For a team that remain the fourth-favourites to win the NBA title, the idea that this could be a lost season for the Oklahoma City Thunder might seem ridiculous.
But the suggestion from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban that OKC might be better targeting the Draft lottery than the title may end up being solid advice.
Shorn of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeremy Lamb and Anthony Morrow, the Thunder have made little noise so far and they head into tonight’s trip to the Milwaukee Bucks with a 2-5 record, and in a lowly 13th place in the Western Conference.
It’s still early days of course. OKC is only two games off the playoff spots and just four behind top-ranked Memphis.
But where might they be by the time Durant and Westbrook are back in the saddle, firing on all cylinders, sometime around Christmas?
At least the schedule between now and then looks reasonably kind but even if the Thunder went 7-7 over their next 14 games, that would surely leave them way out of reach of picking up a divisional title, with Portland worth a punt now at 2.25 to win the Northwest.
Although the bottom of the West is soft enough for OKC to play catch-up, they’d be set for a tough route through the playoffs.
Cuban may have been stirring the pot but with mediocrity a tough sell in the NBA, if the Thunder’s two golden guns aren’t back on schedule, it may be too late to shoot for a championships.
In the meantime, opponents like the Bucks will test the resolve of their colleagues. Milwaukee is much improved in their 3-4 start and young Greek forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will have the leeway to impress without Durant in his way, fresh from scoring 18 in Saturday’s surprise win over previously-unbeaten Memphis.
The Bucks are still offensively challenged but are holding foes to an average of 94.7 points per game. Available at 1.93 on the handicap of -3, they could give Oklahoma City more reason to ponder a tank job.
Best bet: Go under 181.5 total points in Milwaukee - Oklahoma City at 3.05