Checking in on the Thunder in Atlanta

In the years I covered the Oklahoma City Thunder both as a member  of the broadcast team and the media in general in OKC, I developed an admiration for the way the organization handled basketball business. Quite simply, I saw Sam Presti and company focus on character, teamwork, passion for the energy required to play the game and organizational control.

Character is self-evident, but the straight poop is this: OKC is a small market without big market funds to waste and, I think in the long haul, with a conservative fan base that will not accept players who don’t have strong team character. If a player wants bright lights, big city, they won’t be happy in OKC. The money, well, that’s good anywhere in the NBA.I’m not saying they won’t accept “weird” dudes; they loved some young players who had problems in the Hornets era. But this organization just sees no reason to plug holes with leaky corks.

Teamwork and teaching are two reasons why Scott Brooks has been an NBA success. I hope he will remain in OKC for the length of his career because of it. Like Gregg Popovich  in San Antonio (yes, the Thunder basketball organization is built on the same ideas as San Antonio), if the superstar cornerstone stays (K-D), Brooks’ defensive (“two more stops!”) and flowing, adaptive offensive strategies will locate to conference titles and more. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are their Tim Duncan and David Robinson (let’s not argue the position differences here): two extraordinary superstars who individually require immense attention from other teams over a seven game series. And the teaching part requires players with what some call Basketball IQ (I just call it, smarts); great players always want to learn more, and Brooks and his staff are always looking to improve as coaches. It works if your star players work at it. So far, so good.

This also plays to passion for the energy required to sustain success. You must have certain players. This is why Brooks  had a relatively long career as a role player in the NBA. He was a gym rat, and he likes players like him. Great talent abounds on every bench (and on the waiver wire) across the N-B-A. Extraordinary results, however, come from a willingness to trust and bust it, to attack rebounds five deep when needed, to close down perimeters when the switch is made, even if it’s not your strength. To shoot when the shot is yours, to drive when the lane beckons, to dive when the ball is rolling. Win championships? The formula applies. Not all great talents will do the things above. That’s the difference between talent and results.

Organizational control, well, there are many or franchises that exhibit that – and I never had a problem with it. That’s an idea for another day, but it’s one that creates an avenue of consistency within and clarity of goals as presented publicly. Personally, I wish fans would just enjoy the games more and tweet and blog less. One team loses every game, and those losses are not always failures.

The Hawks are building a team with similar ideals, minus a Durant or Westbrook, and it’s fun to watch. The Thunder came to Atlanta playing well, but in the midst of a challenging stretch of their own. This time around, OKC couldn’t sustain the energy needed for four quarters to beat the hottest Hawks team Atlanta has ever fielded. They beat OKC by 10 for their franchise record 15th straight win, 103-93, and they did it buoyed by their crowd and their style of play. Right from the Thunder playbook. I enjoy this type of basketball, and frankly, I hope to see these teams play again – best of seven – at the end of the campaign. Good health, and sticking to their formulas just may make that possible.

Here is the post-game wrap I filed with my buddies at in OKC.



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