Russell Westbrook trade to Rockets ends Thunder era Warriors shaped


Russell Westbrook trade to Rockets ends Thunder era Warriors shaped

Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant stood together during Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals as the final seconds ticked away -- cementing a championship for the LeBron James-led Miami Heat -- with the world assumed to be at the trio's fingertips. 

With each player yet to turn 24, the general presumption was that the three would lead the Oklahoma City Thunder and dominate the NBA for the next decade. Meanwhile, the Warriors were building up a dynasty of their own 1,600 miles away, led by young sharpshooters Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. Draymond Green was drafted just eight days after the Thunder's Finals loss. 

Despite Harden -- who had just won Sixth Man of The Year -- getting traded away three months after the aforementioned Finals, the Thunder remained one of the Warriors' benchmarks for the remainder of the decade. Oklahoma City even pushed Golden State to the brink of elimination in the 2016 Western Conference finals. 

By late Thursday afternoon, all remnants of that image in Miami vanished when the Thunder reportedly traded Westbrook to the Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two more pick swaps, marking the end of an era for the Warriors' former foe. 

As Golden State ascended from a fun team under coach Mark Jackson to a champion under Steve Kerr, the Thunder always seemed to play their way into Golden State lore.

It was Oklahoma City that provided the site of Curry's most iconic regular-season shot, when he hit a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left to give Golden State a 121-118 victory, helping preserve the Warriors' eventual 73-win season.

It was the Thunder who went up three-games-to-one in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals three months later, threatening to undermine the Warriors' historic season, before Golden State roared back to win the series.

And it was the Thunder who mourned when Durant tweeted out a link to The Players' Tribune announcing his departure to the Warriors on July 4, 2016. 

When Durant left, Westbrook -- as the last Thunder star remaining -- became the symbol for player loyalty in a league increasingly centered around free agency. Over his last three seasons, he averaged a triple-double while the Thunder attempted to maintain a championship team around him. 

[RELATED: Westbrook-Paul trade has big names, but little impact]

General manager Sam Presti acquired and eventually re-signed Paul George, took a flier on Carmelo Anthony and rounded out the roster with solid role players in Jerami Grant, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Fans in Oklahoma still had time to save their deafening boos whenever the Warriors came to town, However, the Thunder's roster wasn't enough to get out of the first round in each of the last three seasons. 

The first inclination of a rebuild came last week when the team traded away George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-setting amount of first-round picks, leaving Westbrook as the only All-Star left on the roster. Now, Westbrook reportedly heads to Houston, reuniting with Harden in a quest to win the pair's first ring while the rest of the NBA wonders what could've been from the young trio who stood together in Miami seven years ago. 

Warriors have third-hardest schedule in NBA after All-Star break

Warriors have third-hardest schedule in NBA after All-Star break

Wins haven't been easy to come by for the Warriors this season. It looks like it won't be any easier for Golden State after the All-Star break either. 

Odds Shark's Joe Osborne look at the remaining strength of schedule for all 30 NBA teams, and it doesn't look good for the Dubs. The Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies are the only two teams with harder schedules the rest of the way. 

The Warriors, at 12-43, have the worst record in the NBA. They lost just 49 regular-season games combined the last two seasons, but this is a much different team. Kevin Durant is gone. Steph Curry has only played four games. And Klay Thompson likely won't play at all this season as he rehabs a torn ACL. 

That doesn't even include the departure of veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. 

There's a silver lining to this season full of losses, though. The Warriors have lost four straight games and are 2 1/2 games ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks for the worst record in the NBA. This only increases their chances of landing a top pick in the draft. 

[RELATED: Kerr laughs off Warriors' ugly season with funny tweet]

Though this year's draft is considered far worse than 2021, a top-5 draft pick always is a great asset. Golden State could use it in a trade or select a top prospect like center James Wiseman, guard Anthony Edwards, guard LaMelo Ball or big man Deni Avdija. 

The Warriors still are in the business of wins and refuse to acknowledge the "T word." But they clearly look like they're on the path to a top draft pick, and that only can help them reload for another championship run next season.

Steve Kerr uses Twitter to laugh at Warriors' season of adversity

Steve Kerr uses Twitter to laugh at Warriors' season of adversity

Steve Kerr lost 39 regular-season games over his first three seasons as the Warriors' head coach. This season alone they have 43 losses before the NBA All-Star break. 

Even with the departure of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson rehabbing his torn ACL, nobody saw Golden State falling this far in their first season at Chase Center. Two college basketball coaching legends are in the same boat as Kerr this season. 

Roy Williams and Muffet McGraw are not used to losing. So when McGraw tweeted out a picture of herself and Williams on Monday, she hilariously tagged Kerr to be a part of their support group for former champions. 

Kerr had the perfect response. 

McGraw, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September of 2017, is in her 33rd season as the head coach for Notre Dame's women's basketball team. She's a two-time national champion, and the Fighting Irish entered the season with 16 losses in their last five seasons combined. 

They're 10-16 this season entering Tuesday. 

Williams, who was enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 2007, is a three-time national champion who also is experiencing a season he certainly isn't used to. The young North Carolina Tar Heels also are 10-16 this season. They sit last in the ACC and are just 3-12 in conference play.

[RELATED: Steph was pumped after Giannis' All-Star block on LeBron]

And then there's Kerr. The Warriors have the worst record in the NBA right now at 12-43. Kerr's star, Steph Curry, has only played four games this season after breaking his hand on Oct. 30. Golden State has more G League players than star players on the court as they look to reload next season. 

For such a disappointing season, Kerr seems to always have the right response with the perfect amount of humor.