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Oklahoma City Thunder: There's one more thing the Russell Westbrook injury cost OKC

The injury to Russell Westbrook kept the Thunder brass from getting an accurate look how the team would perform in the playoffs without James Harden to help create offense.
by Berry Tramel Published: June 23, 2013

The NBA Draft arrives Thursday, and the league's free agent frenzy follows next week. And I have no idea what Sam Presti's brain trust will do. Maybe Presti's brain trust doesn't either.

Call it one more curse of Patrick Beverley. Houston's Roger Ramjet famously collided with Russell Westbrook in Game 2 of the Thunder-Rocket playoff series and did more than torpedo the Thunder's championships hopes. The loss of Westbrook to knee surgery cost the Thunder precious playoff perspective.

The Thunder played a full season without James Harden and went into the playoffs knowing how it stood without the Beard. Pretty darn stout. Sixty wins, the No. 1 seed in the West, a point differential of historic impressiveness. Everything looked peachy.

But the playoffs always are a different-colored mustang, if not a total new animal. The whispers all season were, check out the Thunder in the postseason when they needed someone besides Westbrook and Kevin Durant to create offense. That was Harden's calling card in the drive to the 2012 NBA Finals.

So the subplot of the Thunder playoff drive was going to be, when the intensity goes up and the defense stiffens, how much will they miss the hairy southpaw who delivered landmark performances on the road in both Dallas and San Antonio. Home, James, we wrote.

Then all of a sudden, the loss of Harden was the last thing on anyone's mind. The loss of Westbrook changed the script, and the Thunder went down in five games to Memphis in the West semifinals, with no idea of how its new roster format fares in the playoff cauldron. The gauge was busted.

“We have to be pragmatic how we look at the team,” Presti said. “Unfortunately, it's not the team we finished with. That's a reality. We have to be clear how we look at things looking forward.”

Here's what Presti meant. He can't let the sting of that Grizzlies series impact the Thunder decision-making. Can't go making decisions that will impact the Thunder for years in the future, based on two weeks without Westbrook.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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