In the 2010 Playoffs the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, were the runaway favorite to return to the NBA Finals. In the first round they faced the eighth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, an upstart team with a young but very talented core led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers defeated the Thunder in six games, but it was evident that the Thunder would be a force to reckoned with in the Western Conference for many years to come.
Westbrook and Durant both developed into top players in the league, and the Thunder became a perennial powerhouse in the West for the next few years, as they reached the NBA Finals in 2012 and were one game away last season.
Durant, of course, has now moved on to the Golden State Warriors, leaving Westbrook as the sole face of the Thunder franchise.
The Lakers recently beat Westbrook and the Thunder, playing one of their best games of the season in a 111-109 victory. Westbrook had some good things to say about the Lakers organization as a whole after the loss, via Mark Medina of the OC Register:
“The organization does a great job in having the right people, right teammates, right personnel, right people in every aspect of it to make you a successful basketball player,” Westbrook said. “Not only on the floor but to do different things off the floor as well.”
The Lakers also beat Durant and the Warriors early this season at Staples Center. Despite the Warriors returning the favor this past Wednesday, thrashing the Lakers 149-106, Durant also had good things to say about the Lakers organization as he saw similarities to the young Thunder team he was a part of:
“You can tell they enjoy playing with each other. You can tell Luke Walton has come over there and changed the culture a bit,” Durant said. “I’ve been on a team like that. You’re young and just want to go out there and have fun with the game with no expectations. You’re just playing.”
In Durant’s second NBA season and Westbrook’s rookie season, the Thunder went 23-59, which is similar to the Lakers 17-65 record last season. The following season the Thunder improved to 50-32 and made the playoffs, something the Lakers are hoping to follow and do this season.
With their 8-8 start, the Lakers are certainly on the right track, but it remains to be seen whether they will be able to improve at the rate the Thunder did during those days.
It is evident to Westbrook, Durant, and anyone else who have played the Lakers that the franchise has turned the corner and is on their way up.