Four questions for five writers, recapping OKC’s recently completed 2012-13 season and looking ahead:
1. This was a ______ season for the Thunder.
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - Successful regular season. Five days after trading James Harden, the Thunder embarked on a regular season that ended with the franchise earning its third straight Northwest Division crown, its first 60-win campaign in the OKC era and the top seed in the Western Conference. Add to that, individual improvements were made from nearly everyone on the roster. You can’t ask for any more than what the Thunder did in the regular season. As for the postseason, all bets were off once Russell Westbrook went down.
John Rohde (beat writer) - Successful. Despite how the season ended, I’m taking the glass-half-full answer. The end came because of an injury to a three-time All-Star. If the Thunder had lost to Memphis with Russell Westbrook in the lineup, then I would have leaned toward the glass-half-empty answer. Just can’t imagine how you can call a 60-win season a failure, especially after losing the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year.
Berry Tramel (columnist) - This was a disappointing season for the Thunder. Any time you have a championship-caliber team — conference champion or NBA champion — and you fall short of it for any reason, it’s disappointing. Even if the reason is perfectly valid, which Russell Westbrook’s injury was. The Thunder still has the brightest future of NBA franchise, but that doesn’t mean 2013 wasn’t disappointing. The NBA is a playoffs-driven calendar. College football and the NFL, even baseball to a certain extent, can find much satisfaction in the regular season. But in the NBA, the playoffs have a more bigger impact on the season as a whole.
Jenni Carlson (columnist) - What-if. Kevin Martin used that phrase the other day, and it seems to fit well. Because of the injury to Russell Westbrook, it’s impossible to know how this season could’ve ended for the Thunder. This team seemed destined to make the Western Conference Finals at the worst but instead weren’t able to get by the Grizzlies. We’ll never know how things might’ve been different had the meniscus in Westbrook’s knee remained healthy.
Anthony Slater (sports blogger) – Lost season. As those who play, cover or follow the NBA can attest, its relevant history is largely written in the playoffs. That’s what this year was always about. The 60-win regular season was nice. The individual improvements will help moving forward. But during the six-month trek that started in early November — four months after OKC lost in the 2012 NBA Finals — it was always about what lay ahead, about getting back to the sport’s pinnacle showcase. Those hopes were dashed by a freak accident two games into the playoffs. Tough break, lost opportunity.
2. Fact or fiction: Serge Ibaka was a disappointment in the playoffs.
Mayberry - Fiction. I’m with Ibaka. People (not just the media) want to look at his shooting struggles and say he had bad games. But in each of those “bad games” Ibaka helped to limit Zach Randolph from having a good game. I was actually encouraged by Ibaka’s performance for what he did defensively. We know he’s capable of making shots. We didn’t know he could play the defense that he did.
Rohde - Faction. Serge wasn’t half-bad. The good half was defensively, which can’t be discounted. The bad half was offensively, which can’t be ignored. He’s clearly the No. 3 man on this team and needed to step up with authority as the No. 2 man when Westbrook went down. It was time for Serge to show he’s worthy of $12.25 million per year, which starts next season.
Tramel - Fiction. I thought Ibaka made a couple of big strides that not only gave OKC a chance to win, but also bodes well for the future. First, his defense against Memphis really was good, which was said before Ibaka pointed it out while chastising the media in an exit interview. Second, Ibaka’s recovery from his slump vs. Memphis was impressive. The final two games, Ibaka was aggressive and productive, all after a horrid stretch of shooting against the Grizzlies. If Ibaka plays consistently like he did the last two games against Memphis, the Thunder has a bonafide star.