Kevin Durant is the NBA’s next big thing. Russell Westbrook is an up and coming point guard. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the greatest threat to dethrone the Lakers out west. These were the headlines and assumptions during the 2010 offseason.
With all of that being said, what is the reality?
Well, in reality, Durant can still score at will. He is currently the scoring leader with 28.4 points per game in this young season. But that’s nothing new. The MVP-favorite status is certainly justifiable so far.
In reality, Westbrook has stepped up his game from a year ago. He is currently ninth in the league in scoring at 23.5 points per game all the while maintaining a steady 7.7 assists per game. It is a considerable spike from a year ago in which he averaged 16 points and 8 assists per game. The Thunder do not have to rely solely on Durant to close games anymore. Westbrook, and now even Jeff Green, can provide timely buckets in the clutch when the game is on the line.
Also in reality, the Thunder are an ordinary 6-4 through the first ten games of the season. Their losses include puzzling blowouts to the Jazz and Clippers as well as tough defeats to the Celtics and Spurs. They are surely not playing like the West’s best bet to challenge the Lakers.
In order for this young, still learning Thunder team to compete with the Lakers this year and to live up to their unrealistic expectations, they will need to play some better defense. In eight of their first ten games, the Thunder have allowed their opponents to score over 100 points. In Sunday’s loss to the Spurs, their inability to guard the perimeter ultimately doomed them as Matt Bonner and Co. ripped off an 11-for-20 clip from behind the arc.
But it’s not just their perimeter defense that’s reeling. Their interior and fastbreak defense has been poor as well. With no real low post threat on either side of the ball, it will be hard for the Thunder to keep up with the bigs other elite teams are peddling. Nenad Krstic at seven feet is their tallest and most effective player in the post, but he gets most of his points 10 feet away from the basket on jumpers.
So what can the Thunder do to remedy this? Bring in Dwight Howard of course!
While the idea of Howard playing with Durant and Westbrook would cause any Thunder or basketball fan to drool, it obviously cannot happen this year. Howard would be the perfect fit on this team, atoning for their defensive shortcomings and providing a legitimate post game. However, this idea is not so farfetched within the next two years.
Howard’s contract with the Magic ends after the 2011-2012 season, lockout or no lockout. Magic GM Otis Smith plans to offer him a contract extension during the summer of 2011, a year before the contract expires.
Howard has said in the past he wants to stay in Orlando forever. Back when he signed a five-year deal in 2007, he expressed his desire to retire in a Magic uniform. But, as we all have “witnessed” this summer, there may be an extenuating circumstance.
As we all know, superstars are everything but candid with fans and media. LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony are some recent examples of guys waxing poetic about their current state with a franchise without ever divulging too much information pertaining to their true feelings. When asked if he planned on signing the proposed extension next summer, Howard said, “I can’t answer that. I mean, I love Orlando. I don’t want to leave.”
The Magic have been title contenders for a couple of years now, but have always been a win or a superstar too little. The Celtics and Lakers have bullied them into submission the last two years. It begs the question: if the Magic fall short again this year, will Howard’s feelings toward Orlando change given no major moves are made? Rashard Lewis seems to be declining, Jameer Nelson is a good, but not great, point guard, and Vince Carter is nearing the end of his career as a productive contributor.
Will Howard be any different than James was in his decision making process (minus the theatrics of course)? It will be interesting to see if the Magic do not move any closer to a championship.
Howard on the Thunder is a possibility in the near future, whether it is through a trade scenario or a free agent signing in 2012. If somehow this ridiculous pipedream were to come to fruition, the Thunder would have a perennial title contending team for sure. They could seriously win multiple titles with the young, talented, and growing pieces around them, unlike what the Heat have in three stars and everyone else.
For now, let it soak in: Dwight Howard on the Oklahoma City Thunder with Durant and Co. Talk about an opponent’s nightmare…