by Pat Rooney
As the Thunder’s season opener approaches, it is important to remember where the team came from, what is has been, and most importantly what it can be. There is, naturally, some trepidation among the faithful as to what this season holds for us. The trades of George and Westbrook have many in Oklahoma City worried and concerned about the Thunder’s future. Sam Presti and Clay Bennett recently addressed such concerns at a local gathering stating essentially that the NBA is what it is and that we have to play the long game to stay relevant.
Presti starts by noting the significant changes going on in the league today. Notably, the way elite players tend to gravitate to large markets, often flocking together in hopes of winning a title. Presti notes that, while many “normal business metrics apply to the NBA, such as adaptability, strategic planning and discipline, there is also the added metric of it being a very emotional industry in a public business.”
Mr. Presti suggests that, due to these realities, the best way to “understand the business is over a period of years.” The Oklahoma City Thunder has been very fortunate, since inception, of having several historic drafts of elite players that sustained the team and led us to greatness with a top 3 rating for over 8 years. Studies show that elite players are the key to success in the league. There are 3 ways of obtaining such players, states Mr. Presti. The first is free agency, the second is trades, and the third is the draft. The first two are, unfortunately, severely limited for small market teams like the Thunder.
As Mr. Presti points out, of the last 16 players in free agency, only one was signed by a small market team. Similarly, of 24 players traded recently only three went to teams in cities our size. Moreover, he adds that 80% of these traded players had contracts expiring within 1 to 2 years, making this avenue expensive and very risky long term as the contracts need to be extended. The third way, of course, is to how we got where we are in the first place, with the drafts of Durant, Westbrook and Harden, among others, that we all remember so well.
Bennett and Presti have chosen to “reposition” the team for the future. They want to play the long game through the numerous draft picks acquired from the recent player trades. Given the Thunder’s successful history, we fans need to keep the faith and keep up our support confident in the Thunder’s ability to do it again. It is not an easy task but is one that deserves our attention and respect. Go to the games, cheer for the team and let’s see what the future holds. As managing owner Clay Bennett reminds us “it’s a minor miracle that the Thunder is even here in the first place.” Go Thunder!