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“They’re Gonna Suck Hard, But They Have a Bright Future!” — Looking At the OKC Thunder
October 25, 2008, 2:21 pm
Filed under: Sports | Tags: , , ,

“Thunder” is the result of expanding air within and around a bolt of lightning. And assuming you’re mind-controlled by the all-knowing, all seeing oracle, the only thunder that means anything in Oklahoma City (other than the kind that Gary England and Rick Mitchell scare everybody to death about) is the NBA team that was relocated (more like hijacked) from the Pacific Northwest and used to be known as the Seattle Supersonics.

Yeah, they’re Oklahoma City’s problem now. Sure the fans will come out — the franchise sold out its season tickets in about the time it takes to get down Interstate 35 from OKC to Norman in thick rush hour traffic and with multiple lanes closed due to road construction. And this was at the same time when most of the state was gearing up for another season of gridiron glory from the Sooners and Cowboys. One wonders what affect the Thunder will have on Sooners basketball (some pundits have chosen the Sooners as preseason #1 in the Big 12 and have the best returning player in the conference, Blake Griffin) and Cowboys basketball (being coached by somebody Not Named Sutton for the first time since … uhh … a long time).

How patient will the relatively new NBA fans of Oklahoma City — now with a team of their very own — be with a team that last season as the Supersonics only won 20 games (but had Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant) — all extenuating circumstances aside, because I really don’t want to get into it anymore because even though I’m trying in my own cranky way to play along with it, it doesn’t change my feelings about how it all went down — I still don’t like it, but there’s a team here now, and maybe it’s time to look at them as a basketball team and not as either a political hot potato, a mogul’s toy or an excuse to hear “Oklahoma” mentioned in the media without it being associated with search terms like “college football,” “tornado,” “Sally Kern,” or “dogs.”

It’s now the cusp of the 2008-2009 Not Basketball Anymore season, my five faithful readers. Let’s take us a look at some of the season previews out there:

ESPN.com (general preview) ESPN.com (John Hollinger analysis)

… they are going to take more lumps. In order to set up their future, they’re operating as a glorified expansion team; fortunately for them, the folks in Oklahoma are likely to fill the arena every night anyway to welcome the state’s first major league pro sports team. (No, the Outlaws don’t count, and yes, this shatters my record for USFL references in a column).

That may give the Okies enough of a home-court advantage to steal a few extra wins, especially since this team is going to play hard. They did last season even while getting their brains beat in, and with all the hustling defensive types they’ve acquired in the past two drafts, they should only redouble their efforts.

Sports Illustrated (opposing team scouting analysis)  Sports Illustrated (season preview)

The new fan base had best understand that, beyond Durant, there’s not much O in Oklahoma.

Ball Don’t Lie (Yahoo! Sports)

The Thunder are going to be horrible this year. Kevin Durant still can’t buy beer, the roster is young, and the 492 draft picks GM Sam Presti has accrued have yet to be cashed in. Things are A-OK, though.

Presti’s obviously planning for the future, and he’s doing it the right way. The Thunder have a slim payroll (that could get even slimmer should they trade Chris Wilcox or Joe Smith’s expiring contract), they really do have a ton of first and second round picks coming down the pike, and Durant is so young that it hardly seems smart to try and rush things.

SLAMOnline

Presti is a general manager, but his business card should read: Hustler. He has assembled long-term talent in Durant, Green, and Westbrook and guys with reasonable contracts that other teams covet in Collison, Watson, and Smith. He also has a knack for coming out of trades with added draft picks and improved cap position.

Look no further than Kurt Thomas’s dealings last season. Presti agreed to take Thomas’s cumbersome contract off Phoenix’s hands, as long as Phoenix included two draft picks. He then turned around and flipped Thomas to the Spurs on the verge of their playoff run, acquiring yet another pick.

Even though most of these guys (except Desmond Mason and Joe Smith, acquired via offseason trades) wore Seattle green-and-gold last season, the Thunder — as ESPN’s John Hollinger says — are like an expansion team, and expansion teams in any league will toddle around for a few years and get their baby heads stomped by jackboots night after night until miraculously something comes together and they figure it all out and grow up. At least Major League Baseball seems to have figured it out, either that or there’s something in the water in Florida, Arizona, and Colorado.

The additions of Mason (who obviously is familiar to Oklahomans) and Smith (a well-traveled forward who, like new teammate Chris Wilcox, is a former Maryland Terrapin) might go a ways towards hurrying along that maturity thing depending on how long those individuals stay in OKC. The veterans who were around for the final years of the Seattle Supersonics as we knew them will contribute as well … but, I can’t help but think, not without some bitterness at the business-related issues that led to their being forced to make a professional shift from one of America’s more high-profile cities to a place that is still trying to bury negative stereotypes and the constant association with tragic recent history.

I’ve talked to people who are convinced that the New Orleans Hornets went from Western Conference doormat to Western Conference contender because they were showered with the hugs and kisses and warm fuzzies of the city that adopted them for two years after the Katrina disaster. Well, maybe — pundits weren’t kidding about the college-like atmosphere of the Ford Center (a live pep band would have been nice instead of the Standard Issue National Basketball Association Canned Audio Package, and that still wouldn’t have really done anything for what I find to be a rather plastic and forced gameday presentation) … but I still think it had way more to do with what New Orleans’ management did well before Katrina. They had the great good sense to use their 2005 draft pick on the twinkly-eyed, nauseatingly talented kid from Wake Forest. Even if Katrina had never happened and the Hornets had played in New Orleans that season, Chris Paul would still have been the NBA ROY because he has skills, knows how to run an offense, has some semblance of leadership acumen — you know, that boring, unemotional type stuff?

This should be a very educational season for everybody involved: the team itself, and the fans who still seem a little unsure how to embrace their new team but are going to do it anyway.

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