RIP: Oklahoma City Zombies

This past week, one of the Internet’s best and most influential sport writers – Bill Simmons — wrote an excellent article in Grantland about the James Harden contract fiasco. The beginning of his column included a very significant and important footnote. The Zombies are dead.

Important note for this season: I’m giving up my four-year vow to avoid typing the word “Thunder” in an NBA column after the Sonics were hijacked from Seattle with the implicit consent of the NBA’s commissioner, David Stern. It’s just too much of a pain in the ass to keep the “Zombies” thing going, and more important, Chris Hansen is definitely bringing the Sonics back to Seattle. That’s happening. Let’s start looking forward instead of backward.

Yeah, great excuse. I’m sure you’re being 100% honest, and you stopped writing “Zombies” when the word became a “pain in your ass” to include in mailbags, trade value rankings and an upcoming column that will compare 27 NBA players to your favorite characters from Boardwalk Empire. You know, because “Zombies” is so much more difficult to write than “Thunder.” I doubt it had anything to do with the Zombies schtick becoming tired and boring and old news. And lets look forward instead of backward or something like that.

Lame excuses aside, Simmons’ article about the Harden conundrum was spot-on. He outlines the entire situation perfectly. Here are his three likely outcomes:

• Harden’s agent accepts less money to stay in Oklahoma City — a fundamentally ignorant decision that would mean they were brainwashed by Oklahoma City’s small-market B.S.. If that happens, lock down the Zombies for two to four titles in the 2010s assuming nothing funky happens (injuries, drugs, a fatal injury during a brawl at the BET Awards, whatever).

• Harden’s agent says, “Let’s play this baby out.” That’s actually the best outcome for both parties. Harden guarantees himself a four-year, $64 million offer from someone this summer; Oklahoma City locks Harden into a cheap 2012-13 price ($5.82 million) while also leaving itself the flexibility to (a) trade Harden during the season (doubtful; they’d never mess that dramatically with a potential title team), (b) match Harden’s “max” offer next summer and amnesthize Kendrick Perkins (most likely), or (c) match that offer, then trade Harden or Westbrook after the 2013-14 season because the tax penalties will keep getting worse (possible).

• Oklahoma City panics and trades Harden before Halloween, or some time before February’s deadline, for 100 cents on the dollar. Totally improbable … and yet, we can’t totally rule it out.

I see them picking the “Let’s play this baby out” option because it’s a safer move; because it’s beneficial to them ecomonically [sic] (at least this season); because it allows them to keep every conceivable option open; and because you never jeopardize a potential title when you’re this close. Remember how close OKC came to winning that Finals? The first four games probably came down to five or six plays total.

Wow, kind of refreshing to read some Thunder analysis from someone who knows what he’s talking about. Our “traditional” media understands the NBA about as well as Mitt Romney understands poor people. When they mention Harden’s contract, they make it out like it’s a do or die scenario. That if he’s not signed by Halloween, that he and his beard are taking their talents to Phoenix or Houston or a huge yacht with booze, hos and Cowboy hats. Someone suggested to me that possibly the local media’s doing this to generate interest. I don’t think they are that smart. I think they are doing it because they’re stupid.

If you need any proof of this, just listen to the Dominant Duo on the Sports Animal, watch the OK Sports Blitz, or read anything written by a person named Jenni or Rohde. Or if you’re really up for it, check out this random article from News 9. It was written by some dude named Kevin Kuzminski and makes the stuff on Bleacher Report look Pulitzer worthy. I was just going to link to article, but damnit, now I feel the need to quote some of it:

The Thunder should definitely re-sign James Harden. I mean, c’mon, he’s an All-Star, Olympic Gold Medalist, and might be the best sixth-man in the league. The Thunder should just pay him what he wants so they can win multiple NBA titles.

That seems to be the popular opinion regarding Harden’s contract situation.

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how this works. The NBA is a business, the Thunder is a business, and the No. 1 reason business exist is to make profit…

Sorry about this, but one quick thing. Yes, businesses exist to make money, but sports franchises are not traditional businesses. Most owners don’t expect to make loads of money when they buy a team. They usually own the team for civic reasons or to be members of an exclusive billionaires boy’s club. And if they do lose money in operations, it’s not a huge deal because they are filthy rich and could use a tax write-off. The real value in owning a major league sports team comes later on down the road when you  flip it for a huge profit. You know, like Howard Schultz thankfully did a few years ago.

Anyway, back to the really bad column:

Out of the 30 NBA franchises, let’s be generous and say that five teams have a chance to win the 2013 NBA Finals. The Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and I’ll be kind enough to throw the Boston Celtics into that mix, even though they have little chance in my eyes.

I don’t want to hear about The Clippers, or Memphis, or Denver, or Indiana. Those teams are really good, but are clear second-tier teams that can’t hang with the contenders when push comes to shove.

Five teams have a chance, out of 30. And Stern wonders why so many organizations are losing money…

Okay, so you were “kind enough” to include the Boston Celtics in a group of five title contenders, but then you write “they have little chance in my eyes.” Uhm, in your eyes? Okay, I guess you’re saying they don’t belong with the other teams. If that’s the case, why include them? Why not just write “there are four teams in my eyes (or view) that have a chance to win an NBA title.” Do you like the number 5 or something? Also, how can you include the Celtics, but write that the Clippers are “clearly” a second-tier team? But I digress…

Basketball isn’t like football or baseball; where there are more athletes competing at once. Football has 11 players and baseball has nine. With only five players playing at one time, the impact a superstar has on the game is twice as high in basketball as in either of those.

You’re totally right. I always thought football, baseball and basketball had the same number of players. Thanks for that insightful analysis, Mr. Pop Naismath Doubleday. Also, kudos to you on the advanced mathematical calculations that have determined star basketball players have exactly twice the impact as an elite quarterback or ace pitcher. Now to the rest of this thing.

Oklahoma City is lucky enough to have one of those few superstars in Kevin Durant, and that keeps the Thunder in the title discussion. If Portland had selected Durant in 2007, Miami had taken Russell Westbrook in 2008 and Memphis had picked James Harden in 2009, the Thunder could have easily ended up with any or all of Greg Oden, Michael Beasley and Hasheem Thabeet; a core that would have already run Sam Presti right out of town.

Ah, nothing like an extreme over-the-top hypothetical statement to help prove your point that…uhm…what is the point of all this exactly? The Durant thing I can kind of give you, but Presti was somewhat ridiculed for selecting Westbrook and Harden as high as he did.  So basically Sam Presti is lucky that other teams didn’t have a Sam Presti? And how do you know with certainty that he would have selected Beasley or Thabeet??? Actually, just ignore my questions, dim the lights and go wax poetic on James Harden:

Another big reason OKC is in the title discussion is because of the excellent play of reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. The six-foot-five Harden has the court vision and ball-handling ability of a point guard with the size, strength and shooting ability of a wing man. His stoic demeanor combined with his ability to hit big shots makes him a terrorizing force off the bench. His majestic beard makes Thunder fans feel warm and fuzzy, while inducing fear and intimidation to his enemies.

Wow, it looks like someone got “The Writer’s Handbook for Trying Too Hard” as a Christmas gift. I don’t think a stoned kid at the Classen School for the Advanced Studies could have written that any better. Also, I say that from here on out we all refer to James Harden’s beard as the Majestic Beard or the Fear-Inducer. One of the two. Now lets just cut to the part where you write about James Harden’s future:

James Harden will have a decision to make too, and unless OKC offers him a max deal, one of two things is going to happen.

Either Harden voluntarily takes less money, stays in Oklahoma City and contends for a title for the foreseeable future, or he takes a max deal, goes to some random team, and watches his career tumble into irrelevancy a la Joe Johnson.

Uhm, where’s the other option? You know, the one where the Thunder let Harden play 2012 – 2013 under the terms of his rookie contract, save some money, and then match any offer next summer when he becomes an RFA? You know, the one that Bill Simmons elegantly explains in his column that makes absolute sense. Oh wait, you are — and I’m probably being generous here — part of the Oklahoma City media and turn into an ignorant Zombie when it comes to talking or writing about the NBA. My bad. I forgot.