Basketball season arrives Thursday night, with the Thunder in the Alamo City, ironically having surrendered the high ground of the NBA's Western Conference.
The Thunder had two huge advantages on the Lakers' all-star cast. Young legs and continuity. Now, courtesy of the James Harden trade, only youth is a Thunder bastion.
The Lakers formed a Hall of Fame lineup, but at a price. LA is the Over the Hill Gang; backcourt mates Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant were born in the ‘70s. Plus, the Lakers, who in recent years have struggled with Kobe and Pau Gasol cohesion, now must wait as Kobe learns to play with Nash, and Nash learns to play with Dwight Howard, and Howard with Gasol, and Gasol with Nash, and Howard with Kobe, and, well, you get the idea.
No reason why it shouldn't eventually come together, other than Kobe's psychological power plays, but it will take time.
Now, of course, the Thunder needs a little time itself. Harden is gone, upsetting the pristine chemistry of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison. A top seven that was ready for a third playoff run together, now needs a tuneup.
Harden out, Kevin Martin in. A comparably effective player but with no history with his new comrades.
“You can't force it,” Sefolosha said of the chemistry, perhaps instructing not just his own squad, but the Lakers, too. “But we've got guys on the team that are really great at welcoming new players. Just like they did myself. Kevin, Nick, they do a great job welcoming guys and making them feel part of the team.
“The chemistry on the court will come. We have 82 games to play, so I'm sure it will come.”
Keep Harden on this roster, and no way does the Thunder finish anywhere but No. 1 in the West standings.
Now, I still think OKC will emerge with home court advantage. The Thunder will play with a chip on its shoulder all season, recalling the NBA Finals disappointment. Plus, the Thunder is too young to know better.