The Oklahoma City Thunder are a very good team, possibly even a great team. Although, like the New York Knicks of the early 90’s, the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers of the late 90’s, the Sacramento Kings of the early 2000’s and the Phoenix Suns of the mid-2000’s, some teams no matter how great just had “something” get in their way. If there was a team that can mostly sympathize with Oklahoma City, it could probably be the Suns. Just like the Suns before them, the Oklahoma City Thunder are facing that very same three-headed monster in the San Antonio Spurs. Also, it is important to point out that, like the Thunder, all of these teams listed above (with exception of the Jazz) were in this very same scenario. And like the Thunder of this generation, were always destined to be remembered not just as second best in the NBA in their time, but even as the second best within their own conference. Comparisons aside, one thing is for certain- the Oklahoma City Thunder will never beat the San Antonio Spurs… And here are the top five reasons why:
5. OKC GM Sam Presti
Presti has engineered an amazing resume as the Thunder’s GM. However, Presti has also made a few big mistakes. To Presti’s credit, not all of these were his fault. Nobody in the right mind would ever pass on a talent like Kevin Durant on draft day, but to pretend as if Durant could fit in to the same system the Spurs play is just ludicrous. In a lot of ways, Sam Presti has tried to emulate the same small-market success the Spurs have had- and in some ways he has succeeded in that. However, and still not all of his fault, there will always be three things Presti could never emulate as GM for the Thunder: Scott Brooks is no Popovich. That is not a knock on Brooks, there just has never been anyone quite like “Pop”; Durant and Westbrook are no “Big Three.” Unlike the “Big Three,” both of these players demand the ball too much to play in a system like the Spurs; And lastly, short of drafting a once in a generation type player like Tim Duncan paired with a coach like “Pop,” nobody can ever emulate the same success as the Spurs and to try to in all facets of the game is in it of itself a plan destined to fail.
4. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is an amazing talent sprinkled with endless possibility, but he is also rippled with the chance of never playing again. The right knee for Westbrook would appear from now on to always be a potential problem. An Oklahoma City Thunder fan most likely cannot even watch a full game with Westbrook playing and not have a few winces of concern here and an “oh God, please be okay” moment there. Westbrook has the tools, mental strength, and the technology matched with top notch trainers to get back to 100%. But regardless of how well he could be again after three surgeries in eight months, how many championship teams have won with their second best player sitting on the bench.
3. Kevin Durant
Durant will not be the sole reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder will never beat the Spurs, but one player never won a championship on his own. In the absence of Westbrook this year, Durant has rightfully sky-rocketed to the top of most MVP lists. His play and leadership is deserving of a championship ring, but can he do it all himself? In the Jordan era there were certainly times that MJ had pit his team on his back and screamed out, “follow me to the top,” but there is a major difference in having moments of doing that and having to do that every single game from here on out. Scoring 50 every game will get a player the scoring title, but it surely will not get them the ring… Especially when that team in the way is the San Antonio Spurs.
2. The “Big Three”
The San Antonio Spurs are a team designed to win championship after championship. They are a team designed to either breakdown a team’s 50-point scorer or force the other players to beat them. This team design is based on a group of players who know how a system works, check their egos at the door and want to stay with each other for their respective careers. Those players are known as the “Big Three.” Love them or hate them, they will be respected. The threesome of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili is and always will be a force to be reckoned with. Sure they may have gotten a little older, but just like the old guys down at the local gym who have been playing ball with each other for 20 years and are still kicking everyone’s butt to this day, they know each other and the role that they play in the system. Until one of them retires, look to this threesome to get the Spurs close to the Finals every single year. The “Big Three” certainly do fit perfectly into this system, but what about the designer?
1. Gregg Popovich
Other than “Pop” potentially going down as one of the greatest coaches to have coached in any sport, he has created something that is rarely seen in sports these days… A dynasty that spans nearly 15 years. What can be said about “Pop” that already has not been said? Most likely nothing, so here it is again. Popovich is like the great Phil Jackson in that he can motivate his team to essentially do what is necessary to win. He is like Red Auerbach or a Pat Riley in the way that he can strategize and shut down just about any team with one simple move. But one thing that separates him apart from the rest is his ability to continuously learn from others. As said by so many of his former players, coaches, and front office workers, one of the biggest factors leading to Popovich’s success is his ability to stay humble and receive input and new ideas from everyone around him. That is what makes him the number one threat to the Thunder and their quest for a ring.
As previously mentioned, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a great team, but just like so many other great teams before them, appear to be destined for second best. There are many reasons one can point to as to why the Oklahoma City Thunder will never beat the Spurs, but the top five listed above can probably explain best as to why it will never happen in the playoffs. As long as “Pop” is at the helm in the same conference and the “Big Three” are still kicking, look for the Thunder to always remain as the second-best small-market team.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles