When James Harden attacks the basket with that slow-motion drive, or nails a 3-pointer and sweeps upcourt with his arms spread down displaying the three sign, or just walks onto the court with that magnificent beard, the coliseum will turn melancholy.
But when Kevin Martin swishes one of his sweet jumpers, or draws foul after foul the way Harden once did in Thunder blue, or walks off the court a winner, spirits will relaunch.
Get used to it, Thunderville. This entire season, not just the Harden Reunion on Wednesday night, will be a referendum on the month-old trade that shook the NBA.
And election night is a long way away. The Thunder-Rocket game, when Harden will be saluted by adoring fans but won't be cheered when he draws an iffy foul from Thabo Sefolosha, is like the Iowa caucus. A sign that we're just getting started.
We know the Harden trade fortified the Thunder future. But not until the playoffs will we know if the trade harmed the Thunder present.
“There's no question it's a period of adjustment,” said Scotty Brooks. “We've moved forward. We've moved on. We're going to continue to charge ahead.”
Not that the Thunder won't be startled by playing against, instead of with, The Beard.
The Boomers tried to put on a good face Tuesday. A just-another-game message.
“Won't be nothing for me,” Russell Westbrook said. “Nothing happened to me.”
Nothing except a roster upheaval five days before the season opener and the exit of a sidekick so valuable, he stood with Westbrook and Kevin Durant, arm in arm, as the final minute of the NBA Finals ticked off, a demonstrative message that the Thunder planned on returning in triumph next season.
To Brooks' credit, he didn't try to sell the no-big-deal message.
“When you trade somebody you've been with, there's obviously emotions,” Foreman Scotty said. “Guys are going to be missed. You get close to the players you coach. If you don't have those emotions, you're probably in the wrong business.”
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