Since its founding in 2008, the Oklahoma City Thunder has established a reputation as a place of second chances. Players from all kinds of different backgrounds have come through OKC–an array of different circumstances, significant injuries, questionable reputations, or less than stellar play. But many of these players have had redemption stories in OKC, completing remaking themselves while playing for the Thunder. This is both a credit to the player for putting in the hard work, and also to the Thunder for having an excellent culture and environment, which encourages making the most of an opportunity to regroup, revise, improve, grow, and excel toward greatness.
Shawn Livingston spent time in OKC rehabbing from a horrific knee injury that not only threatened his playing career, but also the ability to keep his leg. (At one point, a Dr. told him they might have to amputate it.) After his time spent regaining playing form and conditioning in OKC, Livingston went on to have a successful career, including winning multiple titles with the Golden State Warriors.
Enes Kanter came to Oklahoma City at the 2015 trade deadline with a reputation for being a locker room problem and bad teammate. During his OKC tenure, Enes Kanter completely remade his image. He became an excellent teammate and locker room guy, (and half of the Stache Brothers), improved his play, (was an excellent Sixth Man), and was a staunch defender of the Thunder’s culture and image. He became so beloved during his (relatively brief) stay in Oklahoma City, that he still receives hearty applause when he visits.
Dion Waiters, like Enes Kanter, had a less than stellar reputation before coming to OKC. He was viewed as a showboating ball hog, who had beef with teammates. Also, like Kanter, he completely remade his image, and became a beloved figure in OKC. Dion was a key cog on that 2015-2016 Thunder squad, bringing energy off the bench as a Sixth Man. He instilled Philly toughness into the Thunder’s small ball lineup that had the 73-Win Warriors on the ropes (that is, until Klay went thermonuclear in Game 6). If it weren’t for Kevin Durant’s departure, odds were good that he would have returned to OKC, as well.
Jerami Grant came to OKC during the Russell Westbrook “Now I Do What I Want World Tour” (2016-2017 Season). When he first arrived in OKC, Jerami was a springy athlete with the physical tools to be a great player but had not yet put it all together. He had a habit of ball watching, hunting blocks much like a cat with a laser pointer, rather than keeping solid defensive positioning. His offensive game was also quite rudimentary, needing refinement if he was to become more of a threat than just a high flying, (and vicious) dunker. Credit to Jerami, he completely revamped his offensive and defensive game, becoming a true scoring threat and defensive fiend. He stretched his range out to the three point line, became a consistently reliable finisher around the rim, and keyed in on defensive fundamentals. Unfortunately, the trades of Russell Westbrook and Paul George expedited his own departure from OKC, with his being traded to Denver for a 2020 first round pick.
Nerlens Noel is a more recent example of a player making the most of his opportunity in OKC. He turned down more lucrative offers (and possibly more playing time) from other teams to come to OKC to be the backup to Steven Adams. Of course, the first year he was here, OKC was positioned as a title contender, featuring the duo of Russ and Paul George, which likely factored into his decision to join the Thunder. Before coming to OKC, Nerlens was best known for his injury at Kentucky (which prevented him from going first overall in the NBA Draft), turning down a lucrative contract from the Dallas Mavericks, and and also for eating a hotdog on the bench during a game. In OKC, Nerlens has been a great teammate, shot blocking menace, agile-handed on both the offensive and defensive ends (catching lobs and creating steals), and has stayed healthy. He, alongside Steven Adams, form maybe the best center tandem in the NBA, giving OKC two legitimate starting caliber big men to man the middle. The fact that he returned for another year on a team-friendly deal, even when given the opportunity to pursue different options in wake of the Russ and Paul George trades, speaks highly of OKC’s culture and environment, and of his loyalty to the team.
Chris Paul is probably the most high-profile redemption story for OKC. Right or wrong, he was viewed as a locker-room problem, injury prone, and over-paid when he arrived in Oklahoma City (as part of the Russell Westbrook trade). He came to the Thunder as a bitter rival, but quickly won over the entire team, organization, and fan base. Chris is absolutely the right player at the right time for OKC. He is the unquestioned leader of the team, and has proven to be a true leader in general. He has instilled winning principles, brotherhood, responsibility, competitiveness, and a sheer force of will into this Thunder team. CP3 is the perfect person to mentor Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, as he prepares him to become the potential face of the franchise. Chris has also stayed healthy this season, not missing a single game for injury reasons. As for his contract–that is viewed much more favorably now than it was prior to the season. When you combined it with other preconceived notions, it was an albatross. Now, it is no longer a huge obstacle to overcome, as teams such as the Knicks want to trade for him to help instill a winning culture into their franchise. This is ironic, because last summer, before trading him to the Thunder, Houston reportedly tried, to no avail, to trade him to the Knicks.
Some say that timing is everything. In these cases, it really does seem that the timing was right for each of them to join the Oklahoma City Thunder, absorb its culture, and together with their experience and talents, weave that opportunity into a magnificent mural, owed to second chances.