John Klein: Thunder believes chemistry, stability key
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
10/02/12 at 5:31 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Thunder happy with stability, chemistry
EDMOND - Kendrick Perkins had some memorable battles with Dwight Howard when both were in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
Expect a few more collisions now that both have moved to the Western Conference.
There is a lot of anticipation between what many expect to be a showdown between Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers for the Western Conference title this year.
The Thunder reached the NBA Finals last year.
The Lakers answered that challenge by going out and signing two of the best players in the NBA.
Howard moves over to Los Angeles from Orlando to give the Lakers perhaps the best interior player in the NBA. Steve Nash, who may be at the end of his career but is still considered one of the best point guards in the league, came from Phoenix.
"We respect what they've done but we're not fearful," said OKC coach Scott Brooks.
As a result, OKC no longer is a unanimous pick to win the West and return to the NBA Finals.
The Lakers believe those additions, to go with Kobe Bryant, give Los Angeles a core group to match or beat Oklahoma City.
Perkins said it is too early for that debate.
"There are no guarantees," he said. "The only guarantee we have is that we will play them four times during the regular season. After that, who knows. There is no guarantee we'll play in the playoffs.
"Certainly, what they did looks good on paper. But we aren't thinking about it. All we can do is focus on ourselves."
The Thunder held its media day on Monday as training camp opens this week.
The excitement and enthusiasm generated around the state during Oklahoma City's run to the NBA Finals last year leads to a lot of anticipation for this season.
Before the Lakers made the moves to bring in two high-level players, many believed the Thunder was a virtual lock in the West.
That is no longer the case.
Oklahoma City may still be the favorite, but there will be challenges. Certainly the new-look Lakers will be chief among those contenders.
Brooks doesn't buy into the two-team race for the West. He's more concerned about finding a way to improve from last year when the Thunder lost the NBA Finals in five games to Miami.
He's convinced Oklahoma City's fate is tied to how the Thunder handles success, not anything that may be happening around the team in the league.
"I certainly don't look at it that way," said Brooks about a two-team showdown. "The Lakers did make some great moves.
"They have been able to add one of the best point guards in the history of the league. They've also added one of the best bigs in our league."
Those two go with one of the best clutch players in the league.
"Kobe is not just one of the best players in our league, he's one of the best closers in the game, too," Brooks said.
The Thunder believes fewer changes are better.
Oklahoma City is betting that the stability with its core group of stars is a better formula for long-term success.
The Thunder is about four years into a plan with players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Oklahoma City loves that these players are getting experience and comfortable with their teammates.
Meanwhile, the Lakers will have to find the team chemistry that Oklahoma City believes it already has found.
"I think it helps us a lot that we've been together for these four or so years," said Westbrook. "You look around the league and you see a lot of changes.
"But, we have something special here. We've been together for a while. We've been together since the days when it wasn't so smooth."
Now, it is smooth. Much is made of Oklahoma City's "family" atmosphere. The players spent a lot of time talking about how close they are and how much they enjoy playing on this team.
That certainly helps. There do not seem to be ego problems like there are on so many other NBA teams.
"We'll jump back in it with the same guys this year," said Nick Collison. "I think that's a big advantage for us.
"We've had a great run here. We have great players. If we don't win the championship, you'd be disappointed. Once you've been to the Finals, that has to be the goal."