Any time I’ve tried to talk to my usual basketball friends about the Thunder this season, I hear the same thing – “Yeah, I just haven’t really been watching any games this year.”
Which, yanno, that’s a fair comment. It’s easy to see the excitement wane when we’ve witnessed two players win MVPs in the city (and another win one elsewhere), the insane rise to the 2012 NBA Finals, and a few Western Conference Championships, and now the team has been stripped down with no hope to win a title for several years.
Most fans weren’t happy to see the team slowly self-implode, but we understood the writing on the wall and knew it was time to blow it all up and try something new. Now, the organization is in perhaps its most strange position. As of writing, they’re logjammed for the 9th position in the Western Conference, with a losing-but-not-all-that-bad record at 5-7, which would be good enough for the 8 seed in the East.
The additions of Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would have been welcome in any other season, but odds are all if not most of these guys will be absent from the roster next season. Even with a losing record, the Thunder are sneaky good, currently ranked 12th overall in defense and 16th in offense. That’s just middle-of-the-pack enough to not be good and not be bad.
Oklahoma sports fans are notoriously fickle and possessive. After all, before the Thunder came to town all we’ve really had to be concerned about before the Thunder was college sports. While the Thunder were great, there was a “WIN IT ALL OR THE SEASON IS A LOSS” attitude, which is kinda crazy when you consider that it’s been the same 9 teams who have won the Finals over the last 20 years. Now, the tide is shifting to “LET’S JUST SUCK REALLY BAD AND TANK FOR A GOOD DRAFT PICK!,” which would make sense, but it’s not really in this team’s DNA.
Should the Thunder just over-rest Chris Paul and some of the other key cogs in order to lose games? Maybe, but if Presti wants to trade away Paul’s contract, he’s gotta be out there playing his ass off. At the same time, the worse of a finish OKC has to the season, the better the odds for a great draft pick.
The ownership would probably MUCH prefer that OKC makes the playoffs, because that’s a ton of extra revenue for the team. But how awful would it be to watch the Thunder scrape their way into the 7 or 8 spot, then get decimated by the Westbrook and Harden Rockets in the first round?
Obviously, as fans we can’t complain too much when we were basically gifted the Supersonics and watched them nearly take over the league in just a few seasons. But we’re now approaching the uncomfortable purgatory of mediocrity that other franchises have struggled with for years. Hopefully, the Thunder is patient and wise enough to follow in the footsteps of the 76ers mantra: Trust The Process.