Built from the ground up. That's exactly how the Oklahoma City Thunder were formed.
Even before Oklahoma City had a permanent basketball team, the foundations for the team you see before you today were being laid down. Coming over from Seattle left a lot of fans heartbroken and reasonably so. However, on the other side of the table were the fans in OKC. A city longing for a professional sports team to give all of their hearts to, and they finally had their guys.
Expectations were certainly not met when the Thunder started their tenure in Oklahoma City. A disappointing and downright embarrassing 23-59 record gave the fans little to root for at home games.
So what did the Oklahoma City Thunder organization decide to do after such a horrendous year? Go after players in free agency and lure them into joining a losing team and small market with a ridiculous contract? What about trading away almost everything for a disgruntled superstar?
The answer is none of the above. This is where we first got a little insight into what Thunder GM Sam Presti was thinking. Knowing that the Thunder most likely did not have a chance at luring any big-name players through trade or free agency, Presti decided that it would be best to embrace the losing seasons, learn from them and then build on them instead.
It was through the losing that the Thunder could become winners. Through the losing, it got them high draft picks which they were able to use on players like James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The losing also banded the team and the city together as one, with the fans refusing to turn on their team even with such a poor showing.
Had a big-market team shown up with a stinker of a year like the Thunder did in 2008, coaches would have been fired, and the front office would likely be cleaned out as well. Not in OKC though. Instead, there was patience.
That patience paid off almost immediately the next season when the Thunder won 50 games, being led by the trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green.
How could a team improve that much in just one offseason? Having a budding superstar like Kevin Durant certainly helped the cause, but that was not the sole reason.
It was easy to see how such a poor team could start to win games, even without any major roster moves. The Thunder were going into games loose and they were having fun. Crazy concept, isn't it? A group of grown men playing a children's game and actually enjoying it.
Just think of the other big market teams like the Knicks or the Lakers. The fans would pile into the arena every night, expecting a winning product on the court to entertain them after paying for tickets with their hard-earned money.
If they didn't like what they would see, you would hear it from the crowd. The pressure of playing for franchises with storied histories and large fanbases can take a heavy toll on a player or even a group of players, leading to not so great results in games.
Do you see where the difference was and still is for the Thunder? Even now as they are constantly being mentioned as one of the favorites to win an NBA Championship, the players have bonded together after years of playing with each other and consistency with the coaching staff and front office.
One of the biggest things big markets can learn from the Thunder is the overall team unity that they have not just with the fans, but with each other on the court. Teams like the Knicks have long struggled to find that winning combination, mixing in big egos on the court to try and produce a winning basketball team. However, those egos often clash with each other and may not bode well for the team as a whole, leading to large salaries and not a lot of W's.
The Thunder and the city of Oklahoma City have instead taken it upon themselves to prove that a small market can rise up from the ashes, dust themselves off and scrap with the big boys.
We saw something similar earlier in the 2000s with the Sacramento Kings during the Chris Webber era. Though the Kings never fully reached their goal of an NBA championship, they set the precedent for the little guys in the NBA to have a fighting chance even without the glitz and glamour of a big city setting.
Now that the Thunder are on the cusp of bringing the first NBA title to Oklahoma City ever, it's hard to say there was a better way the team could have been assembled. Crafty and frugal moves by Sam Presti have built a team than could become the NBA's next dynasty for years to come.
Sure OKC may never be a great place to visit or go on vacation, but the fans and the team on the court have made do with what they have and, in the process, have made it a great place to watch a basketball game.
So to all the big-market teams out there, take note of how the Thunder built themselves up and how bright their future is. Patience and pride were some of the biggest factors for an underdog like Oklahoma City, and by using those factors, they now find themselves on top of the West and possibly the top of the NBA in the near future.