Here’s a hypothetical scenario: Let’s just assume you and every one of your 29 friends is married. You guys would always talk and hang out, but were kept apart by some controlling power (let’s say the wives) for about 5 months. Now, you and the guys are allowed to hang out again. But to spice things up, let’s say the wives felt bad and decided to all chip in and get each and everyone of you a week together in Miami and an MHP (Marital Hall Pass). Now, you know some of your friends would immediately use their MHP. But the question that needs to be asked is whether you, in the midst of all this chaos, would go against the very fiber of ethics and virtue that you’ve stood by for the past half decade because you were given permission to?
This is the scenario and question I would pose to Sam Presti. We know that Presti was the honor role student at the San Antonio Model Academy. We’ve seen and read the book on how to do it. Develop a culture, build a great core, get good contributing players, and the rest will fall into place. It has worked in San Antonio and Utah for the better part of two decades. And it is beginning to work in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have developed a culture of community and hard work. They have a great core in Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka. And they have good contributing players in Perkins, Sefolosha, Collison, and Maynor. But there is one thing that is missing from the equation that was always promised to us once we started our march to the promised land.
In December 2008, while in the middle of the one of the worst beginnings to any NBA season, the question was always brought up about who would want to come to play in Oklahoma City. The answers ranged from sad to comical (redemption projects to Mark Price). The one answer that always intrigued me, though, was veterans wanting to win a ring. In the middle of a 3-29 start, the last thing you are thinking about is contending for titles. But now that we’ve knocked on championship’s doorstep, shouldn’t this be the next logical step in our player development?
Leading up to opening of the free agency period, there was word that the Thunder had interest in obtaining Shane Battier. A veteran who would have been a great compliment to Kevin Durant off the bench and a good source of wisdom for our young team. Someone who was defensive minded and would fit seamlessly into the culture of the team. Even Kevin Durant wondered what Battier would look like in a Thunder uniform via his Twitter account. Instead, as the courting came down to the final days, the Thunder were not a part of the list of teams that Battier was looking at. He ended up signing with Miami for what is rumored to be 3 years / $9 million. Now, I wouldn’t have given him 3 years, but I would have given him $3.5 million per for 2 seasons. Don’t quote me on this and I hope I’m wrong, but I could see Battier hitting a big 3 against us in the Finals sometime in the next few seasons.
Then there was the Chauncey Billups waiver wire Ebay auction. When the New York Knicks decided to amnesty Billups, all the non-tax paying teams had the opportunity to put in a bid for Mr. Big Shot’s services. It was rumored that OKC put in a bid, but like any skilled Ebay bidder, the Clippers came in at the last minute and offered $100 K more than any other team. Again, I could see Billups hitting a big shot against us in our probable first round match with the Clippers come May.
Vince Carter was on the market after being waived by the Phoenix Suns. Carter always kills the Thunder. In 6 games over the past three seasons, Carter has averaged 22.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on 20/45 shooting from 3 point land. Can you imagine if he were able to supply half of that to the Thunder off the bench? It would’ve made the transition to Harden starting a lot more smoother. Instead he signed with the team we faced in the Western Conference Finals last season.
Presti is probably a better man than me. His patience reminds of the Chuck Norris quote, “He doesn’t sleep, he waits.” Presti has always tried to put himself in a position of power when dealing with any other team. He’ll take advantage of your mistakes while minimizing his. But at this point in the game, with us at the doorstep of becoming championship caliber, isn’t it time to take that risk on a veteran?
Young players make mistakes in crunch time, especially in the playoffs. And while young players eventually (hopefully) learn from their mistakes, the time it takes to get there can be fraught with disappointment and frustration. A veteran player can be that bridge that helps guide a young team through rough seas. While we already have a few veterans on the roster (Mohammed, Collison, and Perkins), signing a free agent for the purpose of them wanting to compete for a championship makes it that much more important for the young guys. How many times have we heard, “We just want to win one for (Player X) who has never won a championship.”
As a fan, you know that the window of success can close on your team as quickly as it opens. A tweak of the knee here, a bruised ego there, and the entire dynamic of the team changes overnight. When we experience success, we want to continue experiencing that feeling. It’s the reason why men think of sex 19 times an hour; its our epitome of success. I don’t necessarily want to see a big splash (i.e. paying Jamal Crawford $20 million for 2 seasons). But something to help the team in the immediate future, especially off the bench.
I understand Presti has to look at the today AND the tomorrow, especially with us being a small market team. But myself, as John Q. Fan, just saw 3 of our biggest competitors get a piece that will probably make them better in the short term and am seeing a few of our other competitors making moves to obtain great players. In a time where we are financially sound, why not take a risk and use your MHP on something safe. It could make the difference in May and June.