We’re about to welcome the launch of the OKC Thunder’s ’21-’22 season, and the debate over tanking continues for a second straight year.
Do the Thunder continue to “explore the roster” and chase the league’s worst record in hopes of drafting the next unicorn?
Or do they take this young roster and try to be competitive in a very good Western Conference?
Sam Presti said recently that the team will take no shortcuts. You can read into that whatever meaning you choose.
“What we want to do is be playing meaningful basketball at the end of the year,” Presti said. “We want to try to do everything we can to put ourselves in position to optimize the group that we have, and there’s just no shortcuts to that. It comes back to the commitment to the process that’s in place and being willing to be patient with that as we go through, especially with this much change as we’ve experienced.”
Here’s the takeaway from that: “commitment to the process.” Translation: “lose for the lottery.”
In today’s column in The Oklahoman, Berry Tramel laid it out. “Losing is the path to winning.”
But put me down for trying to be competitive.
I know that puts me at odds with my fellow Thunder fans who celebrate tanking and see a championship caliber team in the future as a result.
There seems to be a couple schools of thought within NBA fandom.
One school says that if you don’t win the NBA championship, your entire season is a bust.
So tank until you can build the roster up.
The other school says that competing at a high level against the best players in the world and making a playoff run is great entertainment. Yes, we may come up short in the end, but we’ve got something to cheer for through the long, cold winter months.
Remember the fun we had in the early 2010s when the Thunder went deep into the playoffs, even if they came up short?
We were living high as Oklahoma City Thunder fans. Those are cherished memories of mine almost a decade later.
But you know what? Those Thunder teams didn’t win the championship.
That doesn’t diminish the memory for me in the least.
My friend Steve Buck argues that the Thunder team of that era was a championship caliber team even if it didn’t win it all.
“Here’s the deal…for many of those years we were capable of winning the title,” he says. “That’s the goal here…get a club rebuilt that is capable to contend. Playing for a one and out is not the goal. You want to position yourself to win it all.”
My point is that we didn’t win it all, but, gee, we had fun.
And now we’re losing for the lottery. It makes for long, bleak seasons. And there’s no promise of a unicorn at the end. Or even of a top three pick (see this year’s lottery fiasco).
Here’s to the new season and hoping the Thunder will be over-achievers.
Let’s not chase the luck of the lottery once again. Let’s play to win now.
BONUS: Here is how Berry Tramel has the bottom of the West ranked going into the season: