What 20-game winning streak?
The San Antonio Spurs looked like a juggernaut coming into the Western Conference Finals. Winners of 18 straight at the outset, they extended that streak to 20, putting the OKC Thunder in an 0-2 hole and on the ropes heading back to the Dust Bowl. Most recognized the Thunder’s pluck, skill and athleticism, but also pointed to the team’s youth as both an asset and a liability. Sure, they had the energy to compete with the Spurs, but not the playoff pedigree to beat a newly revitalized Tim Duncan and company. It would take San Antonio six games, max, before they were on their way to compete for a fifth title.
Six games, alright, only after OKC beat the Spurs in San Antonio on Monday, now it’s the Thunder who are looking to close things out at home.
Looking at the rise of the Thunder in the last few years, I can’t help but to wonder what might have happened if they had stayed in Seattle. Sure, they had their franchise player in Kevin Durant, but the Sonics were also 20-62 in his rookie year. A lot has happened since then, both with Durant improving as a player and the team that was built around him.Personally, I’m one of those guys that hates to see teams move cities. I understand the reasons for it, especially in the case of Seattle/OKC where the team had the worst facilities in the league and the city couldn’t/wouldn’t support a new arena. Add to that Clay Bennett’s unwavering commitment to bringing a team to OKC and the move was inevitable. Looking back, it may have been the best thing to happen to the franchise.
The Seattle Supersonics weren’t a terrible franchise. They weren’t the Clippers. They won their title in 1979, and had another good run during the Shawn Kemp/Gary Payton/George Karl days. They were pretty decent during Nate Macmillan’s tenure as well. But the turnaround since they’ve moved to OK has been remarkable. From 20 wins to championship contender in four years is beyond impressive. Sure, it helps to have a bona fide superstar on the roster, but Durant hasn’t done it alone and it could be argued that the Thunder as they exist today wouldn’t be the same if they had stayed in Seattle.
Say the city of Seattle had built that arena or that David Stern had showed a spine and not let Bennett and his cronies steal the team away. Would Bennett have even went through with the purchase? It’s entirely possible that he wouldn’t have. From there, the dominoes start to fall. Do the old owners/different new owner hire Sam Presti as GM? Even if so, does Presti or whomever is GM draft guys like Russel Westbrook and James Harden? Does that front office trade for guys like Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins? Does that front office keep Scott Brooks around after P.J. Carlesimo is canned?
Jerry Reisdorf once famously said that organizations, not players, win championships. In a way he was right. The Chicago Bulls that he built in the 1990′s were very similar to the current day Thunder. They had a certified stud to build around and the front office was able to complement him with the right players in the right roles. It worked out well for the Bulls and all indications point to it working out well for the Thunder too. But, in my mind, it all goes back to that one decision to let the franchise flee Seattle and take up residence in central Oklahoma.