Questions swirl around this Thunder team.
Why is Derek Fisher playing so much? Why isn't Ronnie Brewer playing more? Is Russell Westbrook shooting too much? Is Kevin Durant shooting too little? Do the boys in blue have a chemistry problem? Can Scott Brooks lead this bunch to a championship?
Valid queries all.
But there's one question that should always trump all others when considering the state of this franchise.
Is the Thunder a title contender?
With only a week left in the NBA's regular season, you can answer that question with a hearty yes. Despite trading away an all-NBA-caliber player right before the season, Oklahoma City is once again among a handful of teams that could win the title, and for a small market team, that is a big-time accomplishment.
Don't let the fun pass you by, Thunder fans. Don't get so wrapped up in what could go wrong or what might happen next that you forget to enjoy what's going on right in front of you.
What we're witnessing is pretty amazing.
I know there are plenty of you who won't want to hear any of this. You want an NBA title, and that's all that matters.
Hey, who doesn't want a victory parade through the streets of Oklahoma City?
It's easy to think that anything less than a title will be a disappointment this season. After all, the Thunder has improved every season that it has been in existence.
Twenty-three wins in 2008-09.
First round of the playoffs in 2009-10.
Western Conference Finals in 2010-11.
NBA Finals in 2011-12.
The next logical step seems like an NBA title, but things just don't work that way. Success in the league isn't nearly so linear or tidy.
Just ask the Spurs.
San Antonio is the franchise that the Thunder most aspires to be like. And why not? The Spurs are a small-market team that has had big-time success.
But while they have won four NBA titles in the past 14 seasons, there have also been seven times during that run when they've failed to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs. Three times they've been beaten in the first round, four times in the second round.
Still, there are about 28 NBA franchises that would trade places with the Spurs in a heartbeat.
They were title contenders all those years, even the ones that ended in the first or second round of the playoffs. They were always in position to win a championship.
That's what the Thunder has to strive to do — be in position.
The reason is largely economic. If the Thunder followed the pay-up-and-win-now model of some franchises, it might work for a year or two but the downturn would be nasty. The Thunder doesn't have the packed coffers of a big-market team. It wouldn't be able to keep up a massive payroll ala the Heat or the Lakers, and when it had to cut loose star players and their salaries, it would leave the Thunder gutted for years.
Clearly, that isn't the Thunder's model.
This is a franchise building to win over the long-term. They've acquired stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook through the draft. They've developed players who've either become contributors to the team or commodities in trades. They've been frugal, especially when it comes to the salary cap in this latest collective bargaining agreement.
Already we're seeing evidence that the philosophy is working wonderfully. Looking at full, 82-game seasons, the Thunder is currently one of only four teams that has won 50 or more games in at least two consecutive seasons.
The others: San Antonio, Denver, Miami.
That is some stout company.
The Mavericks and the Lakers used to be part of the club, but this season, neither will reach the 50-win mark. Neither is a title contender either.
The Thunder could've dropped from the ranks of title contenders this season. Trading away a guy like James Harden could've staggered this team. Instead, the Thunder has just kept winning.
Going into Thursday night's game at Golden State, the Thunder needs to win three of its last four games to reach 60 wins.
A 60-win season is something of a holy grail in the NBA.
Does that mean there aren't questions to be asked and concerns to be raised about this team?
But I'm begging you, Thunder fans, don't get so caught up in the circus that you ignore what's happening right in front of you.
The Thunder is in the midst of a special season. Take a deep breath and enjoy it.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.