Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, left, talks with teammate Kevin Durant, right, before the start of a pre-season NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

With Kevin Durant already sidelined with a broken foot, the last thing the Oklahoma City Thunder needed was an injury to their remaining star, Russell Westbrook. And, of course, they got just that on Oct. 30, as the point guard exited a game early with a broken hand.

The injury could sideline Westbrook until late December. Durant is already on the mend with a reevaluation scheduled for late November. The annual Western Conference playoff picture has no shortage of well-coached teams, and this year will be no different. Not much has changed among the top eight teams that made the playoffs last year, except for the Thunder. With Durant and now Westbrook expected to miss significant time, can the Thunder remain competitive until its two stars return? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.

Green: The good news for the Thunder is that being in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference gives them the biggest cushion of any top contender, considering the division also includes annual bottom-dwellers such as the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as the talented but unpredictable Denver Nuggets. The Portland Trail Blazers return intact after last year’s promising playoff run, but the team is still young which means inconsistency could be an issue. Oklahoma City still has enough frontcourt size remaining in Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins to play stingy defense and sneak out some victories. Defense will keep any team in a game, and the Thunder still have an ensemble of healthy big bodies that can fly around and make plays. Once combo guard Reggie Jackson returns from an ankle injury, OKC should have enough talent to hang around until the big guns come back. And let’s not forget that 6-foot, 11-inch Perry Jones gave his own Durant impression with 32 points and seven rebounds in the team’s 93-90 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Oct. 30.

Riley: You can never have enough mobile bigs, but the Thunder’s problem is that none of their rotational bigs are big-time scorers. Ibaka can be a serviceable offensive weapon, but with defenses now expected to key on him, he could struggle mightily. You can’t lose talent to injury after injury in the NBA and expect to remain competitive—no roster is deep enough to withstand that type of attrition. Every team that made the playoffs last season inside the West should return, except for the Thunder at this point. The injuries will only accelerate their issues when you factor in that New Orleans and Phoenix could be in for big seasons behind emerging superstars. OKC doesn’t have the luxury of being the class of the conference anymore—those days are done. With other powers remaining and other teams on the verge of serious contention, the season could be over for the Thunder before January.

Green: The goal for OKC now is to hang around the playoff door until they reload, and they can do just that with the remaining talent. Will they be a top team in the NBA? Of course not. But they can at least salvage a few wins and should remain a tough matchup for the average teams in the league. Even with Westbrook leaving a game against the high-powered Clippers in the first quarter, the Thunder still only lost the game by three points—to a team that many project to finish in the top four of the conference. They’re still well-coached and they still play effective defense. That combination alone will keep them respectable.

Riley: They’ll remain respectable but staying alive in the Western playoff hunt is another story. You don’t earn extra wins simply for having a good coach or playing adequate defense. Even entering this year, you could see the talent pool drying up for OKC. Their 2011 Finals team was powered by Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and current Houston Rocket James Harden. The only remaining piece left on the floor against the Clippers was Ibaka, a far cry from the once “loaded” team that appeared to be a lock to become a dynasty. Egos, money and injuries have broken up that group from three seasons ago, but we still look at OKC as that young contender from years ago. It’s time to grade the Thunder for what they are now: an injury-riddled team that will struggle to return to dominance even when their stars return.