The Oklahoma City Thunder have only been around for ten years, and they’ve experienced plenty of turmoil. 3 head coaches, a finals appearance, two # 2 picks, and plenty of first-round exits. Despite only being around for roughly 15 years, the Thunder boasts one of the greatest rosters of all time as a franchise.
That being said, some of their trades and acquisitions have been made with heavy criticism. Here are five great moves, and five puzzling moves the Thunder have made since becoming a franchise.
1. Great: Drafting Chet Holmgren
This one has recency bias, but it’s always a win when the player publicly acknowledges he doesn’t want to be taken #1 in the NBA draft. Then proceeds to express excitement in his first press conference as a member. All that aside, the rookie is already making an impact on the floor. In his first game, he recorded an impressive stat line of 23 points, seven boards, six blocks, four assists, and a steal. Next game, he put up a double-double with 11 points, 11 boards, three assists, and two blocks (stat provided by sportingnews.com). For a franchise whose stars left them all too often, this looks to be a big splash for the OKC Thunder.
2. Drafting Kevin Durant in their first year
He spent one season as a Supersonic before becoming a member of the Thunder after the franchise relocated. According to statmuse, in his eight seasons with the Thunder Durant averaged 27.4 points, 7 boards, and 3.7 assists. He was also named Rookie of the Year in 2008, and MVP in 2014. The once-in-a-generation talent helped the Thunder get to the playoffs six times during his time there. He also got them to the NBA Finals in 2012 before they were defeated by the Miami Heat. Whether you love him or hate him for hopping from team to team, the Thunder got a gem with the second pick. Imagine what the NBA would be like if they selected Greg Oden. Would the team want to relocate? Plenty of hypotheticals, but the Thunderstruck gold with Durant while he was there.
3. Great: Replacing Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul
On July 16th, the OKC Thunder swapped Russell Westbrook for CP3, three top-4 protected picks, and one top-10 protected pick. Westbrook played exceptionally well for OKC, but the Thunder transitioned from an iso-player to a facilitator. Instead of Westbrook going to distance to obtain a triple-double, Chris Paul slowed the pace down and got the ball moving. CP3’s veteran presence helped with the maturity of the young players on the roster, whereas Westbrook’s sight on his stats led to poor performances. Lastly, the Thunder acquired plenty of draft capital to fill the shoes of their point guard.
5. Great: Trading Paul George
In 2019, the OKC granted PG13’s wish and shipped him to the Los Angeles Clippers. In return, the Thunder received seven first-round picks, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari. Paul George plays alongside Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers have been a threat to the West. However, the move did signal a reset for the franchise looking to build from the ground up.
5. Great: Hiring Scott Brooks
Yes, he might not be their current head coach. However, under Scott Brooks, the OKC Thunder made the playoffs five out of six years with him at the helm. Including an NBA Finals appearance in 2011 against the Miami Heat. He took office at the start of a shaky year but managed to do well with the assets given to him. According to basketball-reference, the Thunder were over 45 wins with Scott Brooks as their coach during his tenure. GM Sam Presti stated the move was made as a look to the future and not an evaluation of Brook’s performance as reported by Sports Illustrated. His statement reinforces the positive impact Brooks had as a coach, but the GM was going in a different direction with the team.
6. Puzzling: Putting James Harden in a trade package to Houston
In 2012, James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward were traded to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and two-first-round picks ESPN reported. The organization decided to part ways with Harden after prioritizing Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka.
The Sixth-Man of the Year upgraded to a superstar in Houston, becoming their top scorer. He averaged 24.6 PPG and has developed into one of the greatest off-dribble 3pt. shooters in the game. Meanwhile, Jeremy Lamb averaged 3.1 PPG and played 23 games on the season. Martin wasn’t able to replace Harden as the team’s anchor, averaging 14 PPG. The Thunder parted ways with Martin a year later in a three-team trade to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
OKC did defeat the Houston Rockets led by James Harden in the first round of the playoffs that year. Perhaps the trade wasn’t as tragic as it ended up being. However, fans will be left to wonder if Harden could’ve become a superstar or even the face of the OKC Thunder if they chose him over Ibaka.
7. Puzzling: Their stint with Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony opened up about his time with Oklahoma City on JJ Reddick’s podcast that was posted on Forbes: “For me personally, I actually really enjoyed my time at OKC. That team, I enjoyed it. Being around those guys, I enjoyed it. Granted, we didn’t do what we were supposed to do. The goal was to win with that team. We didn’t do it. We underachieved.”
Anthony was only there for one year in 2017, and the Thunder faced a first-round exit. He averaged 16 points for the team and 35% from beyond the arc. The most puzzling aspect was how short-lived it was. He later explained in that podcast that money got in the way of him being there, and he understood that it was Westbrook’s team. The Thunder traded him to the Houston Rockets, and that’s another case of how a mediocre performance led to an exit.
8. Trading Danilo Gallinari for a second-round pick
This selection isn’t against Gallinari, instead, it’s because of what the Thunder got in return. In Gallinari’s only season with the Thunder, he averaged 18.7 points and shot 40% from the field (according to okcthunderwire). The stretch-four didn’t seem to be a valuable player if you look at the trade, but he was producing for the Thunder. Perhaps this move was made to ensure they didn’t have to sign him for a big deal, but they could’ve received better compensation.
9. Departing ways with Steven Adams
The Thunder have a pattern of drafting or signing players and only keeping them for a year or two. Steven Adams was named to the All-Rookie second team and is now a top-10 big man. According to Sports Illustrated, Adams was essentially traded for Tony Bradley, Kenrich Williams, and a few picks. For a player that’s ceiling is getting higher with every year, how’d the Thunder let him go? Like Gallinari and Anthony before him, money does play a factor in these decisions. In the end, OKC did draft Chet Holmgren whose ceiling is higher than Adam’s may ever be. It’s a case of why the Thunder continue to trade away valuable players for little in return.
Why they didn’t stay in Seattle?
What would the NBA have been like if the Seattle Supersonics were still around? The city is clamoring for a team, and perhaps in the years to come, they will get one. Whether they’d be the Supersonics still is up in the air, but the league wants a team there. As much as the Thunder have been a revolving door with players, the fans should be happy to call a team their own. What will this next season bring, and what does the future hold for the Oklahoma City Thunder?
One more question to ask viewers. Who is the greatest player to wear an OKC Thunder jersey? With all the moves the franchise has made, the Thunder have potential to be an all time star-studded lineup.