Kevin Durant could miss the rest of the season. The Thunder could miss the playoffs. Oklahoma City could miss Durant as he’s playing for the Wizards in 2016.
Are we witnessing the dying days of the greatest dynasty that never was, one undone by a too-soon trade of James Harden and Durant’s bad foot?
The Thunder are too young and too good to dismiss. Even now.
Oklahoma City has been one of the NBA’s premier franchises for years, and most teams’ windows would be closing in such dire times. But the Thunder are not most teams.
The 2010 Thunder were the youngest playoff team of all time, weighted by playing time in the postseason. The 2011 Thunder were second-youngest. The 2012 Thunder were the young NBA Finalist in 25 years.
Oklahoma City’s youth affords tremendous patience, and the team will cash in on some now.
As general manager Sam Presti said today, Durant won’t try gutting out this injury to help the team win this season. Even though the Thunder could win a title this year, Presti maintained Durant won’t return to the court until he’s no longer experiencing pain.
That’s a wise decision for Durant’s long-term health, and the Thunder should be scary as ever next season. Durant (26), Russell Westbrook (26) and Serge Ibaka (25) are still in their primes and will be for a while. As long as the team suffers no further injuries, Oklahoma City will be among the 2016 title favorites.
This long-term view doesn’t even disqualify the Thunder from competing this season. Despite all their injuries, the Thunder are still in playoff position. Durant’s 27 games, 18 wins, might have provided Oklahoma City enough buffer over the Pelicans (one game back) and Suns (2.5 games back). And if the Thunder get in, they have a chance to advance deep. The further they go, the more time Durant has to heal.
And who knows how long he’ll really need? This wouldn’t be the first time the Thunder were accused of overstating an injury.
But even if Durant actually misses the rest of the season, it’s a temporary blip. Expectations will remain sky high for at leas another season.
Durant could leave in free agency, but he’ll begin next season with the Thunder. If anything, this season’s disappointment could make next Durant even happier if next season proves successful. It’s human nature to compare experiences.
Yes, the Thunder are moving closer to their window closing, and Durant’s injury pulls it down a little more. It could slam shut if Durant leaves in 2016.
But that prospect is still so distant, the Thunder can afford the patient approach.
There will be plenty of time to panic about the end of an era later. For now, it’s merely interrupted.