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.”
Who knows how the Iowa caucus will go? Harden could go off for 40 points; wouldn't surprise anyone. He could go 4-for-19, trying to do too much in front of the fans who loved him so.
Either way — and expect something in between — it means nothing in the grand scheme. The Thunder season will be determined by the NBA Finals. If OKC repeats as West champ, it's a successful season. If OKC does not, it's a disappointing year.
And the Thunder winning the West will be determined by four more months of acclimation with Circle K and Eric Maynor and Hasheem Thabeet. Determined by how soon a Hardenless roster becomes the old effective but the new normal.
“I think we're kind of in the norm right now,” Westbrook said. “We're definitely still learning each other's game. Trying to get better. But we're at ease with each other.”
So Thunder-Rockets on a sleepy November night does not reach massive import. But it is grand theater.
“No, it's not another game,” Brooks deadpanned. “I want to beat the Rockets. They traded me in the second championship year (1995). Took me five years to get over Rudy Tomjanovich.”
Brooks was being funny. But he also was being instructive. Trades happen. Players, even stars, can get shipped. Wilt Chamberlain was dealt twice in his prime. Makes the Harden-Martin swap, much less this Harden-Martin showdown, a little less cataclysmic.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.