Thunder

OKC Opens Door Into Oblivion

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Two postseasons ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder had just lost to the Houston Rockets in seven for a chance at a second-round berth.

Oh, how different one season can be.

Weirdly, it was fun watching this season from the couch. Not because losing is fun, or being out of the playoff picture is what we strove for as a franchise, but because our future is exciting.

The Early Days

After trading away Chris Paul, everyone knew the future was tank. We didn’t know if Mark Daigneault was the placeholder while the team worked its way back towards playoff contention, or if he was the long-term solution.

We got rid of almost any veteran presence from our 2020 playoff team, but replaced it with Al Horford, George Hill and Trevor Ariza among others.

https://twitter.com/okcthunder/status/1336326038905733120?s=20

The young core was strong. It was time to find out if Luguentz Dort‘s playoff emergence was a fluke. It was time to find out if the intern, Darius Bazley, was here for the long haul.

The expectation was to be one of the worst five teams in the NBA. Initially…that didn’t exactly happen.

The Season

With SGA

In the first ten games of the season, the team went 5-5, including wins over the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, and a one-point loss to the Utah Jazz. Those teams went on to be legit playoff contenders. Weirdly, Oklahoma City was in the mix as well. The 2019-20 season was a surprise. Most didn’t expect OKC to be a playoff team, let alone a No. 5 seed.

This season was something different entirely. It confirmed the Chris Paul camp for point guards does indeed work.

The NBA wasn’t ready for the onslaught of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

SGA carried the Thunder through the first half of the season. In the 35 games he played, the Thunder were nearly a .500 team…in the Western Conference…while missing Hill for 21 of those games and Horford for 14 of them.

Going 17-18 is no small feat in your first year as a leader, with the franchise’s future on your shoulders.

SGA’s individual play was electric, but it takes a team to conquer. OKC’s success was a by-product of what Charles Barkley would call “the Others.” Bazley and Dort both proved their worth moving forward.

If there were any questions about either player’s promise moving forward, those have been answered.

But it wasn’t just three players who stepped to the challenge.

Unheralded NBA role players like Kenrich Williams, Mike Muscala, Isaiah Roby and Moses Brown showed up, especially when SGA went down with a plantar fascia injury.

Without SGA

Right.

After March 22nd, 43 games into the season, Shai didn’t play another game of basketball. The result, well…

It was well documented, but in case you were somehow unaware, the Thunder’s next 29 games looked like this.

L, L, L, W, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, W, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, W.

For those that weren’t counting, that’s 3-26. The only team who lost more games in a row this season: the Houston Rockets (they lost 20 straight). As much pain as fans may have had watching it, I can only feel worse for the players.

To make a really bad joke out of it, we went through a stormy stretch to end this season. Laugh to hide the pain, right?

After a decade’s worth of competitive basketball, this franchise and its fanbase largely forgot what losing looked like.

It’s not fun.

The bright side to it is the players we uncovered for the future. The aforementioned Brown turned out to be an absolute gem. Theo Maledon, even though he got snubbed from an All-Rookie team, was an incredible second-round find from the Thunder front office. Lu Dort took massive strides offensively – including a 42-point masterclass against the top-seeded Jazz – and proved himself to be a key piece to Oklahoma City’s future.

Bazley was legit. The mid-season acquisition in the Hamidou Diallo trade – Svi Mykhailiuk – played fantastic. Ty Jerome showed up. To tie it up in a fancy little bow, Aleksej Pokusevski proved he’s not only a player with massive upside, but he became a fan-favorite.

The Thunder lost a lot of games, but they won over hearts. That’s all you can ask for from a team that was expected to be one of the worst in the league before the season started.

Post Season

Mark Daigneault

If I was Sam Presti, the first thing I would do right away is sign Mark Daigneault to the longest possible contract the rules allow.

In years past, OKC may have had the talent, but they never had the coach. If this season was anything to go by, Billy Donovan and Scott Brooks are average NBA coaches at best. This season has also been an indicator of just how rare a good coach can be.

We’ve got a good one in Coach Daigneault. A really good one. Best to keep him around.

Off-Season Moves

OKC has already made the first big off-season splash, trading away Al Horford, Moses Brown and a 2023 second-round pick for Kemba Walker, the No. 16 pick in this year’s draft and a 2025 second-round pick.

Everyone knew Horford was getting off-loaded this summer. What we didn’t expect was getting a proven NBA All-Star and leader in Walker. Only a year ago, we took what was “an untradeable contract” in Chris Paul, let him prove that he’s still a capable basketball player, and worth the money he is getting paid. Why can’t we do the same with Kemba?

But as great as Kemba is, the intrigue this offseason is the NBA Draft. Who will the Thunder select? The addition of the 16th pick gives OKC three in the first round. Presti has proven that he isn’t afraid to shake things up. What he does prior to the draft, or during it, could surprise some people.

The only thing that’s certain? OKC’s future is in a good spot. Despite the losses, the currently constructed team made sure hope was on the horizon.

What’s the old saying? Even the darkest storms are followed by clear skies.

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About Adrian Walker

Graduate from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Been covering sports since I was 14 years old. I have an Emmy nomination to my name and have helped produce two documentaries. I Co-Host a podcast called the Flight School Podcast which can be found on Spotify and iTunes. My mind is basically a storage base for every known fact about Russell Westbrook.

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