Originally Published: Apr 25, 2010 1:34 PM CDT
The Thunder and Lakers are now tied at two games apiece in their first round seven game playoff series. The Thunder beat the Lakers in Ford Center for the third straight game, including Games 3 and 4 of this series.
A month ago, LA found itself 33 points behind the Thunder after three quarters. Last night the game was so lopsided that Zenmaster Phil Jackson elected to leave Kobe and Pau Gasol resting on the bench the entire fourth quarter.
The enigmatic Bryant didnt take a shot until OKC led by 15 points. I believe he was pouting about criticism he took after Game 3 when Kevin Durant ate his lunch forcing him into a 2-for-10 fourth quarter.
This guy can pout with the best of them and its this attitude more than anything that has the Lakers vulnerable to a stunning first round ousting. The dysfunctional pouting is contagious and has led to a team struck with a look of apathy.
The Lakers are favored to regroup and win the series in seven. But the franchises seem to be headed in different directions. Lets take a big picture view of the Thunder.
Four things stand out to me about the future of the youngest team in the NBA, making this Laker playoff thing seem to be the just the beginning of something extraordinary.
First, drafting young players is largely about projecting the potential. GM Sam Presti is proving why he was labled as the then 30 year-old whiz kid, when the ownership group selected him to run their multi-million dollar investment.
His taste in talent has been impeccable. No airballs. For example, Presti didnt see Serge Ibaka as a longterm project from the Republic of the Congo not worth a second round pick. He saw the power forward/center as an incredibly athletic kid who in only his second season would be able to swat away 7-foot Laker shots like they were knats, hit game-defining 20-foot jumpers, while being a humble young man of character.
Dream a little. How much better do you think Air Congo and most of the roster be in two years? Remember, Kevin Durant was an offense-only rookie who averaged 20 points his first year. Last year he was an improved player, becoming a 25-point scorer. This year his all-around game as improved so much that hes guarding Kobe in the fourth quarter, hes the leading rebounder and the scoring champfive more points than a season ago.
Look at the roster and you can go on and on and see a promising future. Frankly, its staggering. While NBA rosters are dotted with teams and players descending, the youth of the Thunder has this club in a no-holds-bar ascending mode.
Second, Presti hit a home run by firing the 0-13 PJ Calisimo and hiring Coach of the Year Scott Brooks. And by all accounts, the states second most popular Sam has assembled a core of character kids-not an easy task in this era.
Third, the players like it here and appreciate the affection of the loyal fandom. While cutesy media misfits try to humor their consumers by selling off Oklahoma City as Boondock City instead of an enterprising, sports-crazed, up-and-coming locale that Forbes called the nations most recession proof city, KD, Russell Westrbrook, Jeff Green and Company are enjoying their new home ere in Gods Country.
Four, these kids are already a legitimate threat to make a run at the tough Western Conference championship. This is not a struggling team being sold on the hope of being good one day. In its second season, OKC is dangerous. The Thunder might bow out losing Games 5 and 6. But they also could pull off the unimaginable by winning four of five and sending the Lake Show to an offseason of finger pointing.
GM Sam Presti knows he cant keep this group together forever. But the nucleus is committed. Of course, that begins with the King of the Hill--the Lean Mean scoring Machine, the Beloved Longhorn Kevin Durant. Im told his resigning is a mere formality and that has pledged to forego the glitz and glammer and bright lights of a New York, Dallas, LA or Chicago.
So far its been one of those dream relationships between city and teambuilt on give-give. The city gives by consistently packing the joint and by being the loudest and most devoted fans in the league. The team gives back by playing its guts out. And doing it in style. Whens the last time you heard of a player being arrested? An internal problem with the team?
Warning: Watch out NBA. Watch out cynical journalists.
This little House on the Prairie is no laughing stock. In fact, the Thunder is striking. And at some point in the very near future, us ol farmers and ranchers and uneducated Junior Sample's of the world, will get the last laugh.