Oklahoma City The Lost Dynasty
The end of an era took place this week when Oklahoma City agreed to trade their last star from the 2012 Western Conference Champions, Russell Westbrook to Houston. The West champions at that time featured some of the most significant collections of young talent on one team and recent memory.
The Thunder once boasted Kevin Durant the eventual two-time Finals MVP, and ultimately league MVP’s James Harden and Westbrook. The team also had quality talent that included Jeff Green and Serge Ibaka current member of the champion Toronto Raptors.
The Thunder rose to prominence after drafting Durant in 2007, and Westbrook and Ibaka in 2008, and Harden in 2009 all in the first round. Ibaka was the only non-lottery pick as the Thunder were able to rebuild through the draft after moving on from the Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen error that led to playoff appearances, but they were never a serious threat to win the championship. At the time the team began their transition from Seattle as they moved to Oklahoma City before 2008 season.
The Thunder went from a 23-59 record in 2008-2009 to a 50 win season and the playoff the next season losing to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. The following season the Thunder won 55 games losing to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.
The Thunder made the NBA Finals in the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season before losing to the Miami Heat. The Heat built their club via free agency and signing veterans on short term deals.
The decision by Lebron James to move to Miami from the Cleveland Cavaliers to win a championship dawned a new era in the league. The Heat’s victory in the Finals turned the tide on NBA history where teams used the draft.
The Thunder decided after that final to trade the current sixth man of the year James Harden to Houston due to cap space considerations. The Thunder unknowingly mortgaged their prospects in returning to the Finals. The Thunder returned to the playoffs four straight years with Durant and Westbrook never making it past the Western Conference Finals.
The cruelest blow took place when Durant left the Thunder in free agency to join the Golden State Warriors the team who defeated them in the Western Conference Finals that year after coming back from a three-game to one deficit.
The Warriors were a homegrown team acquiring stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson via the draft. The Warriors were defeated by the now nomad James who returned to Cleveland after four years in Miami and the Cavaliers.
The formation of this new super-team allowed the Warriors to dominate the league the next three years winning back-to-back champions. The three-peat this year came up short after season-ending injuries to Durant and Thompson in the Finals.
Now this offseason the star players of the league have fully embraced the ideology of shorter deals in most cases no more than a four-season commitment to a team and combining talents loyalty be damned. The expected teams to compete for the championship for the next three years will all consist of free-agency creations.
The Thunder dismantling has nurtured these efforts as Durant is now with the Brooklyn Nets, Harden, and Westbrook now star down the road in Houston. The Thunder a decade later find themselves in a familiar spot and aging player looking for a trade and a bounty of draft picks.
The expectation is Chris Paul, the aging star that came over in the trade for Westbrook if he starts with the Thunder will not end the season with the team. Paul is likely to join one of the contenders possibly a return role with the Clippers.
The question is, can you build a team via the draft. The best option is to create an appealing squad of young talent similar to Brooklyn and entice star free-agents to join. The problem is the perks around that team Brooklyn has New York, Los Angeles has Los Angeles, Oklahoma City has a passionate fanbase but little else.
Teams could toil in the draft for years and in some cases decades. An example of this is the Charlotte Bobcats now Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets then Bobcats returned to the league in the 2004-2005 season after the original franchise moved to New Orleans at the end of the 2001 season.
The franchise in fifteen seasons has made the playoffs a mere three times losing the first round each time. The franchise is a frequent participant in the lottery and the one superstar they acquired via the draft recently Kemba Walker left in free agency for Boston this offseason.
The hope for the Thunder is the draft will hold fruitful for the team and allow them in the future to recreate history. However, in the new NBA, this is unlikely, and the creation of the homegrown dynasty is likely over. In the event, they can replicate the drafts of 2006, 2007, and 2008 the challenge as always for small cities is can they keep the team together.
Oklahoma City and smaller cities like them will need to deal with the harsh reality of the continued difficulty to compete in a league driven by revenue dollars off the court. The players are consistently looking for additional financial opportunities and gravitate towards playing in big markets more than ever.
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