The once budding Oklahoma City Thunder has fully blossomed. The team's ascent has occurred as quickly as a Russell Westbrook drive to the basket.
Three seasons ago, the Thunder was a struggling, small market team that quite frankly, didn't draw a lot of attention. Watching them play, you got the impression that it would be several years before the franchise would attain mediocrity, let alone real success. Today, the Thunder is a top tier NBA team.
This team has been built by General manger Sam Presti, who does all he can to avoid the spotlight. This season, the Thunder swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks during the first round of the NBA playoffs. In the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals, the Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 1, pushing their post-season record to 8-1.
The Thunder has achieved success by building through the draft. Over the past five years, Presti has acquired Kevin Durant, James Hardin, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, all through the draft. The worst NBA executives get lucky from time to time in the draft. In Presti's case he has made great selections consistently, which means he has a real eye for talent.
Having won the Northwest Division title the past two years, and now in its third straight playoff appearance, the Thunder is again proving that you don't have to be a large market team to have success. Large market cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami have used their marquee names to attract talent, and ultimately build a winning team. But smart draft selections and sound decision-making can be equalizers.
That's the foundation of the Thunder's success. It's why several teams, including our own Washington Wizards, strive to emulate the Thunder model – and not only teams from less-chic zip codes. In today's NBA, it's not about keeping up with the big market teams. It's about mimicking the Thunder.
For seven years Presti worked for the San Antonio Spurs in various capacities. In 2007, at age 30, he was named general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics. The SuperSonics were in the process of moving to Oklahoma City at the time, and they had the No. 2 overall draft pick. With the draft's first pick, the Portland Trailblazers selected center Greg Oden. Then Presti chose Durant.
Oden's career has been plagued by injuries. Since he entered the NBA, Durant, who was born in the District and raised in Seat Pleasant, Maryland, has played like a future Hall of Famer. Durant has led the league in scoring for the past three seasons, and the thought of this Thunder team playing together for several years to come isn't comforting for the rest of the league. NBA experts look for the Thunder to be championship contenders for many years to come.