How Did The Thunder Get To Be This Good?
Last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder erased an 18-point first half deficit - and a 15-point halftime deficit - to defeat the San Antonio Spurs and head to the NBA Finals. In the postgame, every Spurs player credited the young Thunder squad and its extremely high talent level.
But how did the Thunder get to be so good, so quickly?
Well, a roster like this doesn't just make itself happen. Sam Presti, the team's GM, has done a superb job evaluating talent and using the draft to build this franchise. Here is how the Thunder assembled the current squad:
Kevin Durant - 2007 NBA Draft, Second Overall Selection
Jeff Green - 2007 NBA Draft, Fifth Overall Selection (Acquired the pick in a trade with the Boston Celtics for Ray Allen; later traded to the Celtics in 2011 for Kendrick Perkins)
Russell Westbrook - 2008 NBA Draft, Fourth Overall Selection
Serge Ibaka - 2008 NBA Draft, 24th Overall Selection (Acquired the pick in a trade with Phoenix)
James Harden - 2009 NBA Draft, Third Overall Selection
It obviously took some bad times to make the Thunder good. You don't earn top picks in the draft without first losing a lot of games. And of course, a little luck helps also. In hindsight, many will say Durant fell into the franchise's lap in 2007 after Portland selected Greg Oden. Boy, did those two picks ever change the landscape of the NBA.
In the same draft, the franchise traded Ray Allen and the rights to a pick that was used to select Glen "Big Baby" Davis to pick Jeff Green fifth, only to ship Green back to Boston four years later to acquire Kendrick Perkins. In 2008, with Kevin Love still on the board, Presti's crew opted for Russell Westbrook, only to turn around and take a different big man, Serge Ibaka, later in the same round. The following year, James Harden was selected.
But how did the Thunder stockpile all these draft picks? Well, that's where the true genius comes in. The second first-round pick in 2008 (that was used to select Ibaka) was acquired when the Thunder took Kurt Thomas from the Suns and ate his $8.1 million contract in 2007.
The team acquired Thabo Sefolosha from Chicago in 2008 by sending the Bulls one of its three first-round picks in the 2009 draft. How does a team end up with three first-round spots? Well, one of those came when Presti flipped the aforementioned Thomas to San Antonio months after acquiring him (essentially, by playing the middleman in Kurt Thomas acquisitions, the Thunder got three first round picks - two from Phoenix, one from San Antonio). The pick it did send to the Bulls for Thabo was Denver's property, which Oklahoma City acquired by trading Johan Petro to the Nuggets (have you even heard of Johan Petro?).
This team was was no accident; it's been years in the making, beginning in 2007. Fans always wonder how their team can become better not only in the short term, but for the long haul. The average age on the Thunder's roster? Twenty-six years old (25 if you don't include mid-season acquisition, 37-year old Derek Fisher). It gets scarier. Of the foursome of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka, Durant is the eldest, at 23 years and 221 days old. He is the three-time defending scoring champion, and has only been in the league for five years. The future for the Thunder is bright, folks - and we're just beginning to watch it all unfold.
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