“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer.
OK, fine. I’m not exactly a French literature expert. I heard former NFL coach and current analyst Herm Edwards say that line in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Broke”. It’s something that has stuck with me (unlike millions of dollars to Antoine Walker, amirite?).
Every NBA team has a goal. I suspect every owner would say their goal is to win a NBA championship. Whether that’s a remote possibility or not is another matter entirely. In truth, most owners are probably more concerned with improving the value of their substantial investment.
Every NBA team has a plan. Even Sacramento. Some plans are well thought out. Some plans began thanks to good fortune. Some plans are incredibly ill-conceived. Plans will differ from team to team for a variety of reasons. Money and location are by far the most significant drivers.
Take the Lakers for example. One of the NBA’s premier franchises. Winner of 16 NBA championships. Located in the country’s second largest city in terms of population and television market. Home to Hollywood and, my wife informs me, Kardashians. A team that can clear over $100 million in operating profit despite a 27-55 record. The Lakers can get just about any player they want. At least, it used to be that way. Things haven’t been the same since legendary owner Dr. Jerry Buss passed away.
Pat Riley’s plan in Miami includes investing almost no time or effort in the NBA draft or the foreign player market. Riley buys American. He also prefers players that spend their first few seasons playing for other teams, developing on someone else’s dime. Exceptions to this plan are allowed when the team is in position to draft a talent the caliber of Dwyane Wade.
Teams like San Antonio, Utah and Oklahoma City? Charming as those cities may be, passionate as the fans may be, classy as those organizations may be, luring an All-Star talent, let alone a Hall of Fame talent, will always be a monumental task. The Spurs made valiant attempts in the past to lure Chris Webber and Jason Kidd to no avail. According to Shaquille O’Neal himself, the Jazz tried to trade for him in 2004. That plan died when Shaq refused to commit to the team long-term. To paraphrase Kurtis Blow, these are the small market breaks.
The bulk of the Thunder’s roster is pieced together via the NBA Draft. Assuming Josh Huestis signs before the season starts, the Thunder could have seven players on the roster currently on a rookie contract. Four other players (Kevin Durant, Russell Westrbook, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison) were first round draft picks made by the franchise. The roster could also include former second round picks Grant Jerrett or Semaj Christon.
The Thunder organization brings young twenty-somethings to our city. Those players need to have not just talent and potential, but also an appreciation of the fact that it is a privilege to play in the NBA. The Thunder front office takes it a step further and makes those players realize it is a privilege to play in Oklahoma City and for fans like you and me. If the player fits into the program, he can be locked up for at least eight seasons. In the case of Durant and Westbrook, it’s nine seasons. That’s the duration of “Seinfeld”.
Maybe, just maybe, a strong bond will form between the player and the team and the city during that time and he will choose to stay even longer. That length of time sure beats the typical pit stop visit of your average free agent who could be locked up for four years at most. That is part of Oklahoma City’s plan, whether it is spelled out on paper or not.
The Thunder’s failed pursuit of Pau Gasol is a somber reminder of the difficulty in luring elite talent to Oklahoma City. To elaborate would require me to seemingly disparage the city I’ve lived and worked in for 17 years and the only state that I’ve ever called home. I can’t declare Oklahoma City the best city in North America any more than Sixers owner Josh Harris can claim with a straight face that his team can win 60 games next season. Suffice it to say that if I didn’t enjoy living here I wouldn’t be here.
Recruiting premier talent to Oklahoma City is a challenge faced not just by the local professional basketball team. As an example, I work for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. My organization competes for talent and brings in brilliant scientists, but recruiting to Oklahoma is not easy. All it took for me to understand that difficulty was to spend a few days at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. They have an ocean, you guys. And it is gorgeous. If I were being competitively recruited by these two organizations with no ties to either area, no offense to this city but I’d be writing this piece from a beach right now.
So if offseason player movement gets you fired up, the Thunder might not be the team for you. If you want those kinds of thrills, consider Houston where Daryl Morey does enough annual demolition and reconstruction to merit his own TV show on HGTV. Consider Chicago, which managed to snag Gasol’s signature. Consider Cleveland where they are fortunate that the game’s best player was born and raised in the area and wanted to return home.
The Thunder as currently constituted will be a threat to win in the month of June every year. But this is not an organization that is going to “win” in the month of July. In fact, the only Julys we should worry about “winning” are in 2016 and 2017, when a few players of significant importance can become free agents. If all goes according to plan, the bonds that formed will hopefully be too strong to break.
Jon Hamm is a contributor to NewsOK.com and expert on all things cap. Follow him on Twitter here.