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Oklahoma City Thunder: Serge Ibaka injury shows that OKC's top-heavy roster leaves it vulnerable

Rare talent elevates NBA teams. That’s the way most NBA champs are built. It’s a tried and true method, but it’s fragile.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 24, 2014

That’s what we learned in 2013, when without Westbrook the Thunder offense was outmuscled by Memphis. That’s what we learn now, when without Ibaka, the Thunder defense is crushed by San Antonio. Let’s hope it doesn’t taken the China Syndrome, the loss of Durant, for the lesson to be fully delivered. We get it.

“That’s sometimes how the cards are dealt,” Durant said of two straight playoff calamities. “You’ve got to get through it. That’s what being a professional’s all about. Guys have to step up. Last year, Reggie stepped up in place of Russ, and it made him into a better player. Guys have had to step up in Serge’s case.

“It’s part of the team. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. Nobody really cares. We have to do a good job rallying around each other and giving guys confidence that’s going to step in and play big minutes for us and believe in ‘em and trust ‘em.”

Rally. Step up. Believe. Trust. All great traits. All great attributes. The Thunder really does believe in that stuff and puts it into practice.

But there is no antidote for losing a Westbrook. There is no antidote for losing an Ibaka. The Thunder’s not winning without Ibaka, same as the Heat wouldn’t win without Chris Bosh. No matter what Durant and Westbrook, LeBron and Wade, do in the void. Not against the best in the league.

Oh, the Thunder is saying all the right things. Durant. Scotty Brooks. Even Ibaka himself, on Saturday.

“I've been hearing a lot of people saying my team lost two games because I was out,” Ibaka said. “It's not true. It's not true. I believe in my guys. I believe in my teammates, that they can do better, with me or without me. It's not an excuse because Serge Ibaka was not there. It's just that San Antonio won the first two games, they played better basketball.”

I don’t know if the Thunder lost because Ibaka was out. But I know the Thunder can’t win without Ibaka. I didn’t appreciate his value until watching the Thunder play without him. Just like Westbrook last May. Incredibly instructive.

The stuff of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” A chance to see what the world is like without someone. Without George Bailey, Bedford Falls was a mess. Without Ibaka, or Westbrook, or, God forbid, Durant, this Thunder roster, with its current construction, is not championship-caliber.

Top-heavy is the best way to win an NBA title. So long as everyone stays healthy or gets healthy. It appears Ibaka has a chance at the latter. Which is the only reason for Thunder hope.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at 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