(Photo from ESPN)
The Oklahoma Thunder (formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics) had a lackluster year wins/losses-wise but they have what any losing team hopes for to allow their fans to sleep at night: a future. Let's go back in time to see some facts about the Sonics history, starting with their draft history since 2001, leading into a season by season mini breakdown starting with the last time they made the playoffs in the 2004/2005 season.
2001: Vladamir Radmanovic (12th pick)
2003: Luke Ridnour (14th), Nick Collison (12th)
2004: Robert Swift (12th)
2005: Johan Petro (25th)
2006: Mouhamed Sene (10th)
2007: Kevin Durant (2nd), Jeff Green (5th)
2008: Russell Westbrook (4th)
2009: James Harden (3rd)
- In the 2004/2005 season, the Sonics finished at the top of the Northwest division with 52 wins, good for the 3rd seed in the Western Conference, led by Ray Allen's 23.9 points and Rashard Lewis' 20.5 points, Vladamir Radmanovic's 11.8 points and Luke Ridnour's 10 points and almost 6 assists. In the playoffs, they beat the Sacramento Kings in 5 games, but then lost to the eventual champions, the San Antonio Spurs in 6 games. (By the way, Rashard Lewis did not play in those last 3 games).
- In the 2005/2006 season, still led by Ray and Rashard scoring 25 and 20 points respectively with the help of Earl Watson and Luke Ridnour's 11.5 apiece and 5.4 and 7 assists respectively, the Sonics failed to reach the playoffs, winning only 35 games.
- In the 2006/2007 season, again led by Ray and Rashard's 26 and 22 points per, the Sonics only won 31 games, not reaching the playoffs.
- In the 2007/2008 season, the Sonics got some lucky bounce and landed the 2nd pick in the draft and with Portland going for Greg Oden, Kevin Durant aka Sonic Savior landed in their laps (and he turned out to be the rookie of the year). They also made a deal with the Celtics, sending Ray Allen and the 35th pick in the draft (Glen Davis) for Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, and the number 5 pick, Jeff Green. They ALSO completed a sign and trade with Rashard Lewis, sending him to Orlando for... nothing. The season was a fail with 20 wins led by Durant's 20.3 ppg (Jeff Green scored 10.5 per game). But with 20 wins, you're getting a high lottery pick as well which leads to this season:
- In the 2008/2009 season, the Sonics changed their name and address and became the Oklahoma City Thunder, drafted Russell Westbrook (4th pick) and were highly questioned on that call when his UCLA teammate Kevin Love was still available (5th pick). The pick was not wasted as Westbrook averaged 15.3 points and 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals. The Thunder however only won 23 games. During the season, they put some more pieces together by adding Nenad Krstic and trading a draft pick (eventual Taj Gibson) to Chicago for Thabo Sefolosha.
- They got another lucky bounce in the lotto and drafted Arizona State standout James Harden (SG) with the 3rd pick.
- They waived PG, Earl Watson who signed with the Pacers.
- They traded Chucky Atkins and Damien Wilkins for Center Etan Thomas and 2 second round draft picks in 2010.
- Etan Thomas is owed $7.35 million in 09/10 and is a FA in 2010.
- Kevin Durant is owed $4.79 million in 09/10, team option for $6 million in 10/11, qualifying offer for $7.9 million in 11/12
- Jeff Green is owed $3.5 mil in 09/10, team option for $4.4 million in 10/11, qualifying offer for $5.9 mil in 11/12
- Russell Westbrook is owed $3.7 mil in 09/10, team option for $4 mil in 10/11, team option for $5 mil in 11/12.
It's hard to fault their draft history just because they missed the playoffs a lot, but not by so much that they were guaranteed a high pick. This is kind of the worst position to be in because you don't have a shot at the championship, nor do you have a good chance for a lottery 1st, 2nd, or 3rd pick. The Sonics made due with what they had and drafted some OK players in Vladamir, Ridnour and Collison. But they also had some questionable picks in Robert Swift and Sene. They got lucky in 2007 and completely overhauled which eventually got them a "big" 3.
The "big" 3 of Durant, Green and Westbrook (with maybe a "big" 4 in Harden) are all in their rookie contracts. That's why they are paid so little when compared to other franchise players on other teams. Durant will more than likely sign a huge extension in the next coming years to keep him from leaving Oklahoma.
The Thunder though, have been very patient these past few years. They knew they had to rebuild from the ground up and with the help of Kevin Durant (pictured left) carrying the team, they've added some quality complimentary players around him. Instead of blowing the farm and over paying free agents who were available, they really stuck to giving these young guns quality minutes to get a feel for their game. If you want to learn Spanish, you don't open a text book, you go and live in Mexico for awhile and work out the kinks on the fly. If you want to be a starting QB star in the NFL, you get right out there and you get some playing time ala Peyton Manning. The Thunder is taking the same route, starting Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, their future stars to lead them out of NBA early offseason purgatory and into the extended season of the playoffs. (Photo from Givemetherock).
The deal for Etan Thomas could be due to the fact that the Memphis Grizzlies drafted Center Hasheem Thabeet one pick before Oklahoma. Even so, the Thunder took what they felt was the best talent available in James Harden.
Oklahoma is only paying $50 million in salary to their players and are only on the hook for $20 million in 2010/2011 season. As stated, although this team has its problems in the whole WINNING category, the Thunder do have a future that it can work toward with improvements throughout the next couple years. They have the talent. Here's what Hoops Hype has to say about the big 3:
- Kevin Durant: Great offensive repertoire, excellent shooter and ball handler for his size, very long and quite an athlete.
- Jeff Green: Great versatility, good all-around skills.
- Russell Westbrook (pictured right): A superior athlete, very quick, great first step, very good defender, plays both guard positions. (Photo from nicekicks)
Probable starting lineup for the 2009/2010 season:
PG: Russell Westbrook/Shaun Livingston?
SG: James Harden/Thabo Sefolosha
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Jeff Green?/Nick Collison
C: Nenad Krstic/Etan Thomas
Is this a championship team? No. They most likely won't make the playoffs again this coming season with the Western Conference being so rough and the top teams looking to stay on top for another couple years. But this team should definitely win more than 23 games while making strides in the right direction as far as becoming a playoff team.
Patience and rebuilding are often annoying words to a team's fans but in the case of the Thunder, it figures to pay off down the road. It all started with them trading their franchise player Ray Allen, for a complimentary player in Jeff Green to go along with their new franchise player Kevin Durant. Adding Russell Westbrook and SG James Harden who keeping with the Thunder's theme of playing the young guys, should start right away, will only help these Thunder to keep improving. Other struggling teams should pay attention to how Oklahoma is turning things around, but how do you teach a team to get a lucky bounce in the lotto? Anyways...
As far as the future goes, Durant is likely to get some big money, maybe not more than $20 mil per year, but you never know. Green, Westbrook and Harden will get some nice paychecks but it's important to know that Oklahoma doesn't rake in that much money. According to Forbes, at the end of 2008, the Thunder ranked 24th out of 30 teams in how much the team was worth at $300 million and their operating income at -$9.4 million. Will they have enough to pay these guys as well as some average role players? We can only read between the baselines we have, we cannot read the future. What we do know is that their was a +12 million increase in the team's worth since last year, again, according to Forbes 2008 report. It would be a shame if this team is successful while together would have to be split up because the low market team who made the right decisions simply couldn't afford to keep it together. But so goes the business of the NBA.
But the big picture is that team does have a future. Fans don't have to live in denial about the team's potential. This team has a young core, which if everything goes right, can make some heads turn this coming season.
Those are the facts. And that's one way to read between the [base]lines. Have a good weekend.