The window for success in the NBA sometimes opens and it always closes. For every team. It’s just a matter of time.
It happened for the Thunder when Oklahoma City made it to the playoffs, the Western Finals and then the Finals where the loss to the Miami Heat didn’t seem like the end of an era, but more like a beginning.
But James Harden was dealt, others were traded and then finally the departure of Kevin Durant, and it seemed the window wasn’t closed for the Thunder, but more like painted over and sealed.
Last year, Russell Westbrook provided a necessary distraction with his assault on the triple-double record during an MVP season. But despite Westbrook and his heroics, there wasn’t a lot of talk about how the Thunder were moving closer to a championship. It was more like realizing the chance to win had come and then had gone.
Yet, Friday there was a sliver of light. General manager Sam Presti pried a bit of space and shoved that window back open a bit.
In the NBA, never knowing how long or if a chance to compete for a title comes along, you have to take it. You do everything possible. You mortgage a future. You trade assets. You ship off popular players or trade a starting guard. You do whatever you need to do, because in today’s NBA, it takes more than one superstar to win a title. It takes at least two.
And Presti just brought in another superstar. With the addition of Paul George, the Thunder very well may have distanced themselves from any sort of draft strategy they’ve used during the past few years. But who cares? Doesn’t matter. In the arms race of the MVP, you can gameplan all you want, but if you’re not stockpiling superstar weapons then you’re irrelevant.
Presti is considered one of the best GMs in the game. He hit home runs with Westbrook and Harden, Serge Ibaka and even Reggie Jackson, but despite all the success in the draft the Thunder and Presti have had, it’s hard to get better when you’re drafting late. A pick in the lottery is still, by most accounts, something close to a crap-shoot. A pick in the 20s, like the Thunder have had recently, is a shot in the dark. It’s hard to get better through the draft. And in today’s NBA, it’s near impossible to become championship viable through the draft, because superstars aren’t there.
So, hearing Presti talking on draft night about picks who are set to help the Thunder in the future, is comforting, none of it really matters. You abandon all the scouring and scouting it takes to find a player for the future. You trade away a guy who’s popular and in the starting lineup.
Are the Thunder a championship contender? Likely no. But OKC is better today than it was a week ago, no matter how many players are gone, because you do whatever it takes to keep a window open.