Losses: *deep breath* Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Jerami Grant, Patrick Patterson, Ray Felton, Markieff Morris.
Additions: *even deeper breath* Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Mike Muscala, Justin Patton, Darius Bazley.
Likely Starters Guard: Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Wing: Terrance Ferguson, Danilo Gallinari (Maybe Andre Roberson at some point?) Big: Steven Adams
Predicted Record: 40–42 | 19th in NBA | 12th in West
Sometimes, when a relationship ends, it comes as a relief. You see, suddenly, how bad things really were; you see the ways in which you were sleepwalking through your life, acquiescing to whatever, going through the motions. Other times, when it’s over, it crushes you. The space where you live feels like a haunted house full of sacred artifacts carrying unspeakable sadness.
I am a sentimental person. These artifacts take on so much power in my consciousness I end up putting them out of sight, which means my living space always has drawers I try not to open, boxes tucked away in closets, file folders stuffed into the back of stainless steel cabinets. Obviously, out of sight does not always mean out of mind. I’ve come to realize over the years that trying to ignore something often gives it a kind of power that is more profound and more intractable.
A few years ago, I mentioned to my therapist that I’d recently found myself fumbling through a box of things I had from an ex-girlfriend. I had been thinking about her all the time, missing her, wondering why she didn’t want to be with me, blah, blah, blah. I had this stack of sentimental items—cards, notes, little gifts, etc. I was describing to my therapist the endless sadness of these things, and she made a surprising suggestion.
“Burn it,” said my therapist. “Have a fire. Make it a little ritual.”
“Whoa,” I said. I thought about it. I had thought about throwing the stuff away, but that was impossible. In the garbage it would take on even greater power. It would be out there in the world, absolutely itself, but I’d have no access to it, no way to deal with it. Burning it was a different idea. If I burned it, it would be gone in a different way, irrevocably altered, chemically changed. It would be something else.
It took me a while to do it, but later that summer I was getting ready to move to a new town, and packing up my stuff, and as I found myself avoiding the mystical box of sad ex-girlfriend artifacts, I knew I had to do it.
And then I botched it entirely. I decided, inexplicably, to have a fire in my driveway in broad daylight. I became so self-aware and embarrassed while I was doing it that the fire I made was meager and small. Pieces of paper burned slowly and other objects just got kinda disgusting and sooty. Eventually, I managed to not necessarily burn but at least ruin everything. I remember laughing out loud. I must have looked like I was losing it.
When it was over, amazingly, I felt better. I grabbed a plastic bag and wrapped up all the leftover crap and threw it in a dumpster. The stuff was gone. Or, at least it was more gone.
The thing is, I never get over anything. I still think about her, and about everyone else for that matter, constantly. It helped to destroy the physical objects, but it didn’t solve the problem of the past entirely.
The 2019-20 Oklahoma City Thunder actually have a chance to be decent. That starting lineup up at the top of this page? It’s pretty good. Those pieces fit. Unfortunately, this is not really a basketball team. It’s a breakup. It is an entity in a state of loss and grief.
When you fall in love with someone, it’s all hope. Anything is possible. When it is over, you aren’t just sad about the ending, you are sad about the dashed hope. You are maybe a little embarrassed you got your hopes up. You are maybe a little ashamed that you didn’t take care of it, that it wasn’t everything it could have been. You are aware that at least some of this is your fault, which hurts, and you are also aware that at least some of it is beyond your control, which hurts and is also terrifying.
Imagine what it was like to fall in love with Russell Westbrook over these past 11 years. Will you ever meet anyone that exciting again? Will anyone ever look at you like that again?
I’m not saying Thunder fans (or Russ fans, for that matter) should burn anything. I’m not suggesting anything anyone should do. I’m only saying that this season for this team is going to be played in a different world. I don’t know exactly how many games they will win and lose, though I have my guesses. What I know is that these results will all be filtered through the experience of being in the aftermath of an ending. Sometimes, you have to lean into that. Sometimes, you lose a year when you lose a love.