Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 11/27/11
After using every public moment to play the Grinch over a 149-day period, the NBA has decided they won't be giving us all D-League sweaters as the lone reminder of the 2011-12 season after all. Rather, with a tentative agreement to end the lockout, it offers us the present of true NBA basketball to unwrap Christmas Day. The Western Conference runner-up Oklahoma City Thunder will have to wait a little longer to learn where and when they will open their season, but when they do, Kevin Durant and company will be chomping at the bit to get back on the court in an attempt to make their first NBA Finals. With free agency and training camps set to open on the same day, Dec. 9, an abbreviated preseason and the regular-season beginning Dec. 25, the atmosphere around the NBA is about to get frantic. Given the nature of this hectic timeframe, a shortened 66-game season and word leaking out about likely back-to-back-to-back games...where does the Thunder stand? In as few words as possible: on solid ground. Where so many will begin with uncertainty, the Thunder has only one free agent, Daequan Cook, and possibly as few as one new face, first-round-pick Reggie Jackson, a 6-3 combo guard that likely won't be a primary rotation player without outside influences, such as injuries. Where the league will be defined by its tumultuousness, the Thunder should find a high level of consistency and familiarity. Though Russell Westbrook's contract situation (he is on the final year of his rookie deal and likely due a massive extension) will have to be addressed at some point, it needn't be during the early scramble in the lockout's wake. In other words, this will be almost a mirror of the roster that reached the Western Conference Finals, losing to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks only a year older, a year wiser. This is a good thing. Thanks to the shortened training camps and preseason, many teams will find themselves thrust into a new season with little chance to develop chemistry among their new faces. This span may allow the Thunder to embrace their familiarity, finding a possible head start. The extended time off may also have served another benefit by allowing a young roster who likely played more games in a calendar year than their bodies had ever previously endured to fully recover, not to mention giving someone like Kendrick Perkins time to separate himself from the injuries that plagued him a season ago. Removing the long-term financial implications of the new CBA and looking solely at this moment, this 66-game season, there are few teams that find themselves in a better position than the Thunder. Where quick change and hurried approaches may rule the day, they may choose to avoid both. Where an extended period between seasons, and the rest that comes with it, would seem to aid older teams in the league, the Thunder were not without their need for the same. Where youth and energy may prove vital to stand against small waves of back-to-back-to-back games and a condensed schedule, they throw a five-player core on the court with only one member older than 23 (Perkins is wise, scowling, and "old" 27). Instead of worrying over the immediate impact of the new CBA, or a roster in flux with not enough time to intricately address, the Thunder and their fans can focus more on what lessons may have been taken to heart. Is Russell Westbrook ready to not only cause many to raise the question of whether or not he's earned his way into the conversation as this team's MVP by averaging career highs in points (21.9), assists (8.2), steals (1.9), field-goal3-pointfree-throw percentages (all as he did last season), but to also willingly defer to Kevin Durant when the time comes to do so? Will James Harden make us talk more about his newfound consistency with big minutes than the glorious nature of a beard that puts so many to shame as long as this does not anger the beard. Can he build upon the glimpses he showed of next-level talent he gave us in the Western Conference Finals? Can Serge Ibaka, fresh off his time overseas with Real Madrid, use the fury of weapons Dirk Nowitzki unleashed upon him to take another step forward? Can he be more than occasionally amazing and genuinely entertaining and become a force? Can he be dominant where he needs to be? The Thunder sit in a position to watch from above the early fray and act with deliberate shrewdness. Undoubtedly, they would rather have not missed games, but their roster is not in flux in the immediacy of now. They're fresh off a season that was not a failure, unless they decide to make it so by ignoring the multitude of teachings found there. We'll find out soon enough, but from here, the Thunder seems poised to roll.
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