The State of the Thunder Address: Pushing All Your Chips In

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 21: (L-R) James Harden #13, Serge Ibaka #9, Kevin Durant #35, Kendrick Perkins #5 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stand on court against the Miami Heat in Game Five of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 21, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Oklahoma City Thunder are officially at a crossroads this summer and there's only one option left for this organization. Win it all.

My fellow Americans....that just so happen to be Thunder fans.

We gather here today knowing that this generation of players within the Oklahoma City Thunder could be at the ultimate plateau of success.

For the first time, we are now the hunted, not the hunters.

The achievements that were made over the last few years have been nothing short of historic. Instead of looking up to the Throne, we’re Watching the Throne, at least the Western Conference’s. We know what’s necessary and now it’s about realizing that seizing the moment is the only option left for this team when it comes to the 2012-13 NBA season.

Win the whole fucking thing.

Let’s all have this realization at the same time, if you haven’t had it already.

This Oklahoma City Thunder team that we’ve come to love, isn’t going to stay in tact past this season.

If you would’ve asked me this as much two weeks ago what were the prospects of OKC keeping its "core four" of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge ibaka, I would’ve said the likelihood was about 40-50%.

Reason being? There’s always the ability to sell the hometown discount for the greater good of the organization. Hell, if we want to thank the Miami Heat for anything, thank them for making "taking less money" seem pretty cool. Its a hell of a selling point for Thunder GM Sam Presti. If the Big Three can scrape a little bit off the top to keep the chances of a championship alive and well, imagine what a Core Four could do? Especially a Core Four that are all under 23 and still getting better at the game of basketball? Imagine the possibilities.

Well, possibility number one has just been drawn. Serge Ibaka has now been signed to a 4-year deal worth $48 million. Listen people, that right there is a steal. I fully expected Ibaka to command more than that if he hit free agency, but now we’ll never know because Presti and his goons made the right magic happen.

Insert a #BirdmanHandrub right about now.



Yet, there’s still another piece to the puzzle that hasn’t been signed, and now we must wait to see what the future holds with James Harden. Can Harden also be talked into a hometown discount? Even if he takes a hometown discount, is principal owner Clay Bennett and his own goons ready to say "to hell" with the luxury tax and spend whatever it takes? Its an answer that we could receive in the next few days, weeks or months.

Personally, I don’t think its going to happen.

The possibility of keeping the core together went down the proverbial tubes once the Los Angeles Lakers pulled off another heist in winning the "Keeping Your Team As Insanely Relevant As Possible" Sweepstakes by robbing, fleecing, holding them at gunpoint trading for Dwight Howard, sending off the talented problem child in Andrew Bynum and somehow keeping Pau Gasol in the process.

Somehow, the Lakers went from Western Conference after-thoughts and in rebuilding mode to being a bigger juggernaut than their 2004 compilation attempt. The probability of keeping the Core Four together just dwindled from 40-50% to about 4-5%.

The acquisition of Howard makes the one person who was at risk of being a casualty of keeping Harden and Ibaka on the roster. That would be Kendrick Perkins. Perkins would’ve been (IMO) the ideal person to amnesty and then give the remaining cap space to Harden for the long-term. Yes, it would royally suck to part ways with the person who helped these young boys grow a spine and some heart, but in a league where small ball is en vogue....

Oh, Dwight Howard’s a Laker. With Pau Gasol. And arguably the best backcourt in the NBA right now. Yeah....that changes things a bit.

Kendrick Perkins isn’t going anywhere, in fact, he’s become indispensable.

Kendrick Perkins was put on this earth to defend Dwight Howard. I’m certain of it. He doesn’t do hardly anything particularly well on the court. However, the few good things he does exceptionally on the court are things that Dwight Howard despises. Perkins does not concede an inch to Howard. He can’t be out-muscled or intimidated by The Shoulders Man. Moreover, Perkins is a phenomenal irritant. Howard’s ability to get irritated so easily makes it comical to watch the two play against each other, most because invariably you will see at least 238 Macaulay Culkin "Shocker" faces during the course of the game.

Sam Presti would be taking a major gamble on amnestying Perkins at this point, and by doing so could mean conceding the Western Conference to the Lakers for the foreseeable future, even if Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash aren’t there in the next 2-3 years.

The reality is that the Thunder are 100% in win-now mode. Could the Thunder trade Harden before the trade deadline? It’s certainly possible, but with the cap working against them in such a fashion, I’m not sure what they’d command back. (More draft picks? A recently drafted young prospect? Cap relief?) This is uncharted territory, as no team has had to deal with the constraints of having four blossomed young stars all ready to cash in off their rookie deals. Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka are done, Harden’s either next or he’s the odd man out.

Maybe you don’t trade Harden. You just let the season play out, push all your chips in for the season and see how things work out. Four young guys, who all were pushed to the limit in the NBA Finals. Four young guys who then competed with the best in the world in the Olympics. Four young guys who understand that they are the future of the NBA. Four young guys realizing that potentially their championship window is closing, even if it feels premature.

Cross your fingers Thunder fans, you thought last season was a journey, the 2012-13 season could become Fear and Loathing in Oklahoma City. That’s why the only option left is to win the whole fucking thing.

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