Thunder Hope To Turn Adversity Into Opportunity
By Randy Renner
Thunder GM Sam Presti stayed with the script on Sunday afternoon saying the Thunder were "fortunate" to have caught Kevin Durant's stress fracture when they did and that "within every adversity we're always looking for where the opportunity is."
Presti made a strong statement that now it's how the team, players, coaches, staff, "react, how we adjust, how we adapt. That's always going to be the measure of our team."
Last season when the Thunder were surprised by the additional surgeries Russell Westbrook needed to clean up problems with his right knee it was Reggie Jackson who helped fill the void at point guard and Durant who came through with an almost super-human effort at times.
Now it will likely be Westbrook who shoulders much of the burden but Perry Jones III, called by Durant during his now famous MVP speech, as "the most athletic player in the NBA," is being given an one of those opportunities Presti was talking about.
Jones was a 1st round draft pick who the Thunder hoped would be a steal, but so far Jones has been mostly an after thought as Durant's seldom used backup.
Not so anymore. Jones will most likely be the starter at KD's small forward spot Tuesday night against Memphis. Jones has shown plenty of flashes but now he needs to shine steady.
Durant's absence for the next couple of months or so will reverberate all through the lineup not just at his small forward spot.
Head coach Scott Brooks now must make decisions on starters at three positions. Shooting guard and center were already up for grabs. With Durant's 32 points a game missing now from the offense Steven Adams probably is even more of a favorite now to start at center.
In two preseason games he's scored 15 and 19 points on a combined 15-for-17 shooting. You wonder also how this impacts the shooting guard spot, does Brooks go with Anthony Morrow now who is a proven 3-point sharp shooter? Morrow had appeared destined to come off the bench to provide scoring punch from there, but without Durant maybe Morrow's minutes come earlier.
Jeremy Lamb will also get a big opportunity, either as the starter at shooting guard or off the bench. Without Durant around Lamb will be counted on like never before. He must provide more consistency in his wildly inconsistent play.
In the first preseason game Lamb was 1-for-14 shooting, in the second he scored 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.
Brooks has to know what to expect from Lamb rather than just the unexpected, good or bad.
Of course the other problem the Thunder face are all the other injuries the team is dealing with right now. Jones has just recovered from a sprained ankle, Nick Collison is still out with one, Serge Ibaka hopes to be back Tuesday night. Reggie Jackson, with his bruised wrist could be out another week or so, Mitch McGary also has a broken bone in his foot and Kendrick Perkins hasn't been able to practice yet in training camp with a strained quad.
You kinda wonder just who exactly the Thunder will be able to put on the floor and for how long Tuesday night against Memphis.
Those other injuries will hamper how the team is able to prepare for life without KD, it's scramble mode now.
But it's also still the preseason with two weeks, two days and five games to get ready to face down a challenge the likes of which the Thunder have never had to face.
They made it through the Westbrook fire last season with nary a singe, losing only one more game than the season before.
That adversity made them stronger and opportunities were seized. They will have to use that strength of will again to get through this.
And the opportunities fate has offered up this season will again have to seized.