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5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season

thunder western conference champs

5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings | 5 for 5: The Rivalries  |  5 for 5: The Run  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

The first part of this series focused on the beginnings of the Thunder organization in Oklahoma  City. For the second part of the series, I want to focus on what was the apex for these first five years of Thunder basketball, the 2012 NBA Finals. For a little comparative perspective, there are 9 NBA teams (in their current city/team format) that have never reached the NBA Finals. The Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans have never tasted the fine champagne of a conference championship. I’m excluding the Brooklyn Nets from the list because they’ve only been in Brooklyn for one season and went to the Finals as the New Jersey Nets twice. The proximity of Brooklyn, NY to Newark, NJ (about 15 miles apart) negates a huge change of fan base because of distance. I’m also excluding the Washington Wizards because they made it to the Finals as the Bullets, but decided to change the team’s name in 1997 due to the negative connotation between actual bullets and WashingtonDC being mentioned in the 90’s as the murder capital of the US.

The road to the Finals that season was like the Grateful Dead’s greatest hits album; that is to say a long, strange trip. To begin with, it was a season that almost never was. Although this lockout never reached the DEFCON 4 levels the ’98-‘99 lockout did, it was still nerve-wracking to watch every labor meeting end with the two sides having separate press conferences to disparage the other side. It was like watching your parents, after a nasty divorce, arguing over your custody.

nba lockout

When you are a fan of a team that is drastically improving and just entering the prime of its championship window, the last thing you want is a work stoppage. Anything that cuts into a year of your team’s development when you are close to becoming a perennial contender is the ultimate of detriments. The chemistry built from the previous seasons basically gets thrown out the window if players are allowed to sit for 15-18 months with no access to team coaches or trainers. Not to mention, the veteran players would be a year older and there would be a ton of questions regarding roster moves.

But alas, on November 26th, 2011, after months of hearing about BRI, luxury tax, hard caps, and mid-level exceptions, cooler heads prevailed and an agreement was reached between the NBA and the players’ union. Instead of playing an entire 82 game schedule, the regular season would be trimmed to 66 games with the first day of the season beginning on Christmas. If seeing your team in the NBA Finals is Christmas in June, then seeing the NBA come back from a lockout was, literally, Christmas on Christmas. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season

Seeds of Discord

There are two reasons for sending out a state of the union letter. The first reason is to inform your constituents of your progress and where you stand as a whole. This is the reason the President holds a State of the Union address at least 2 – 3 times a year. It allows the citizens to be a part of the process/progress. The second reason to send out a State of the Union letter to quell any feelings of discord or doubt. The back to back letters sent out by union President Derek Fisher and Executive Director Billy Hunter on consecutive days should be seen as more of a plead for unity than an informational guide to the progress/process of the labor negotiations.

 In surprising fashion, the most important person in these labor negotiations has become FOXSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock. His article about Derek Fisher’s backdoor wheelings and dealings has sent the player’s union into a damage control frenzy. Stephen A. Smith has also said that what Whitlock wrote in his article is basically true. If anything, even if this story is not entirely true, there still is some truth to it. Unfortunately, the seeds of discord have already been spread and the damage has been done.

Within the past 24 hours, the divide between players has become very evident. This morning, Boston Celtics free agent Glen “Big Baby” Davis tweeted , “Take the 51% man and let’s play.” Houston Rockets swingman Terrance Williams tweeted, “Hey @TheNBPA Let’s play BALL enough with the stare off”. Recent reports have said that Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant have both indicated that they would take a 50/50 split. On the other side of things, Oklahoma City Thunder big man Nazr Mohammed tweeted, “Since I have @NBA & @NBA_Labor’s ear…Why can’t y’all come up to 52.5% since we already gave in 100’s of millions & on system issues?” A later tweet by Mohammed stated, “Don’t know what the percentage will be but I’m willing to #StandUnited with my union cuz players b4 me did it when I was a rookie. #OnlyFair”.

Another thing that lends credence to the fact that there may be discord among Fisher and Hunter is what’s at stake for both of them. Hunter’s legacy is on the line as this seems to be his last hurrah as union Executive Director. He may be reelected to lead the union into their next labor negotiations in 6 – 10 years, but with how much the union has given up in these negotiations, that does not seem so certain. Hunter is trying to get the best deal possible (52.5%) to lessen the blow the owners are trying to place on the players. On the other hand, Derek Fisher is still a player, and at the bottom of his core, probably wants to do everything possible to get this thing done and play ball. Fisher is on his last leg as far as his playing career is concerned and the Lakers are still one of the favorites to contend for a championship.

It is pretty fascinating to see the middle to lower tier younger players start to bite their nails at the prospect of missing paychecks, while the older veteran players (who have, more than likely, been saving up for this day) are pressuring all the players to stay united and stay the course. Add to that, the dialoging in the media by the NHL players who suffered through a lost season and a lost season’s worth of pay, while coming out on the other side of the lockout in a much worse position than when the lockout started.

The cracks and fissures are starting to become chasms. The quiet whisper of discord is starting to become a booming roar. Eventually the person with the most money, usually wins the battle. The owners are billionaires whose income is not solely dependant on the ownership of their teams. The players, on the other hand, are completely dependent on the paycheck that comes from playing the game of basketball. The most important meeting of this labor negotiation has yet to occur. Many people think the most important meetings of this labor negotiation happened within the last two weeks. The truth is that the most important meeting of these labor negotiations will come on Thursday, when the players’ union meets to discuss their next plan of attack.

Now It Feels Real

01 November 2011

Dear NBA (Players, Owners, David Stern, Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher, Adam Silver, et al.),

What the hell is going on? It’s November 1st and I am not watching NBA Basketball. I should be watching the on-going rivalry between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers. I should be watching Dirk Nowitzki and the world champion Dallas Mavericks receive their well deserved championship rings during what was sure to be a raucous ring ceremony at home. Instead, I’ll probably go home and watch the new episodes of NCIS and NCIS:Los Angeles that I DVR’ed.

For the past 4 months we’ve been hearing about the lockout. BRI this. 50/50 split that. System issues. Hard caps. Soft caps. Flex caps. Decertification. Amnesty. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I feel that, in that time, I have actually become pretty proficient in labor law. I’ve explained the lockout to numerous people and have sounded more and more knowledgeable everytime I explain it. But its always felt like I was reading up on something that wasn’t real. Like I was reading a Hitchcock novel or something. You read it. You begin to gain some insight. But you never really process it as real. Well, I checked the future schedule for TNT, and it didn’t have any NBA basketball games on. It has officially become real.

So, there you go NBA. On a night where I, and most basketball fans (hardcore or fair-weather), should have been glued to our TV sets watching these 2 great games (plus one other game that we would’ve gotten on the free, beginning of the season preview of NBA League Pass), we are instead looking for alternatives. Tonight was the perfect night for an opener. No meaningful football games. The hype over LSU/Alabama still has not reached a frenzied state. The World Series is over. And I still can’t find a hockey game on cable or satellite TV to save my life. You had the slate all to yourselves……….and you blew it. You literally puked all over yourself in front of your hot prom date. Ben Stiller’s teenage character on ‘Something About Mary’ is literally laughing at how bad you blew it, and we know what he did to himself on prom night.

Let’s take a look at 10 storylines that would have dominated on Tuesday, November 1st 2011:

1. Dallas receiving their championship rings in their home/NBA opener with Mark Cuban hugging David Stern.

2. Will the Bulls continue their torrid run that began in the 2nd half of last season?

3. How will MVP Derrick Rose improve upon last season?

4. After years of epic playoff failure, how did Dirk Nowitzki spend this offseason. (He usually retreats back to Germany and engages in soul-searching.)

5. Will this be the year that age will finally begin to affect Kobe’s game, or will he find new ways to dominate? (On a related note, how will his new German-engineered plasma help his game?)

6. Can the Lakers get back on top for one final dynastic run?

7. Can the Thunder finally break-through and take the West?

8. Can Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play their games and succeed on the same team?

9. How has KD, through his streetball tour offseason, improved his game.

10. How will a completely healthy Kendrick Perkins help the Thunder?

11. How will the rebuilding Jazz look, with rookies Alec Burk and Enes Kanter being the new faces in town?

12. The awesomeness of seeing “World Peace” on the back of someone’s jersey…..especially when that someone is crazy Uncle Ron-Ron.

13. Bonus – How did Hasheem Thabeet perform?

That’s 13 story lines about 3 games on a Tuesday night. A TUESDAY NIGHT, for goodness sakes! What other awesome thing is there to do on a Tuesday night? I’m a basketball junkie, so I’ll come back whenever it does. But, those fringe fans (the ones that actually debate whether to watch the game or Dancing With The Stars), those are the fans that the NBA will continue to lose as we move forward in this lockout. I should have been watching my team play their rivals this evening. Instead, I’m reading an article about Kevin Durant and Lebron James planning an exhibition flag football game, while watching NCIS. This is not how I envisioned my Novemeber 1st evening when the schedule first came out in mid-July. Gentlemen, we have our first real casualty of this fight. Let’s end this and bring peace to the land.

Signed,

A fan (not that you care that much)