The 2016-17 NBA schedule has been released, and for the Oklahoma City Thunder, things get interesting in a hurry.
There are a number of questions for the Thunder entering this season, and within a week, the reconfigured roster centered around Russell Westbrook will have a pretty good indication of where things are, and where things need to go.
Here is the entire schedule to digest, but here's what you need to know:
When does Durant play the Thunder?
As mentioned, it starts with Nov. 3, but the real showdown -- Durant's return to Oklahoma City -- comes Feb. 11. Before that, the Thunder make another trip out to Oakland on Jan. 18 to play the Warriors. Durant visits OKC again on March 20, but before there are any return storylines to flesh out, the Warriors will have played the Thunder twice. The Thunder's game on Nov. 3 is the second night of a back-to-back; Durant's first trip to OKC is on the second of a back-to-back for the Warriors. What's fair is fair, it appears.
How will Durant be received in Oklahoma City? Some will cheer, for sure. Most likely will boo. But don't expect a tribute video commemorating his nine years with the organization. Most likely, the Thunder will treat Durant like they do any other returning player. During introductions a simple line of "Please welcome back to Oklahoma City..." and then his name. The intention of that being quite obvious.
Another Christmas in OKC
The Thunder have become a bit of a fixture on Christmas (this is their seventh straight holiday appearance), but this time around, they're playing the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, if you will. Many around the league see the young Timberwolves as a 2009-like version of the Thunder, an ultra-talented up-and-coming group that is teetering on a breakthrough. What will this Wolves group accomplish in the next seven years? Who will still be on the roster? Because as the Thunder know all too well, time changes a lot of things.
10 other can't-miss games
Nov. 11, vs. Clippers: Thunder versus Clippers always has been an intriguing matchup with hefty, physical frontlines battling inside. But this one will carry a new narrative: The first attempt at recruiting native son Blake Griffin. Griffin always has been met with a tepid reception in Oklahoma, but with buzz building about a likely pursuit of Griffin next summer in free agency, Thunder fans likely will turn that meh welcome into something a bit more substantial.
Nov. 13, vs. Magic: An emotional return home for one of the founding fathers of Thunder basketball. Serge Ibaka, that is.
Nov. 16, vs. Rockets: James Harden returns to OKC. This used to be a big deal, but it really doesn't feel like it anymore. He's just the first All-Star player that got away. And not the last.
Nov. 26, vs. Pistons: The Westbrook-Durant rivalry will be the marquee matchup this season, but before that it was the Westbrook-Reggie Jackson one. The two played a heated game last season in Detroit, with Jackson celebrating a win and Westbrook taking heavy exception postgame, saying, "Honestly, I think that was some real bulls---. I don't appreciate it for our team and our organization. I don't like it at all. But it is what it is. We'll see him down the line. We'll take care of that when we get there." Steven Adams said this: "Keep it up here," pointing to his head, "for next time."
Nov. 30, vs. Wizards: Another return, this one of the coaching variety as Scott Brooks makes an appearance in OKC for the first time since being fired at the end of the 2015 season. The Thunder, though, will look quite a bit different than the team Brooks last coached. Remaining players on his last team: Westbrook, Adams, Andre Roberson, Nick Collison, Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler, Mitch McGary and Anthony Morrow.
Dec. 4, vs. Pelicans: Buddy Hield makes his first appearance back in the Sooner State. A fan favorite at OU, he'll receive quite the warm welcome.
Jan. 29, at Cavaliers: The previous matchups always had that catch of LeBron vs. KD, and now, of course, that's gone. But it does have Westbrook vs. Kyrie Irving, or really just Westbrook against the world (champions).
Jan. 31, at Spurs: The Thunder's first meeting with the Spurs doesn't come until the end of January, and while this matchup will look quite a bit different than it has the last eight years, it's still two titans of the Western Conference and a re-acquaintance after the Thunder eliminated the Spurs in six games last postseason.
Feb. 9, vs. Cavaliers: LeBron makes his lone trip to OKC. Again, not to play Kevin Durant, which will be a weird thing. LeBron vs. Singler doesn't really carry the same kind of billboard-level hype.
March 29, at Magic: How about someone else's return for once? Victor Oladipo's visit to Orlando doesn't come until the very end of the regular season. By then, everyone's perspective on that trade could look quite different.
The Thunder always have been one of the league's highest profile teams, playing 24 times last season on national television, trailing only the Warriors and Cavs. This season, without Durant, the Thunder are featured 21 times on ABC, ESPN or TNT. Not much of a drop-off, considering they just lost one of the marquee players in the league. But then again, everyone will be interested in watching the Russell Westbrook vengeance tour.