It’s not the losing, but the lack of competitiveness. It won’t be missing the playoffs, but how the playoffs were missed.
And it may not be about the personal feelings of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, because if Thunder general manager Sam Presti decides coach Scott Brooks can’t win an NBA championship with them, why, exactly will it matter so much that the dynamic duo — if Durant will ever be so dynamic again; its own open question — doesn’t want to play under somebody else’s direction?
Yes, what Durant and Westbrook want should always matter in an outsized way, compared to all other players and maybe every other person in the organization, owner Clay Bennett included.
Those are the spoils of being a superstar and both are clearly that.
On the other hand, what happens if Presti determines the best way keep both of them in Oklahoma City long term actually requires Brooks’ departure, even if Durant and Westbrook don’t know it (yet)?
Far from cryptic, it's not that difficult to understand
As Oklahoma City struggled for a bit with both Durant and Westbrook together in the lineup, for the first time, really, Brooks’ fitness to be their coach became part of the public conversation.
Since, however, they hit their stride and the the Thunder looked like the Thunder again; then they lost Durant again and others, too, but Westbrook began to play like nobody since Oscar Robertson and a very good trade appeared to bolster things for a while, so the wins still came and how Westbrook made them happen created fantastic television.
Only Oklahoma City’s 113-88 loss to San Antonio Tuesday night, matched with New Orleans’ 103-100 victory over Golden State, has now made it six losses in seven games and the Thunder on the outside looking into the postseason with no good reason to think they might vault back into the final spot, precisely because they’re not just playing losing basketball but non-competitive basketball.
Like an empty-suited politician, the Thunder look like a team with no there, there.
Back when the Thunder found themselves and seemed to be a playoff team again, a new point about Brooks’ untouchability became popular.
He would be Oklahoma City’s coach as long as Durant (and, probably, Westbrook, too) wanted him to be.
It was a nice thought, it sounded definitive and final and it seemed to echo the dynamic duo’s sentiments.
Still, a problem remains.
Durant and Westbrook may want to play for Brooks, but what if Presti determines that, while Brooks was the right coach at the right time to help guide a couple young superstars to prominence, he is nonetheless not equipped to guide them to an NBA championship.
Also, what if Presti decided, his superstars’ opinions aside, that the best way to keep both of them in an Oklahoma City uniform going forward is to, yes, win an NBA championship.
Should he decide that, it would seem the last day of the regular season could be Brooks’ last day as Thunder coach.
That way, the superstars have an entire offseason to get over it. That way, they may even come to understand that what’s not replaceable is them, yet only them.
Contracts being what they are, Durant and Westbrook have a grand total of one more season together, guaranteed. And what if the best way to keep them around is to give them the best shot at winning it all, and what if that plan doesn’t include their coach?
Absolutely, the Thunder should seek to please their two superstars. Yet even those superstars should rather win a championship without Brooks than fall short with him.
Yeah, yeah, they probably think they can win it all with him. Perhaps they can. Also, if we use history as a guide, they can’t.
Presti has a long history of making great basketball decisions. Very soon, he’ll have a huge one to make.