Things are just as likely to go wrong as right. ~Bill Simmons on the OKC Thunder
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Basketball
Bill Simmons writes:
The boss wasn’t describing a “shot” as much as a window. If you’re blessed with Michael and Scottie in their mid-twenties, that window should last for a decade, as long as nothing funky happens. If you’re catching C-Webb right as he’s hitting his prime, and you’re surrounding him with quality veterans who connect with his unselfish playing style, maybe that’s four or five guaranteed years. If you’re teaming up Pierce and Garnett and Allen at the tail end of their primes, you’re publicly hoping for five healthy years and secretly praying for three. Every A-list contender has a built-in window, and almost always, you know what it is. When that window slams shut well before you’re ready, you never really get over it.
Will we remember Oklahoma City that way someday? We know that it’s Kevin Durant’s seventh season and his sixth with Russell Westbrook. We know they’re playing for a small-market franchise that actively avoids the luxury tax. We know Durant’s contract expires in 2016, and Westbrook’s deal expires one year later. We know Westbrook endured three knee surgeries in the past 12 months. We know that bad luck comes in all shapes and sizes. We know the West is loaded, and we know LeBron is never going away. We know they easily could have blown the Memphis series, and we know the bumbling officials saved their season Tuesday night.
We overrate youth and potential with sports, movies, TV, music, art and even politics — it’s more enjoyable to imagine what something might become. We envision the Thunder overpowering LeBron’s Heat in Durant’s MVP season because that’s the age-old NBA formula, right? Young guys work their way up, learn a few lessons, suffer some pain, finally overpower the incumbents, battle all comers for the next few years … and then the cycle repeats.
That’s your best-case scenario for the Thunder. The other scenarios aren’t as pretty. Just like we overrate youth and potential, we underrate injury luck, unfortunate breaks, untimely trades, the Disease of More, greed and egos, poor coaching and plain old bad luck. The Thunder could definitely topple San Antonio and Miami next month, but they’re just as likely to not win a single title with Durant and Westbrook. The S.I. Vault, Basketball-Reference.com, dozens of NBA books and thousands of YouTube clips deliver the same message: Things are just as likely to go wrong as right. On paper, OKC should evolve into this generation’s version of the 1990s Bulls: Durant as Jordan, Westbrook as Pippen, and Ibaka as Grant/Rodman. It’s a star-driven league with the least amount of playoff variance in any professional sport. When you have a top-two player, a top-eight player and a top-25 player on one team, you should definitely win a ring.
Unfortunately, you never know when “The Rains of Castamere” will start playing. A similar window opened after Game 7 of the 1962 Finals, when the Lakers came within Frank Selvy’s errant 15-footer of upending Bill Russell’s budding dynasty. That Lakers team employed 27-year-old Elgin Baylor and 23-year-old Jerry West, two of the league’s best five players. (Sound familiar?) Nobody was thinking after the ’62 Finals, What if that was it? But they spent the next two years trying to find a good enough center, then Baylor wrecked his knee during the ’65 playoffs. So much for Elgin and Jerry owning the NBA. They never won a championship together.