There's no getting around it: The Oklahoma City Thunder didn't have a fun summer.
The Thunder lost a key part of their 2012-13 team, Kevin Martin, and their notable additions are a 39-year-old Derek Fisher, Ryan Gomes and Steven Adams (via the draft).
But the pain doesn't stop there. Oklahoma City watched the top of the Western Conference get a lot better. The Houston Rockets added Dwight Howard, while the Los Angeles Clippers made multiple signings and a trade to improve its roster significantly.
Still, despite all that I just said, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the best team in the West.
OKC's unceremonious 2013 postseason exit has many believing the Rockets, Clippers or San Antonio Spurs will grab the West's top seed. While those are three very good teams, not one of them is better than Oklahoma City.
Think back to the Thunder before the Westbrook injury. OKC had posted a conference-best 60-22 record and a league best plus-9.2 point differential. This team was likely destined for a rematch in the finals with the Miami Heat.
Westbrook's injury didn't prove Oklahoma City lacked the depth to win a title; it proved that the Thunder couldn't remain contenders after losing a superstar. But that can be said for anyone (see: Bulls, Chicago). This truth shouldn't be viewed as a knock on the Thunder coming into this season.
With a healthy Westbrook, the Thunder still have two top-10 players in the league. No other team in the West boasts a duo as formidable as Kevin Durant and Westbrook.
Speaking of Durant, perhaps lost in the greatness of LeBron James is just how great of a player KD is.
Durant put together one of the best offensive seasons in league history last year, as he joined the 50-40-90 club and posted a points-per-game average of 28.1 on 51.0-percent shooting from the field and 41.6-percent shooting on three-pointers. He also grabbed 7.9 rebounds per game and dished a career-high 4.6 assists per game.
Superstars win in the NBA. To have two of them, one of whom is the best player in the conference, puts the Thunder in fantastic position to be an elite team for a long time.
Plus, it's not as if the Thunder have nobody of value after their two leaders.
Serge Ibaka had the best offensive season of his career in 2012-13 (13.2 PPG, 51.7 FG%) and is a superb defender. He's a top-50 NBA player.
Thabo Sefolosha is still a huge defensive asset. Reggie Jackson proved in the 2013 playoffs that he's more than a capable backup PG. Jeremy Lamb, who the Thunder will be looking to take some of Martin's vacated minutes, impressed during summer league play.
OKC doesn't have a ton of depth, but there's enough there for KD and Russ to work with.
Projected Record: 58-24
The Thunder will drop two more games than they did a year ago, due to improved conference competition and the loss of Martin.
Still, the top teams in the West will have to go through OKC if they want a spot in the NBA Finals.
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