Miami played Oklahoma City seven times last season, the Magic four times, the Lakers twice and Phoenix once. And in his career Bob McAdoo, Miami’s assistant coach and a Hall of Famer, has seen Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant play countless times, albeit separately. He’s got a savvy perspective on evaluations, it’s safe to say. But what he’s seen from the Oklahoma City Thunder, he said today, means he doesn’t need to see any film of the Lakers’ new core to tell you who’s best in the West.
While at the U.S. Open watching his daughter play tennis, McAdoo told the New York Post today, “We got to get there but I still feel OKC is the team to beat in the West,” the Hall of Famer said. “Everyone’s talking about how they got better but I still think (OKC) is the team to beat. They’re still young and got experience of a championship series.”
Well there is that: OKC has a clear edge in momentum with three guys playing at a high level through the Olympics, and confidence from the NBA Finals trip, over the Lakers. The Thunder also have a cohesive, proven group even with James Harden‘s future still undecided (he may not be happy with OKC but he can’t tank in a contract year).
Nothing to take away from McAdoo’s opinion but I’m not sure he considered the reason he likes the Thunder so much — their promise of years of wins — is the same reason to hedge a bet on them. The Thunder very much want to win now, but their youth can afford a certain malaise. The Lakers, meanwhile, will be playing with a survivalist’s focus with zero room for error, because they have to win now. Nash and Bryant aren’t getting any younger and potentially could have Howard for just this season with his insistence on becoming a free agent next July. The Lakers might not even have him for this whole season, what with his back injuries, making their margin for a mistake even narrower. Coach Mike Brown didn’t do his job security any favors last season, either, with an inconsistent product and a Western Conference Semifinal exit. How long will a group of stars take to meld and how long could they last together once they do? All things we’ll have to wait until November or December, and July 2013, to see. McAdoo is certainly right to peg the Thunder as the team of the future out West, but the Lakers’ old folks home for superstars might be a shade hungrier, and thus more dangerous, this season.
Who is the West’s best?
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