Media days can sometimes be an exercise in repetition. The same 2-3 questions can be rinsed, washed, and repeated for every player. What do you expect your role to be this season? What do you think about “latest talking point in the country”? What are the team expectations?
You can probably fill an entire article just with the answers from those 3 questions alone. The difficult part is trying to cut through all that player-speak and listen in to what the real themes are for the team. For the Oklahoma City Thunder, the one theme that consistently permeated throughout the entire day was winning.
But every team heads into the season talking about winning. Even those teams looking at an entire season of ineptitude find ways to think of sunshine and rainbows before the season starts. The Thunder’s talk of winning felt different though. It was talked about with brazen confidence. And for good reason, too. The brand new Big 3 of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony gives the Thunder a collection of players they’ve never had since they moved to the Great Plains.
I know, I know. At one time the Thunder had Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden on their roster. But that trio was about 3-5 seasons away from being in their prime. The current trio is either in their prime (Westbrook and George) or just starting to tail off from their prime (Anthony). But here’s what makes this trio even scarier. They’ve all faced the mortality of their careers. Westbrook has faced injuries (meniscus tear in 2013-14) and the voluntary departure of a superstar teammate. George faced a career-threatening injury when he was just heading into his prime. And Anthony has seen his good friends compete for and win championships, while he has languished on teams that have barely made any noise in the playoffs, and often times, haven’t even made the postseason.
Because of the mortality they have faced, they have come into training camp like a bear coming out of hibernation: extremely hungry. Some quotes from those three exhibit those characteristics.
Westbrook on playing with two other superstars: “When you have a team like Team USA and you play with a lot of superstars on the same team, guys have to sacrifice and do different things. And that definitely helps. But here, we have to figure out the best way for everybody to play. And that part is easy. Especially when we have one goal, which is winning a championship.”
George on “recruiting” Anthony: “We’ve talked. We’ve had long conversations….When I got traded here and found out he was wanting to change his destination, then we reached out to one another and started talking and tried to figure out how we can make it work to get him here (OKC). It’s awesome to have guys that want to play alongside you and team up with you and share a mission with you. We got right to it. And the same went for Russ. Those two are pretty close. We’re pretty much in the loop and we made it possible.”
Anthony: “He (Westbrook) was a big part. A big reason why I wanted to come here. To see his loyalty to this city, to this organization, what he was able to do on the court. I wanted to be a part of that. Adding PG was just another reason why I wanted to come here. Our relationship, our friendship, our respect for one another as basketball players was a reason I wanted to play alongside him and have an opportunity to compete for a championship…it’s a different energy, a different focus, a different motivation that myself has, Paul has, and Russ has, being that we haven’t won a championship yet in our career and we see that and that’s our ultimate goal.”
The clock waits for no one. As the Thunder have already experienced in their short history, if you have the opportunity to put (or keep) a championship contending team together, you do that. The Thunder have been granted a “Get Out of Jail Free” card of sorts from the basketball gods, and they know they have to make the best of the opportunity. The mission starts Tuesday and hopefully ends near the end of the June with a parade down Reno Avenue.