Looking for an NBA team to hitch your bandwagon to?
Sick of your favorite team making dumb decisions?
Tired of your team's best player leaving for greener pastures (Cleveland, Toronto), getting injured (LA Clippers), or demanding to be traded (New Orleans)?
Need to find a team to root for in the playoffs and possibly beyond for the foreseeable future?
Frustrated by the free agent moves that now make your team's title hopes seem non-existent?
Then look no further than the Oklahoma City Thunder, ladies and gentlemen!
Now, before I go any further, I'm not asking anyone to drop their favorite team. However, when our favorite team is horrible, we always find another dog in the race to root for.
For example, as a Michigan football fan, I've been rooting for Texas the past couple years to win it all. Not because I like Texas more than Michigan, but because Michigan's going to be out of the national title picture for awhile and I've always liked Texas. I still root for Michigan to win every game, but I realize in the grand scheme of things, they probably won't be there in the top 2 of the BCS.
Now, here are the top 5 reasons to root for the Thunder until your respective teams become title contenders.
Thought he'd be higher? As LeBron proved in Cleveland, it takes a lot more to win than a superstar, but that doesn't mean it's not important.
Many took notice of this guy during his freshman season at Texas four years ago where he became the first freshman to win Player of the Year. He completely dominated, and looked like a man among boys.
In the present day, it's beginning to look very similar. His superstar status took full form this year, becoming the youngest player in league history to win the scoring title, and leading a Thunder squad that was believed to be a couple years away from making the playoffs to a 50-win season and a valiant effort against the defending, and future, champion LA Lakers.
I could even make the argument that he should've won the MVP. He took his team from the lottery to the playoffs, whereas LeBron did what he was supposed to do. Durant averaged more points, rebounds, blocks, and shot better from the 3 point and free throw line. The only stat LeBron outclassed Durant in was assists (8.6 versus 2.8), which was due to LeBron not having a true point guard. While LeBron certainly deserved the MVP, giving it to Durant wouldn't have been as big a crime as people may claim.
Durant's numbers have increased each year in scoring, rebounding, steals, and blocks, and became a 90% free throw shooter this past season. He set a franchise record in scoring at least 25 points in 29 straight games.
It would be unfair to not point out the negatives of his career; the main one being his playoff performance this past year. It was a sub-par effort on his part. In his defense, it was his first ever playoff experience, he was being guarded by either Ron Artest or Kobe Bryant most of the games (two of the best defenders in the league), and while he may deny it, the kid had to be nervous as all get out. Expect better performances as he gets more comfortable in that kind of atmosphere on that big of a stage.
Did I mention that he's only 21? Keep in mind that the typical age for a player's prime is in his mid-to-late 20's. Translation: Durant is only going to get better.
For those that don't know, Sam Presti is the Thunder General Manager, and widely regarded as one of the best GM's in the league. He's taken advantage of more dumb GM's than anyone.
For example: this past Draft, the Thunder had two first round draft choices, each in the early 20's, one of which Presti had acquired earlier from Phoenix (along with Kurt Thomas and a 2008 first rounder for the Thunder's 2008 second rounder). It was no secret the Thunder wanted to move up. He was able to send those two picks to New Orleans for their #11 pick and shooter Morris Petersen. The Thunder selected Cole Aldrich (not a flashy pick, but they needed size and a big man who could rebound).
Decent move, right? Not great, but he was able to get it done. But that wasn't his best move.
Taking advantage of the Heat's desire to gain cap room, Presti was able to buy their 18th overall pick and shooting guard Daequan Cook for the 32nd pick. Presti then sent the pick to the Clippers for a future first round pick.
That's three non-lottery picks for two NBA players, a solid big man, and another first round pick. Not bad.
As we've seen, a championship franchise needs a man to bring in the right players for the team. Danny Ainge (Boston's GM) brought in Ray Allen (thanks to Sam Presti) and Kevin Garnett. Mitch Kupchak (LA Lakers GM) was able to steal Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies.
Sam Presti is that kind of GM. He acquires many assets, maximizes their value, and drafts well. Sure he may make a mistake in the future, but he won't make many.
Ask someone the first thing that comes to mind when you say the words "Oklahoma City" and chances are it'll either be Timothy McVeigh or the Oklahoma City Bombing.
That needs to change.
From everything I've heard, these fans love this franchise. It's in a small market, with few, if any, celebrities who regularly attend their games (though that may begin to change). They have no other major sports franchise. Their next best team would be the AAA baseball team, the Oklahoma City RedHawks. Yes, there's the University of Oklahoma, but football is only played once a week and their basketball team usually isn't very good unless they somehow land a guy like Blake Griffin.
Fans like this deserve a winner, it's something people can cheer for, and remember that this was the place the New Orleans Hornets came to call home for two seasons due to Hurricane Katrina. They embraced that team, and then were rewarded with a franchise of their own.
In order for a team to be considered a threat in the future, they must have one thing: talented youth.
We've already discussed Kevin Durant, so let's focus on the rest of the roster.
Of the players who averaged more than 15 minutes per game last season, only one player, Nick Collison, is over the age of 26. The average age of the roster is only 23 years old.
Russell Westbrook will be the Pippen/Robin to Durant's Jordan/Batman. He's 21 and averaged 16 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds last season while shooting 42% from the field. Like Durant, he can only get better.
The rest of the supporting cast consists of 23 year-old power forward Jeff Green (15 points and 6 boards), 26 year-old guard Thabo Sefalosha (a lockdown defender), and 20 year old guard James Harden (rookie last year who came off the bench and averaged 10 points).
However, the guy with the most potential outside of Durant and Westbrook comes from Zaire in 20 year-old power forward Serge Ibaka. He showed flashes of stardom during the playoffs and regular season. The guy is raw, but has athletic ability that is out of this world. He could become a 20 point, 10 board, 3 blocks per game type player.
What's great about this team is their depth. Say Westbrook goes down, they can bring in Eric Maynor, a solid point guard out of VCU (yea, the guy who helped beat Duke in the NCAA's a few years back). If Green gets hurt, Ibaka picks up the slack. If their best player, Durant, gets injured, Green can slide over and play small forward and they can start Ibaka.
What they lacked against the Lakers in the playoffs was size and experience. They got size through the draft in Aldrich, a guy who's probably a guaranteed 10 points, 10 rebounds most nights. Ibaka will be better, and with Westbrook, Green, and Durant getting that experience last year will only make them better and tougher.
It's no secret a lot of people do not like what the Miami Heat did in bringing on three top 15 guys to try and become a super team. I am one of them. They've become the villain of the NBA. The Yankees, the Duke, whatever team that's always a favorite to win it all no matter what.
While I understand why each guy made their decision, I don't like it. I don't want to see them win any titles. I don't believe I am alone on this.
Now, I am not saying the Thunder can win it all next year. They're still not ready, and I fully expect Kobe and the Lakers to take this threat as a challenge and rise to it. Boston has another year left, and Orlando is certainly no slouch.
However, after another year of development from their talented youth and hopefully a first round victory against whoever next season, the Thunder will be ready. The Lakers and the Spurs will not be as good in two years with age not on Kobe or Duncan's side. They should be able to make it to the Finals barring another super team forming out West.
There's also the issue of the lockout, which is coming, like it or not. There's talk it could wipe out the entire 2011-12 season or just part of it. Regardless, I expect the Thunder to be ready by then. Instead of being 20-26 year old rookies in the postseason, they'll be 22-28 year old veterans who have been there, done that, and know what it takes.
Otherwise, the Three Amigos may get their wish and win title after title. I certainly hope not.