The Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder had already positioned themselves this summer time to be one of many Golden State Warriors’ strongest threats within the Western Convention.
Including Paul George put them in that class.
However on Saturday the Thunder separated themselves from the remainder of the pack: Oklahoma Metropolis is now the only largest menace to the Warriors going to a fourth straight NBA Finals.
Buying Carmelo Antony put them in that class.
The OKC-Golden State rivalry, which was pretty thought-about lifeless after final season, is again on.
Outdoors of the Warriors, nobody had a greater offseason than Thunder common supervisor Sam Presti. After fleecing the Indiana Pacers in a commerce to accumulate George this summer time, the Thunder GM reportedly fleeced the New York Knicks on Saturday in a trade to acquire Anthony, landing him for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a second-round pick.
As such, the Thunder’s core is now Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Melo, and PG.
That’s an impressive four.
Add in the underrated Patrick Patterson (a Pesti free-agent pickup this offseason) and all-world defender Andre Robertson and you have something cooking on the prairie.
Is that roster good enough to beat the Warriors? Probably not. But it is good enough to make a seven-game series between the two as interesting as it could get in the Western Conference.
The Warriors are still prohibitive title favorites and were 4-to-11 favorites to win the Western Conference before the Melo trade, but rest of the Western Conference continued it’s significant paradigm shift on Saturday.
The Rockets went out and traded for Chris Paul, and it seemed as if Houston would be the Warriors’ toughest competition — they were also one of the top suitors for Anthony, which would have only bolstered their case as Golden State’s top threat.
The Spurs, so long as the always-improving Kawhi Leonard is healthy, always give the Warriors problems too.
Maybe the Timberwolves, with Warriors killer Jimmy Butler now in the fold, could make a run at the Dubs.
The Warriors didn’t face much serious competition in the Western Conference last year — remember, they swept through the Western Conference playoffs — but this year, even if the Warriors are better, the path to a title won’t be as smooth.
And those three aforementioned improved teams are now in line behind Oklahoma City.
Simply put: If the Thunder jell — and that’s a huge if, no doubt — that roster should prove to be the second-best team in the Western Conference.
Is Melo still an elite player? In New York, no — he was a ball-stopping wing better suited for the illegal defense era. But as a modern stretch-4 in a four-out system — the role he’s played at the Olympics and should play in Oklahoma City — he has a chance to re-establish himself as a worthy All-Star.
And concerns about Anthony’s defense should be mitigated by his playing next to Robertson and George.
This could work.
It all hinges on Westbrook, whose hero-ball tendencies chased Kevin Durant out of town and were only emboldened in last season’s MVP campaign. Getting George and Anthony to buy into sacrificing touches and isolation opportunities is a tough task, but it’s one that Thunder coach Billy Donovan is up to doing.
Getting Westbrook to to sacrifice touches and isolation opportunities is an entirely different situation.
Remember when the Thunder were up 3-1 in the 2016 Western Conference Finals? The Thunder looked like a better version of the Warriors in that series — OKC was whipping the ball around on offense, Adams was dominating in the paint, and on defense, the Thunder were switching like crazy. They deserved to win that series with that style of play.
But in the comfort of a 3-1 series lead, Westbrook’s id took over — he started pounding the ball into the floor and playing his famous “Russ vs. five” style. You could see Donovan having something resembling a nervous breakdown on the sidelines — their successful style of play broke down and the Warriors won the next three games and the series.
Perhaps Westbrook has learned from that failure, but I doubt it. Perhaps Westbrook will be willing to concede control of the Thunder offense for possessions at a time now that he has better players around him than last year, but I doubt it.
It might only be a one-year thing. This might only be a four- or five-month experience. Remember: Westbrook is yet to sign a contract extension and he, George, and Anthony can all be free agents at the end of the season. If this doesn’t work early, would the Thunder get ahead of things with an in-season trade?
Probably not, but keep it in mind.
But if I’m wrong — if this does work — and Westbrook plays the style Donovan desires far more often than not this season, Oklahoma City is a huge threat to the Warriors; they have the shot-makers, defenders, and interior presence to really give Golden State serious trouble in a playoff series.
Only time will tell, but the Western Conference — a cakewalk for the Warriors last season — won’t be so easy this campaign.