Heading into the season, the expectation was that the Thunder would be competing for a high lottery pick; piling up losses, with a few wins sprinkled in. Funny thing though, with 25% of the season complete, the Thunder sit at 8-9, just a game outside of the 8th Seed. Fans who crave a top pick are starting to get nervous, fearing that the team is jeopardizing their future by winning a few more games than they should. This past five-game road trip was a tough test, but OKC went a solid 2-3 on the trip.
Their upcoming schedule is brutal, with most games against high-level competition. If the Thunder survives that stretch with a .500 or better record, then it’s time to officially be concerned about their draft position, (if you are in the tank the seasoned camp). While I touched on this subject in a previous article, below, we will explore that further.
So, what happens if the Thunder end up with a .500 or better record after the upcoming schedule? Well, then it would be time to reassess what the goals are for this season. Hypothetically, if the organization was truly committed to a tank, even after a stretch like that, then trades would have to happen. The team would look to trade George Hill, Al Horford, and maybe even Mike Muscala for assets, which would further deplete the roster while adding draft picks and/or young players. The belief would be that by trading these vets, you would decrease your odds of winning, which in turn, would increase your odds of a top pick.
Another option would be to simply play it out, and see how far this group goes. The Thunder control the picks of the Heat, and Rockets (top 4 protected), to go along with the Warriors pick if it falls 21-30, so OKC will have at least two first-round picks no matter how well they finish this season.
The last option would be to “go all in,” which would encompass Sam Presti making trades to improve the team, cashing in on the substantial draft capital that the team has already assembled. Of the three options for the team, this is the least likely to occur.
In all likelihood, the team will go on to lose a bunch of games and receive a top pick. There is the chance they win more than expected and miss out on the top pick, but it’s not a given at this point. For fans, it comes down to this: No one has a crystal ball on this, but Presti’s “spider-sense” is always great, so just relax, and enjoy the ride. Watch the Thunder compete, and enjoy the development of the young core.
We will see where the Thunder are in March after a February that features two-games against the Lakers, two-games against the Bucks, another meeting with the Blazers, a tilt with the Heat, as well matchups against the scrappy Spurs and Hawks.