Heat or Thunder: Who Has Best Model to Follow for Floundering NBA Franchises?

Ben ShapiroAnalyst IIIJune 1, 2012

Dwyane Wade celebrates another victory on what may be a path to the Heat's second consecutive Finals appearance.
Dwyane Wade celebrates another victory on what may be a path to the Heat's second consecutive Finals appearance.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Let's say you're one of those downtrodden NBA franchises. The type of team that starts assessing lottery odds and top college talent by midseason. 

The Hornets, Wizards, Bobcats, Raptors and until this past season, the Clippers—these teams always seem to be looking forward to May for ping-pong balls instead of playoff games.

The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat know a thing or two about the NBA draft lottery. Before the Thunder were called the "Thunder," they were the "Sonics," and they played in Seattle.

They also stunk.

In Durant's rookie season, the Sonics were 20-62. The next season was Russell Westbrook's first as a pro, and the Thunder's first in Oklahoma City. The team performed marginally better, finishing with a record of 23-59.

Since then, things have improved much more dramatically.

In the last three seasons, the Thunder have made the playoffs every year. They've made the Western Conference Finals two years in a row.

The blueprint is one of steady, incremental improvement. The Thunder drafted Durant in 2008, then Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in 2008. In 2009, they added James Harden.

This is in stark contrast to the Miami Heat.

After winning the NBA Finals in 2006, the Heat cooled. A first-round playoff exit the following season was just the beginning. The 2007-08 season was a disaster in which the Heat finished 15-67.

Miami spent the next two seasons mired in mediocrity. Both seasons, the team finished with a winning record. Both seasons, the Heat bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. That's when the organization embarked on a plan to kick-start the team out of its ho-hum routine.

The summer of 2010 was when the Heat pulled off one of the more dramatic free-agent spending frenzies in history. Miami spent big and added LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The sudden influx of talent was felt on the court and in the standings.

Last season, Miami lost a heartbreaking NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks. This season finds the Heat back in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Is a NBA Finals matchup between these two franchises inevitable?

More importantly, for our crew of perennial also-rans looking for a model on which to base their own franchise's success, which path is smarter?

Clear all of your cap space, pitch your team and then reload by handing out massive contracts to all of the players you want?

James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the core that has the Thunder on a roll.
James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the core that has the Thunder on a roll.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Or is it smarter to be patient? Sign your draft picks, make good draft picks and then eventually accrue enough talent to compete on basketball's highest level?

Keep in mind that, as of now, neither franchise has won a title with the core of its current roster.

For the majority of teams, the Oklahoma City model is smarter and will likely yield better results. Miami was really a special case.

Miami is a very cosmopolitan city with nightlife, architecture and international tourists. Those aren't bad things to tempt wealthy and talented young basketball players with.

Most cities don't have that much going for them. The only cities that really can boast similar nightlife are New York City and Los Angeles. Chicago, Boston and Dallas also have plenty of non-basketball entertainment options.

Charlotte? Toronto? Not exactly the most tempting urban areas.

The path from mediocrity to being at or near the pinnacle of the NBA heap is littered with failures and pitfalls. There's no magic formula, but if you had to choose the path most suitable, the Thunder's blueprint has more going for it.

Some teams, in some cities, simply can't be counted on to draw big-name free agents no matter how much money they throw at them. Drafting players has plenty of risks, but once they're selected, they have to get used to playing in that city while wearing a particular uniform. 

Sit tight, Bobcats fans. It might take a few years, but eventually, the postseason won't seem like an impossibility.