Remember the best date you ever went on? As the night grew late, and the hours slipped away, you knew it had to come to an end. You held on as long as possible, maybe even talking in the driveway in your truck for another hour. But eventually, you parted ways and there was that immediate feeling of disappointment that something so fun, and potentially so special, had to come to an end.
Well, Thunder fans, your team just treated you to the best season of your life. Even a few days later, you’re still thinking about each incredible moment, every amazing victory, and how you just didn’t want it to end. Naturally, you’ll also let your mind wander to what could have been. The close calls, the near misses, and the wasted opportunities will replay in your mind again and again.
If only the date could keep going. If only the Thunder could take the court one more time.
Trust me Thunder fans, momentary disappointment should soon give way to hopeful anticipation. You can be upset at losing the series, maybe even a little angry at the inability of the Thunder to close out games in the fourth quarter. You can question some of the shot selection and the plays drawn up in the final minutes of those nail-biting playoff losses. It’s all part of the fan’s necessary healing process.
What you can’t do is call this team a bunch of underachievers. In no way are you allowed to dwell on the negatives, when the positives are so blatantly overwhelming, and it’s definitely not okay for you to be calling for widespread changes to the roster or the coaching staff.
Look, in three short seasons, this franchise has put itself in a position no one thought possible. From 23 wins in the first year, to the playoffs in the year two, and now a run all the way to the Western Conference Finals. How could anyone possibly be upset with this progression? How could anyone possibly think this team isn’t right on schedule? Championships in professional sports take time. Successful franchises are built one block at a time, and the process is usually much longer than three seasons.
Just look at the Mavericks. Here’s a franchise that’s been in the thick of the NBA playoffs for what feels like a decade. Dallas has been bounced in the first round as a number one seed, choked in the Finals, and had their hopes for a title repeatedly squashed. Now on the verge of a championship, I’m willing to bet that every player on that roster, every coach and every executive will tell you all those struggles and heartbreaks played a huge role in the success of the present. And instead of coming down on the Thunder, how about giving it up to the Mavs? Is it so hard to admit that Dallas is the better team? If you give maximum effort and play with guts and grit like the Thunder did, sometimes you’re still going to come up short. If that’s the case, time to tip your hat and simply say, “Too good.”
Thunder fans, you can be sad today, but you should be downright giddy about tomorrow. With an average age of only 25, a bona fide future hall of famer in Kevin Durant, a supporting cast of stars like Westbrook and Harden, a savvy coach, and a chemistry most teams only dream of, it should be hard to contain the optimism. The Thunder has put itself in a position to be one of the elite teams in the NBA for the next six or seven years. It may be a scary thought for the opposition, but Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka are only going to improve. At times, Westbrook didn’t play up to his capability during these playoffs. You can question some of his choices, what you can’t question is his desire to be on the floor or his desire to win. His experience in the Mavericks series, just like the rest of the team, will serve him well moving forward.
Let’s not forget that Scott Brooks is growing and learning right along with his young team. Brooks just completed only his second full season as an NBA head coach. Last season, he was the NBA coach of the year for leading the Thunder to a 27-game improvement. Listening to some critics after the Dallas series, you’d think Brooks all of a sudden forgot how to coach. Granted, he could use some creativity in drawing up plays in the closing seconds, and he may be guilty of sticking with the same lineup too long. But give the guy a break already. It takes a special coach to balance all that talent, manage all those egos, and put a team in position to win every single night. Having a little faith in Scotty, who has exceeded all expectations to this point, isn’t asking too much.
The most satisfying part of being a Thunder fan is that you came in on the ground floor of this project. You got to witness the growing pains and the foundation being put into place. You’ve seen the maturity and the intelligence of this team continue to rise. This current letdown is going to make the future championship so much sweeter because it will have been earned and not given. It will be the reward for a franchise that handles its business the right way and treats its fan base better than any team in the league.
This season was just like that amazing date. It had to come to an end. But just like the date, there’s another season on the horizon that promises to be even better than the last.