Durant and Westbrook are both coming off their best individual seasons to date and recently spent the preseason showing even more growth in their games and in their leadership ability. Few teams possess two top-10 players, and there isn't another club that has a pair like Durant (24) and Westbrook (23) who have yet to reach their primes.
Those facts are the reason the folks at Thunder headquarters widely believe, both publicly and privately, that there is plenty left in the cupboard to remain on a championship quest this season.
“I'm very confident in the group, and I believe in the group and I'm excited to coach the group,” Brooks said. “I'm not worried about what people are saying, whether we're good or we're bad, or the trade's this or the trade's that. That's behind us. We've moved on. James was good for us. But he's no longer here. We've got guys here that are committed. They're excited to be here, they want to be here and we're going to make the best out of all of them.”
Many fans assumed the Thunder would make a one-year run at the title with Harden this year and, if need be, figure out the finances later. It was an assumption that failed to take into account two things: how Harden would have performed in the face of an unstable future, and whether he would have simply bolted for a better opportunity at the end of the year. Both would have been risky propositions for the Thunder only to make a run that still wouldn't be guaranteed to end in a championship.
When it became clear that Harden's asking price would be too much, the Thunder did something it never wanted to do, and that was part ways. The deal ultimately kept the Thunder in contention this year while also positioning the franchise to remain relevant, thanks to the acquisition of additional assets, for the foreseeable future.
Whether any of it matters at season's end will depend on what city this year's championship parade is in.
If it's not running down Reno Ave., this season will forever be the one that gets second-guessed.