The LA Clippers should go on a meteoric rise with the additions of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Butler. Meanwhile, the LA Lakers stand at the edge of a cliff with the pouting departure of Sixth Man Award winner Lamar Odom and the crumbling health of Kobe Bryant, who is only 33, but amazingly is about to start his 16th season.
The biggest variable this season is time, or lack thereof.
The Thunder will have just 25 practice opportunities inside its new practice facility during the regular season. That total includes the usual day off after back-to-back games, but does not include potential days off Brooks presumably will grant out of human decency. Five of the practices will come on the same day the Thunder departs on a road trip. Brooks said 15 or so full-fledged practices will be the more likely number.
In reality, OKC players will take zero days off while at home. Even when no practice is scheduled, every player routinely shows up at the facility to get in some kind of workout and/or treatment.
Every. Single. Player. This type of work ethic has made quite an impression on Brooks and general manager Sam Presti, and should do the same with ownership and fans.
Peer pressure runs deep within the Thunder. If a superstar like Durant habitually puts in an extra hour before and after practice, every player on the roster feels pressure to also put in extra work.
"Nobody wants to be that guy (who doesn't show up on a day off)," Brooks explained. "These guys talk about it. 'Hey, where were you yesterday when we didn't practice?' "
This is a big reason why the Thunder rightly is favored to win the West – that, and a breathtaking array of young talent that continues to blossom.
Don't expect any fluky finalists during this lockout season.
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.