April 22, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) makes a shot past Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) in the first half of the game at the Staples Center. Lakers won in double OT 114-106. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
A lot of Seattle NBA fans have a love-hate relationship with their former team.
I have conflicted feelings on the Oklahoma City Thunder. They are the team that was stolen from Seattle and they should be wearing green and gold, not that ugly orange and blue. Kevin Durant is a special, premiere talent, an incredibly likable superstar, and was drafted by the Sonics and for that I love to watch him and root for his success. But on the other hand, it brings me so much pain to watch OKC fans go crazy for "their" Thunder . I resent OKC and I love them. My feelings on the Thunder are more than bipolar.
Kevin Durant was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics with the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft and like many in this region, I still think of him as a Sonic. This season's regular season NBA scoring champion, though he is earning all of his accolades for the wrong city, has always spoken well about the fans and city of Seattle, and has made it widely known that he wants to see the NBA back in Seattle.
Durant is also approachable and humble. During the NBA lockout, he went to Oklahoma State University and randomly played flag football with some college kids he met on Twitter. How many bona fide NBA superstars would do something so cool? Durant is a rare treasure for the NBA and it is an absolute shame that he no longer plays basketball in Seattle.
In case you've totally forsaken the NBA since the move, you may not be up to date on the team that formerly resided in the Emerald City. I will give you a quick refresher: aside from Durant, the Thunder have two other 'star' players. both of whom are from the Pacific-12 Conference - G Russell Westbrook (UCLA) G James Harden (Arizona State). Along with Chicago's Derrick Rose, OKC's Westbrook is one of the elite athletes at the point guard position. Westbrook can fly by everyone on the court and he has shown the ability to bury the mid-range jumper. James Harden, the possible Sixth Man of the Year, brings energy and passion to the Thunder off the bench. Blue-collar former Sonics player, Nick Collison, is still hustling on the court and doing the little things to make OKC a serious contender.
The Thunder are an explosive, albeit young team. Clearly, they're are on the rise. It is only a matter of time before they advance to the NBA Finals and perhaps win a title. How will Seattle feel on that day? When Oklahoma City wins a championship, will Seattle fans embrace their victory or resent their success? Personally, I hold no ill-will toward the actual team. When OKC does win a title, I will be depressed, but I'll also be proud because in a sense, the Thunder are still the same team we know as the Sonics. Kevin Durant is a Sonic. Nick Collison is a Sonic. Russell Westbrook was drafted by the Sonics. GM Sam Presti was with the Sonics in Seattle. If it weren't for Clay Bennett, politics and Howard Schultz, the Sonics would still be ours.
This could be the year that the Thunder win a title, but I think it's unlikely. They have immense talent, but when they are not hitting jump shots, they are beatable. They still need to earn their stripes in the postseason. Winning in the regular season is one thing. Winning in the playoffs is a whole new animal, but let's lay out a scenario that would make Seattle fans both angry and excited.
Currently, the 2nd-seeded Thunder are up 3-0 in their best-of-seven series with the defending champion, Dallas Mavericks in their first round matchup, and it seems safe to assume that they will advance in this years playoffs.
In the second round, the Thunder are destined to face the 3rd seeded Los Angeles Lakers (who are currently up 2-0 over the Denver Nuggets). With Kobe Bryant eagerly seeking his sixth championship to match Michael Jordan, and with young center Andrew Bynum playing the best basketball of his career, this will be no small task. The Lakers feature length in the post and the ability to score inside with both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. As far as match-ups go, Los Angeles might be OKC's toughest hurdle to overcome to get out of the Western Conference because the Lakers possess size that cannot be matched. With Kobe Bryant's ability to completely takeover a game, and with the interior scoring of the Lakers, they will certainly be a challenge to the Thunder.
If the Thunder can get past Los Angeles, then I think they would end up playing the top-seed San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. While the Spurs have veteran savvy and championship experience, OKC's sheer athleticism and young legs might be too overwhelming for the Spurs.
Let's assume the Thunder advance to the NBA Finals and meet the Eastern Conference frontrunners, the Miami Heat. This would be an outstanding and entertaining NBA Finals. But as a Seattle sports fan, who do you root for? I'm guessing Seattle would be passive-aggressive in rooting for the Thunder. Seattle might watch hoping for the Thunder to lose every game, but then again the city might be hoping that the team they once called theirs wins a championship. I don't openly root for OKC, but I don't necessarily root against them either. Watching them win a title would be thrilling, but it would also be painful.