver and Los Angeles.
Also, Durant will be much more of a vocal leader this season and showed through the tournament that he improved in setting up teammates to score. Vocal leadership is something that Durant lacked in close games last season. Also lacking was his ability to set teammates up to have a better chance at making a play.
That skill is something Kobe Bryant had to learn after the departure of Shaq. And judging by their recent championships, I'd have to say it paid off.
With all that said, the Thunder will be a more mature, physical team than last years squad. And if you mix that on top of their already established talent, I believe the West is definitely in reach for them.
So I'm raising my imaginary glass to the future Western Conference champions. I'm looking at you Oklahoma City.