When Scott Brooks was told this piece would be about the playoffs, the Thunder coach immediately interrupted any ensuing line of questioning and responded with his best Jim Mora.
"Playoffs?” Brooks shrieked.
And just like the former NFL coach, Brooks wasn’t kidding.
Talking about playoffs following a 23-win season might be premature for the Thunder. But that’s exactly what star forward Kevin Durant has been doing this summer, saying the postseason needs to be Oklahoma City’s goal in 2009-10.
"Anything less than the playoffs is a failure for us,” Durant said on June 30 while in town for his youth basketball camp.
Durant’s words should be viewed more as motivational rather than a mandatory edict the Thunder must meet. Every player in the league will say the goal is the postseason.
But just how realistic is that objective for Oklahoma City?
The Thunder has a handful of factors that could boost its chances.
The 20-30 record over last season’s final 50 games. The stability players and coaches now enjoy as opposed to shifting from Seattle a year ago this time. The continuity it has with Brooks center Nenad Krstic and swingman Thabo Sefolosha all returning for a full season. The Thunder played only 17 games last season with its projected opening night starting lineup of Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Durant, Sefolosha and Krstic.
Oklahoma City added more talent this summer in No. 3 overall pick James Harden. Draft picks Serge Ibaka and Byron Mullens also could prove to be everything Mo Sene and Robert Swift weren’t.
Nineteen of the Thunder’s losses came by four points or less, the third-most defeats in the league by that margin, trailing only Indiana and San Antonio. That total figures to fall slightly as the young core gains more experience next season.
But Oklahoma City is also in the cutthroat Western Conference, where 46 wins didn’t make the cut for Phoenix last season and 48 didn’t do it for Golden State in 2007-08. You can probably already pencil in seven teams into the Western Conference playoffs — the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver, San Antonio, Portland, Utah, Dallas and New Orleans.