There's this perception floating around the NBA.
It's colored the offseason narrative being pumped out by mass media and infiltrated the minds of fans near and far.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, many have decided, has taken a step back.
The Western Conference, according to some, has caught up.
A relatively quiet summer by the Thunder has led many to come to these conclusions.
Oklahoma City let sixth man Kevin Martin walk in free agency and didn't splurge on any splashy free agent signings to replace him. The Thunder also selected four largely unknown commodities in the NBA draft, none of whom figure to be rotational players next season.
But don't be surprised if the prevailing perception falls short of reality when the games begin.
Lost in this summer's extolling of other teams' activity is this simple but significant truth: most every Western Conference playoff contender that added a major player lost a major player.
Dallas, for instance, added Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and DeJuan Blair but lost Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and Elton Brand. Golden State welcomed Andre Iguodala and Jermaine O'Neal but said goodbye to Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. The Los Angeles Clippers brought in the aforementioned Collison, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley but watched Eric Bledsoe, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler take a hike.
Houston, with the addition of Dwight Howard, is the only Western Conference playoff contender that escaped this negligible, at best, net gain.
But because Oklahoma City didn't reel in Mike Miller or Dorell Wright or whoever else to replace Martin, the Thunder, on paper, appears to be worse. Of course, this logic fails to consider OKC's in-house replacements, rising star Reggie Jackson and sharpshooter Jeremy Lamb. Both have been recognized as possible Sixth Man Award candidates next season, and, together, the two should be more than capable of supplying what Martin provided last season — if not more.
Additionally, to overlook the Thunder this season is to overlook history. This is a league that has proved time and time again that teams simply can't throw talent together and expect great results immediately. Just ask the 2011 Heat, or the 2012 and 2013 Knicks, or the 2013 Lakers, or the 2013 Nets.
History has proved that playoff success generally takes time and trust, chemistry and continuity.
The Thunder, more than any other team outside of San Antonio, has those things.
In a conference with five new head coaches — four of them sliding into the lead role for the first time — Thunder coach Scott Brooks returns as the third-most tenured coach. Unlike others, Brooks will not need time to implement his philosophies or incorporate new pieces. He also has the benefit of guiding the conference's most talented roster, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the way as consensus top 10 players.
This is a Thunder team that remains strong and powerful and confident despite the changes that have taken place all around it. That's because this is a team that understands where it's been and how it's gotten there.
The Thunder didn't command the offseason attention, remember, before it journeyed to the Western Conference Finals in 2011. Nor did OKC steal the summer's headlines before making it to the NBA Finals in 2012. The same approach that worked then is what the Thunder is banking on working now.
And why shouldn't it?
The Thunder has improved its winning percentage in five consecutive seasons despite sticking with its core and resisting the urge to chase prized free agents. Following the loss of James Harden before last season, the Thunder still improved both offensively and defensively.
The Thunder has done it by trusting its system and its people. By stepping to the plate seeking singles every time rather than home runs every so often. The result has been a history of success and a team filled with hard workers that have a proven track record of steady improvement.
Nothing's changed in Oklahoma City.
And that's not nearly as bad as the offseason narrative will lead you to believe.