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.
“Let's face it, Russell's really good,” said Scotty Brooks, which no one on Earth now disputes. “He's not only one of the best point guards, he's one of the best players in the league.
“We have to evaluate what we've done all season long. Russell's a big part of what we do.”
There were some silver linings in the meniscus menagerie. Reggie Jackson played premium minutes at point guard and looks like a ballplayer. But even that doesn't help the Thunder roster-creation. The Thunder doesn't need or want Mister October to play 40 points of point guard. Presti would have benefited from seeing Jackson and Westbrook in the backcourt together against playoff pressure. That's useful information.
But does the Thunder need a third creator in the playoffs? Unknown. Does the presence of Westbrook distort defenses (Kevin McHale's term; I love it) so much that the Thunder doesn't have to tilt the rotation offensively and can stay with a defensive lineup, even against an elite team like the Spurs? Unknown. An OKC-San Antone rematch never occurred.
So Roger Ramjet cost the Thunder more than another shot at the Heat. Now the Thunder goes into the draft, then to its discount-rack free agent shopping, not knowing exactly where it stands in the post-Harden era.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 newsok.com/berrytramel.