Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook: The OKC Big 3 That Never Was
Kevin Durant, who is carving his face on basketball's Mount Rushmore every time he steps on a basketball court, scored 47 points and grabbed 18 rebounds (16 and 8 in the third quarter alone) to lead the playoff-bound Oklahoma City Thunder over the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, 118-117 in overtime last night.
Blake Griffin, who chews on a mouth guard for an appetizer and feasts on awkward centers for breakfast, lunch and dinner with every Hollywood dunk, looked fatigued in a 14-point, 11-rebound night in a losing effort to the Houston Rockets, 96-83.
Separately, their efforts on most nights are legendary, but occasionally, the players will throw up a dud from trying to do too much to help their respective teams, much like last night when Griffin may have overcompensated for shooting guard Eric Gordon's absence.
Seeing Griffin obtain scoliosis trying to carry the NBA Lottery-bound Clippers on his back last night, and watching Durant having to pull an Incredible Hulk-like performance to beat the motley crew known as the Minnesota Timberwolves, is more than a little distressing.
If some harmless ping pong balls bounced the right way on a night that ultimately decided the fate of the NBA until the 2020s, you'd see these two behemoths eviscerate the competition together, with the help of the best third wheel in the NBA, Russell Westbrook.
What, did you really think that no player in NBA history held the league's fate by the palm of his hand more than LeBron James did in a Boys and Girls Club gymnasium? Think again.
On May 19, 2009, the Oklahoma City Thunder, by virtue of finishing with the fourth-worst record the year before, had a 11.9 percent chance to land Oklahoma University wunderkind Blake Griffin with the first pick.
As the picks were revealed from 14 down to four, the Thunder were still in the running to obtain the No. 1 pick. Of course, the ping pong balls were drawn earlier in the night, but hope still reigned that Blake Griffin could play in his hometown every night.
As Red Redding said in Shawshank Redemption, "Hope is a very dangerous thing." It was soon revealed that the Thunder snagged the third pick, and eventually the right to grab Arizona State guard James Harden, who is struggling to find his niche in the NBA.
Griffin became a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, and a three-headed monster that could have ruled the NBA for more than a decade split in two. Today, the Oklahoma City Thunder is a contending team, but it is one step from becoming elite, needing that one final piece to push it over the top.
The Clippers are a young team with vast potential, but can they, as presently constituted, really be a consistent playoff contender given their history and an ignoramus of an owner?
What could Griffin, Durant and Westbrook have done with their powers combined?
It's hard to say what role players would be on the team now with Griffin in the mix, and which ones would stick with the team in the future. However, Thunder GM Sam Presti is brilliant and coach Scotty Brooks makes the right moves, so it isn't out of the realm of possibility to guess that the role players would continue to fill the gaps adequately.
My guess is that the 2010-11 starting lineup would be Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant, Griffin and Nenad Krstic, with Jeff Green, Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka and the Thunder's 2010 first-round pick coming off the bench.
Or, if Griffin could play center, substitute Green for Sefolosha, though I'm inclined to stick with the initial lineup guess. Not a bad top-nine for this season. For the future, I'd expect 2011 restricted free agent Jeff Green to walk and find a team to start on, but for the Thunder to develop through the draft and minor trades.
If none of the OKC Big Three's egos ever got in the way, and they decided to stick together indefinitely, the Thunder would begin their run as an elite team right now and have just as good of a chance as anybody to win the NBA title.
By the middle of the decade, Oklahoma City would have turned into the 21st century version of the Showtime Lakers. No Western Conference team at that point would be able to hang with them athletically up and down the court every night, and defensively, they would choke their opponents into submission.
The scary part? One could make an argument now for taking the Fantasy Thunder Big Three over the Miami Heat Big Three in a three-on-three pickup game. In fact, I'd take the Thunder by a couple points in a game up to 21, since Blake Griffin would crush Chris Bosh in their matchup.
The poet John Greenleaf Whittier once said, "One of the saddest things in life is wasted talent." Thankfully, Durant, Griffin and Westbrook's talents will never be wasted, since they seem mentally tough enough to handle the everyday stress of being professional athletes and give their full efforts on the court every night.
However, while the three players will mostly likely be entertaining America on two different teams for the next 15 years, the Griffin-Durant-Westbrook combination that never was proves that the saddest question in sports is, "What if?"
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