No one can argue that, as fans, Thunderheads have been nowhere near naughty. The still-the-Ford Center is usually filled, it’s usually loud, the fan shops are packed with fans supporting the team and the most die-hard among us go above and beyond what normal NBA fans do.
So it’s worth holding out hope that Santa would come through with a lot of wish list items for Thunder fans. I tried to come up with a list that would be almost universally acceptable for Oklahoma City devotees this holiday season. Feel free to add your own in the comment section — Santa could be reading this!
1) A lockout-free 2011-12 season. We’ve already discussed the reasons why a lockout could be particularly cruel and damaging to the Oklahoma City market. But it’s definitely worth asking Santa to intervene, especially because this is surely the No. 1 priority of any NBA fan between now and next October. Does anyone around here want to be cheated out of a year of watching Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the gang? The answer is obviously a resounding no not only in Oklahoma but around the league.
2) Home wins over the Heat and Lakers. The Thunder opens the ABC basketball slate with a home game against Miami on the last Sunday in January, and then plays its only other Sunday afternoon game against the Lakers on February’s final weekend. To say that there will be a playoff atmosphere in downtown Oklahoma City for both games would be an understatement. Thunder fans want at least a modicum of revenge — as big a modicum as you can get in the regular season, anyway — against the Lakers for so cruelly eliminating Oklahoma City on its home floor. And Thunder fans want to beat the Heat for the same reason everyone else in the NBA circled their calendars for visits from Miami, but also because it’s fun to embrace the “anti-Heat” role Thunder U could play in this and future seasons. If there are two home games Oklahoma City fans want to win more than any others, these would be the games.
3) A leap from a young big man. We’re all pretty sure Nenad Krstic won’t be back next year. His contributions have been valuable — no matter what his detractors say — but with the Thunder’s current structure and probable limitations in attracting a prime free agent for a reasonable price, either Byron Mullens or Cole Aldrich is going to have to be ready to take Krstic’s minutes, and probably his starting spot, by next season. A leap worthy of making Scott Brooks think about a 10-man rotation would be invaluable to whichever young player makes it, because game minutes this season could pay off next season in a huge way. The only other way Oklahoma City seems capable of getting those minutes from Mullens or Aldrich would be an injury, and that’s something no one wants.
4) A buzzer beater at home. Santa, I hoped for this in the Daily Thunder Season Preview , but so far we haven’t gotten one, despite the many close games in which Oklahoma City has been involved. I thought I’d ask you to deliver to see if that works. It seems like KD has missed about 10 straight shots at the end of games with Oklahoma City tied or behind, although we’re almost positive that it’s just a lengthy run of bad luck and not a sign of something different. And it doesn’t even have to come from KD, although that would be great for his confidence and ours. But Oklahoma City fans are ready for a shot to drop in as the buzzer sounds at home. We all want to scream and skip back to our cars, post excited Facebook status updates and everything else. Two-plus seasons in and we don’t have one yet. It’s time.
5) A razor for Byron Mullens. Please. I like his potential and what we hear from Thunder brass about his work ethic, but his beard is hideous.
6) Good winter weather to avoid construction delays downtown. The mess in downtown Oklahoma City hasn’t been quite as bad as many feared. But it’s still a pain. There are fewer street parking spaces available for people like me who are too cheap to pay for a spot in a parking garage, so it has meant an extra block or two to walk on some nights in the cold weather. So far, the weather hasn’t been bad enough to halt any construction work for any significant length of time. If the city is blessed with mild weather for the winter, the mess could get sorted out a few weeks early and make us happy campers.
7) A new name for the arena that doesn’t suck. The guess here is that there have been plenty of offers for naming rights to the not-yet-letting-go-of-the-Ford Center, but the Thunder is taking an approach similar to Jerry Jones and his Cowboys Stadium by waiting until the economy comes around to get some better bids. No one wants to get locked into a long-term naming rights deal when a little patience could pay off, literally. We all realize that a naming deal will come eventually and that we won’t be lucky enough to have a cool, “free” name like the Thunderdome or anything else. And we know a solid deal could significantly improve the available resources to keep our current players or attract a free agent. But it would be nice to not have a name that’s as lame as Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland or Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City. Lucky for Oklahoma City, most of the local big-name, deep-pocketed companies don’t have terrible names. The Devon Dome or Chesapeake Center isn’t nearly as bad as some of the NBA arenas out there. But a successful bid from some unfortunately named national company would be a total bummer.
8 ) A tit-for-tat, Russell Westbrook vs. Blake Griffin dunkfest when the Clippers come to town. Whether the individual Thunder fan is also a Sooner devotee or not, I’m almost certain every Thunderhead has circled Feb. 22 and April 6 on their calendars for the two visits to Oklahoma City by the Clippers. It’s a chance to see one of the most exciting players in the NBA in Oklahoma City-native Griffin, who along with Westbrook is one of the best in-game dunkers in the league. If the two decide to get in a “Oh yeah?” type of dunk-off with each other, I’d wager there’s a good chance that every single SportsCenter Top 10 play could come from the same game for the first time in history. And I’m only half-kidding.
9) Healthy knees — and everything else — for Kevin Durant. I almost threw up when, rather suddenly, Durant had to sit for a couple games thanks to a “sore knee” that didn’t seem to stem from a specific in-game injury. Hopefully it was just a minor, one-time thing. But anything involving a sore body part of KD’s isn’t something Thunder fans can stomach. And when it comes to the knee, most of us have read too many stories like what’s going on with Brandon Roy in Portland to be anything less than slightly terrified when a knee problem comes seemingly from out of nowhere with Oklahoma City’s star.
10) A one-way ticket to New York or New Jersey for Carmelo Anthony, and ASAP. It would be a shame for Nuggets fans, but at this point it’s probably even best for them if Anthony gets shipped out to the greater New York City area. And it would certainly be best for the Thunder if they had one less playoff contender from within their own division. I’m not convinced that there’s any way Denver could get something approaching fair value for Anthony, but it’s obvious he’s going to leave anyway if they don’t trade him. So why not get a head start on rebuilding? The latest information indicates a trade could happen pretty soon. That would certainly wound the Nuggets’ chance at beating the Thunder both this season and next. And I don’t feel bad for asking for this because, again, he’s going to leave no matter what. The sooner the better for an Oklahoma City club thirsty for a top-four seed in the West.