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Why Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City Are Renewing Interest in the NBA

Barking CarnivalAnalyst IMarch 31, 2010

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 20:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes to the basket against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2010 in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Thunder are thundering down the stretch, having just dispatched the execrable 76ers in Philly by 19. My favorite atmospheric disturbance is now 45-28, playoff locked and roster loaded, and firmly in the mix to plant anywhere from a No. 3 to a No. 8 seed in the competitive, fertile West.

I just combined phrases evoking meteorology, gunnery, and agriculture, all in the same sentence. Such is the diversity of Kevin Durant, and my own inability to properly use language.

Let us continue, like a typhoon of blooming howitzers…

The West is so tightly bunched that the current No. 8 seed San Antonio Spurs are only 4.5 games behind No. 2 seed Dallas. Madness. For comparative purposes, the East has a 15.5-game gap between their No. 2 and No. 8.

The Thunder’s last nine games will be crucial for playoff jockeying:

@ Boston
@ Dallas
Minnesota
@ Utah
Denver
Phoenix
@ Golden St.
@ Portland
Memphis

A 5-4 finish means the Oklahoma City Thunder—the NBA’s version of Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Young Mutants—are 50-game winners.

A team whose best and most promising players are 21, 21, 20, 20, 23, and 25.

I’m looking at the 76ers box score and I’m struck by the degree to which it is a microcosm for what the future holds for Durant and the Thunder.

Durant cruised to 26 points and 10 rebounds and is still firmly cemented as No. 2 in the  scoring battle behind LeBron James. He trails ‘Bron by 0.2 points per game, a difference worth around 17 points. Durant plays his last game of the season after the Cavs play their last. If you can find Vegas odds for "Durant 39+ points" against Memphis, I would place your mortgage payment on it.

And I mean I would gladly bet your mortgage. Not my own. I’m asking for 10 percent of the win.

It’s notable that Durant added three steals and two blocks—he’s consistently doing this now, and although I wouldn’t call him a defensive force, he’s very solid.

Russell Westbrook had 10 points and 14 assists in 27 minutes against the Sixers. He’s starting to master the Isiah Thomas-perfected art of knowing when to get his and give up his. He’s averaging 16 points and eight assists, borders on elite as a point guard, and still doesn’t have a jump shot.

If he develops one, watch out. He’s 21 years old.

Jeff Green’s box score is equally telling. 16 points, three assists, three rebounds . Nice player, only 23, but do we really want Durant’s enforcer averaging six rebounds on the season? Durant is outrebounding him substantially, and that’s not a load Durant should be shouldering. The Thunder need more A.C. Green and less Jeff.

My minority opinion is that the Thunder should dangle the attractive young player and see what the market will offer instead of commit to a major contract this offseason, particularly if it precludes the Thunder from re-signing guys like James Harden or Serge Ibaka down the road.

Green’s a good player. I’m just not sure if he’s the right player.

The supporting cast is reasonable. Nick Collison is a solid veteran (and another big man bust from KU—warning, Cole Aldridge ) who gives you work on the boards, Thabo Sefolosha gives you a defensive stopper and effort guy, and Nenad Krstic is a reasonable NBA Euro-big. Valuable role players all; upside minimal.

The real key to the franchise taking it to the next level—aside from the developmental curves of Durant, Westbrook, and Green—is finding a true scoring threat to balance the court with Durant and Westbrook (and allow Sefolosha to come off of the pine), a big who owns the paint on both ends, and the gravy of a solid backup for Westbrook.

They have that. Meet Ibaka, Harden, and Eric Maynor.

Ibaka—I call him Mokele-Mbembe —is 20 years old, from the Congo, eats glass, blocks shots, and runs like an okapi. He’s pure muscle, learning the game every day, and marked for goodness if not greatness.

Shooting guard Harden, also 20, is a 6'5" and 220-pound rookie from Arizona State shooting 37 percent from three-point range, 81 percent from the line, and averaging a strong 10 points.

The kid has game. Real game. There will be a time very soon when the Thunder can look to him to drop 25 when it matters. Pairing him with Sefolosha gives you a cooler and a heater at shooting guard, and the number of NBA teams that have that is approximately none.

Maynor, the least important of the three, is the young guard from VCU that eliminated Duke a few years ago—remember him?

Yes, that is the dagger.

He’s 23 and a classy young guard. Utah gave up on him too early, and the Thunder have real value here.

One more thing: Young GM wizard Sam Presti has two late first-rounders in this year’s draft.

This an exciting young team and it is singlehandedly dragging me into rekindling an interest in NBA basketball, kicking and screaming the whole way.

So, in summary: Thunder young, Thunder good, Durant is not mortal, don’t be afraid to explore Green’s value, fear Mokele-Mbembe.

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This article originally appeared on Barking Carnival .

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