Losing a most valuable player has proved to be like trying to recover a lost fortune for
Nine months ago, Oklahoma City lost an MVP who made the city swell with pride. The small market
There was no template for post-MVP success after the following MVP subtractions:
— The Miami Heat went from the NBA Finals team to sub-.500 after James exited.
— The Lakers eventually recovered after 2000 MVP Shaquille O'Neal's exit but first had to endure a 34-win season.
“The cupboard wasn’t bare,” said
The Thunder undoubtedly would not be where they are without
To drop only from 55 wins to 47 without Durant went beyond Westbrook.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti traded
Meanwhile, Oladipo enjoyed a career season, as did the Thunder’s deft 2013 draft pick,
"It's all about winning around here," Oladipo said. "That's what they teach and preach around here. We've got a great balance of guys who are growing, guys who have been through it and guys who want to win. That's why we're still successful. It's a way of life."
Westbrook's way kept Oklahoma City afloat. He set the NBA record for triple-doubles in a season with 42, breaking Oscar Robertson's 55-year-old record and becoming the first player since Robertson to average a triple-double: 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists.
Clearly, the Thunder's best maintenance move was signing Westbrook to an extension one month after Durant left, even if it meant they might have to repeat the feat this summer when Westbrook can opt out.
Oklahoma City was 33-9 in Westbook's triple-double games and 14-26 otherwise but his teammates took pride and joy in his individual achievement, averting a threat to team chemistry.
"The thing he focuses on and tries to focus on is how does he lead, how does he help us win, how do we need to play systematically and style of play-wise," Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said. "Going into the summer when we finally realized what our team was going to look like, we had to come up with a system and a style that we could play to when we was off the floor.
"Russell has a great level of humility and understanding that a lot of things happened because of his teammates. Because of his humility, his teammates feel a part of the stuff that is going on."
Oladipo (15.9 points a game) was featured on the second unit and
"Russell came back at the start of camp with an attitude that we're here to keep winning and let's go to work," Collison said. "Everybody followed his lead. His leadership and control of the team has been great. He's really changed a lot in terms of being in total control and everyone fell in line."
Oklahoma City has rookies, Sabonis and
A winning program remains in a city where the attraction for players and popularity with fans could have been vulnerable if losing entered the equation.