In the NBA, teams can never take anything for granted. “Oh, they’re young, they’ll be back!”. Does that quote sound familiar? In 2012, the young Oklahoma City Thunder team featuring Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat. The NBA Finals appearance gave hope to the franchise and put the league on notice. Now they appear to be shifting their focus to that of a rebuild.
A Change of Direction for the Oklahoma City Thunder
Window of Opportunity
After 2012, many believed that the Thunder would run the Western Conference for years to come. But because the financial burden of keeping three stars was too much, Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets via trade. This roster re-tool seemed to work well for both organizations, but the Thunder couldn’t quite get over the hump. There always seemed to be a key injury or let down in the playoffs, none bigger than in 2016.
Despite being up 3-1 against the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder could not close it out. To make matters worse, Durant decided to jump ship and join the Warriors in search of a championship.
This earth-rattling move left Westbrook as the solo act for the Thunder before they were able to acquire Paul George. With George, the Thunder became a respectable team again, but still couldn’t quite advance in the postseason. The lack of shooting and unfortunate injuries may have played a role in these premature exits.
Another Star Lost
Kawhi Leonard, who is coming off of an NBA title, decided to shake things up a bit, to say the least. “Kawhi-watch” was taking over the basketball world and everyone was trying to predict what his next move would be. Everyone knew that he would be picking between the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Toronto Raptors, but nobody knew that he was secretly trying to pry away another superstar from the Thunder.
Even though the Thunder are a small market team, they have been able to get their hands on some of the best players to ever play the game. The front office just never seemed able to keep the talent long term and commit financially.
After the trade that sent George to the Clippers, it became evident that the Thunder wanted to hit the reset button. The plethora of picks that they received from the trade should help kick start the rebuilding process.
With the Thunder’s clear franchise reset, they are allowing free agent verbal agreements to reconsider. They are also reportedly working with Westbrook to find a landing spot that aligns with his goals. The Miami Heat are allegedly the team in the driver’s seat for that trade.
The Thunder have been a powerhouse in the Western Conference for a while, but it seems that their best window for a championship was in 2016. With the newly acquired picks and assets, Sam Presti will look to rebuild through the draft and develop the young players that are already on the roster.
It will be interesting to see how the Westbrook situation plays out and if the Thunder can play their rebuilding cards correctly.
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