Tag Archives: New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets

Thank you, David West

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On Thursday morning, two-time NBA champion David West announced his retirement from the NBA. West retires from the game as a two-time All Star, with per game averages of 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds. His ability to step out and hit the mid-range jumper, while also being a banger in the post became the archetype for big men in this pace and space era of today’s NBA.

West will likely be remembered for his time with the Indiana Pacers or the Golden State Warriors. But it’s where he started his career that has the most impact for Oklahomans. While Chris Paul was Oklahoma City’s first superstar, West was OKC’s first cult hero. Take the first eight seasons of Russell Westbrook (the ultimate sidekick) and merge those with the no-nonsense play of Nick Collison, and you had David West to a tee.  Continue reading Thank you, David West

Disasters and Opportunities: How Oklahoma City got on the NBA map

hurricane katrina

Its a process that can be both beautiful and scary all at the same time. A low pressure disturbance, which is basically winds that pick up water vapor, intensifying into something so massive and deadly is why mother nature reigns supreme on the respect scale. Usually these storms run their course, while keeping their impact to a minimum on the area they impact. But every once and a while, these behemoths can impact an area so severely, that the ramifications are felt, not only years later, but also in cities outside of the affected areas.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Buras-Triumph, Louisiana, a city about 60 miles southeast of New Orleans.  It struck land as a Category 3 hurricane after intensifying all the way to a Category 5 only 24 hours earlier. As with most hurricanes, the danger didn’t lie in the storm itself, but instead, on the amount of water that was dumped into the area. It is estimated that New Orleans received 8-10 inches of rain over a 4-5 hour period, while also receiving 12-14 foot storm surges from the Gulf of Mexico. That deadly combination of rain and storm surge overwhelmed the aging levee system, which caused it to completely fail. To make matters worse, the natural geography and topography of New Orleans is not very conducive to flooding. The city is already located below sea-level and is surrounded by huge bodies of water (Lake Borgne and the Mississippi River to the east, Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain to the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast).

Once the storm passed through, the devastation become apparent. Over 80% of the city was completely flooded and infrastructure was almost non-existent. Bridges and highways were damaged. Hundreds were dead. Tens of thousands were displaced. The once great city was a shell of itself. As the shock and awe of the situation began to wear off, the reality of the monumental recovery/rebuild quickly shifted to the foreground.

When infrastructure and lives are in jeopardy, sports gets understandably pushed down on the priority list. But the NFL and NBA needed to find contingency plans for the two teams in New Orleans. The NFL season was about 10 days away from beginning when the hurricane struck. Nearby metropolises with NFL-ready stadiums  already had NFL teams, like the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Kansas City Chiefs. Many other nearby cities didn’t have stadium capacity necessary for an NFL game. The Saints and the NFL chose San Antonio, Texas as the base for the Saints for the 2005 season, but the Saints only played 3 “home” games in the AlamoDome. Four other “home” games were played in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and one other home game had to be shifted to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Because of all the limbo and travel, the Saints finished the season 3-13.

Unlike the NFL, which only had days to work on their contingency plan, the NBA had at least a month to work on theirs. The biggest question was where the Hornets would be headquartered while the city was being repaired/rebuilt. If this article were a TV show, this would be where the show would feature a flashback. In the mid-90’s, now Oklahoma City Thunder majority owner Clay Bennett was one of the principal owners of the San Antonio Spurs. One of his main duties was to attend the Board of Governors meetings the NBA and its owner has at various points in the season. When that many powerful people are in one room, networking is one of the orders of the day. During those times, Bennett and then NBA commissioner David Stern developed a relationship that would come to affect Oklahoma City in years to come.

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When the NBA started in on their process to find a suitable temporary location for the Hornets, one of the first people to contact Stern was Bennett. The businessman who had roots in Oklahoma through marriage had already convinced the mayor Mick Cornett and other business leaders that this was the opportunity they had been waiting for by the time he made that call. It’s at this point where the show would flashback again. Ten years prior to the events in New Orleans, Oklahoma City suffered its own tragedy. The carnage created by the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building may not have been as widespread as the flooding in New Orleans, but it still affected the lives of many Oklahomans, even still to this day. The bombing became the catalyst to the improvement of downtown Oklahoma City. The City no longer wanted to be known as the “fly over city where the bombing occurred.” Instead, it wanted to compete with the likes of Dallas, Kansas City, and San Antonio in matters of tourism and culture. One of the things approved in the first MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects Plan) was the construction of an 18,000+ seat multipurpose indoor sports arena which originally was known as the Ford Center.

The Ford Center became the biggest selling point for Bennett in his quest to secure Oklahoma City as the temporary location for the Hornets. The 18,203 seat arena did not have a permanent tenant and was readily available for most any day the schedule called for. In addition, the business community stepped up to support the Hornets and cover a lot of the costs from the relocation. With all that in place, Stern and Hornets owner George Shinn made the decision to grant Oklahoma City the opportunity to temporarily house the Hornets for the 2005-06 season. While other cities may have been larger with more resources, such as Las Vegas or Kansas City, Oklahoma City offered no competition as far as pro sports goes and was ravenous in their pursuit to prove themselves on the big stage.

And prove themselves they did. The city took to the team like a fish to water. It was the combination of a young fan base cheering for a young team. Oklahoma City was okay with just having a team, while the team was thrilled to have a crowd cheer for them. For five years prior to the move to Oklahoma City, the attendance for the Hornets had dwindled to about 14,110 people per game. They finished last or second to last in 3 of those 5 seasons, and were worst in attendance the season before Hurricane Katrina hit.

The attendance in Oklahoma City averaged 18,168 as the Hornets went on to finish No. 11 in attendance in the league. The fans got to see Chris Paul’s rookie of the year campaign. They got to see the return of a hometown hero in Desmond Mason. They got to see one of the most vicious dunks ever when Kirk Snyder jumped over (yes, jumped over) Von Wafer for a dunk. They got to see the emergence of David West, who gave the fans three game-winning shots in that one season alone. They got to see a team that extolled many of the virtues they lived by; a team that many thought wouldn’t do well, but instead, stayed competitive throughout the season as they finished 38-44. Most importantly, the NBA decided to give OKC a second season, as the numbers in terms of population size weren’t yet where they wanted them to be in order to support two professional sports teams. The NBA knew that while the fan base for the Saints was strong, the fan base for the Hornets was not quite at that level. Instead of seeing an arena full of empty seats like they had before Katrina hit, the NBA decided to give New Orleans another year to recover, while also providing them some games in the Big Easy to whet their appetites.

chris paul okc

The 2006 offseason was the first offseason Oklahoma City ever got to experience, and it was a busy one at that. The team drafted 3 rookies (Hilton Armstrong, Cedric Simmons, and Marcus Vinicius), traded for Tyson Chandler, and signed Bobby Jackson and marquee free-agent Peja Stojakovic. While it was an exciting time to be an Oklahoma City Hornets fan, it was also starting to become bittersweet. When Stern and Shinn commented on the success of Oklahoma City as an NBA city, they always followed that up by stating they were fully committed to returning to New Orleans for the 2007-08 season. Being a Hornets fan in Oklahoma City began to feel like we were the committed mistress in a relationship that would be nothing more than a short-lived affair. The fan base loved their new team, but knew it belonged to someone else.

In the background, though, Bennett was trying to buy majority ownership of the Hornets from Shinn. He would allow Shinn to remain with the organization as a minority owner, but wanted majority rule in decision making. Shinn rejected the offer, citing the NBA’s desire to successfully return back to New Orleans. With that, Bennett set his sights on some other franchise to purchase.

As the season started, the Hornets came out like gangbusters. They started the season 4-0 and got all the way to 8-3 before the wheels started falling off the bike. Injuries derailed the seasons of Stojakovic, Paul, West, Jackson, and Chandler. The Hornets continued to battle hard through the injuries, but were never able to put enough victories together to make any sort of impact, as they finished with the same record as the previous season.

With that, the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets once again became the New Orleans Hornets. While the hearts of many Oklahoma City fans were broken, there was another development happening in the Pacific Northwest.

During the season, Bennett purchased the Seattle Supersonics from Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz. The move was likely backed by the league to get a ground swell of support for the construction of a newer, more profitable arena in the Seattle area. When the local owner couldn’t get it done, the NBA tried to bring in the new kid in the NBA circles to put pressure on the Washington legislature to get an arena deal done. Bennett went to Seattle and laid down his plan: he would try to get an arena deal done for that next season (07-08). If nothing was done by then, Bennett would pursue other options. A blind man could have seen from a mile away what Bennett meant by “other options”.

With no arena deal in place, the wheels were already put in motion to try to get the Sonics to Oklahoma City. After a legal battle and about $100 million dollars in relocation fees and lease payments, the Seattle Supersonics officially became the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Disaster begets opportunity. That’s just the way the cycle works. In a Utopian scenario, Katrina never happens, Seattle keeps their team, and Oklahoma City eventually (somehow?) gets an expansion franchise. But that’s not how it happened. Tragedy and disaster happened. Because of that, an opportunity arose. And the rest, as they say, is history.

MidSeason Review: The Oregon Trail

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Let me let you in on a big secret: I’m not a big gamer. Growing up in the 90’s, in a time where the gamer subculture was created, I, instead, chose to go outside to play drive-way basketball and neighborhood street football (the curbs were the sidelines, the lawns were out of bounds, and it would behoove you not to try anything athletic around a brick mailbox). Even today, as 30-somethings, I still have friends that completely geek out over the latest Madden, NBA2K, or Call of Duty. While I enjoy playing a game or two, usually getting murdered in the process, I don’t share the sustained love for video games as some of my cohorts.

But there is one game that I will always look back on with high regard. In elementary school, whenever computers were first being introduced to our generation, the one game that I always loved playing was Oregon Trail. I would grab that 5.25″ floppy disk and immerse myself in pioneer life. I don’t know if it was the “reality” of the game or the fact that I’m a history buff, but for some reason, the game resonated with me.

If you’re too young to have ever played the game, the basic premise revolves around you (the player) being the wagon leader to a group of settlers traversing through the wilderness from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Before you start, you  to buy the supplies you need with an allotted amount of money. Choose the wrong supplies, and your journey can get off on the wrong foot. Along the way, obstacles present themselves in the forms of disease, lack of supplies, exhaustion, and accidental deaths. It was an 1840’s version of reality TV, but in the form of an educational video game.

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Which brings me to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the season they are having. I’ve tried to remember a comparable situation to what the Thunder have been facing this season. The only thing that comes close in my estimation is the 2006-07 Oklahoma City/New Orleans Hornets season. The Hornets went into that season with visions of getting a playoff spot after acquiring Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic in the offseason. Those two, combined with David West and reigning rookie of the year Chris Paul, were thought to be the nucleus of an up-n-coming playoff-bound team. Instead, injuries completely derailed the season. Stojakovic missed the final 69 games of the season due to back surgery, West missed 30 games with an elbow ailment, Paul missed 18 games with a sprained ankle, Chandler missed 9 games with a toe injury (damn toe injuries!), and 6th man Bobby Jackson missed 26 games due to cracked ribs. The Hornets battled valiantly the entire season and were in playoff contention till the final week, but fell 3 games short of the 8th spot.

The major difference between the Thunder and the Hornets was that one went into the season as a fringe playoff team and the other went into the season as a championship contender. For some reason though, I keep coming back to the game. If every season is a journey, then what better comparative tool than a game that focuses exclusively on the journey and the obstacles encountered along the way. If we’re going to compare the two, then we have to do it right. One of the first things the game asks you to do is name the settlers that are traveling with you. Of the 19 people on this journey (GM Sam Presti, Coach Scott Brooks, and 17 players), here’s what they’ve been named.

Sam Presti – Wagon Leader (You) Scott Brooks – Pa Kevin Durant – Kevin
Russell Westbrook – Russ Serge Ibaka – Blocka Andre Roberson – The Closet
Steven Adams – The Wall Reggie Jackson – Lil’ Regg Dion Waiters – Dee
Nick Collison – Mr. Thunder Anthony Morrow – 2Turnt Kendrick Perkins – Perk
Mitch McGary – Young’in Perry Jones – PJ Ish Smith – The Blur
Jeremy Lamb – Sleepy Grant Jerrett – G Sebastian Telfair – Bassy
Lance Thomas – Lancelot

The journey, of course, starts off in training camp a.k.a Independence, Missouri. It can be quite ominous when the beginning of the journey is marred with small tragedies. G hurt his leg before the journey even started, and knew he would start the trip off in the wagon. Before the team even reached the first river crossing on the journey, Kevin and Young’in went down with the measles. Apparently they were sleeping in close quarters when they both took ill. As the team approached the Kansas River Crossing (beginning of the season) more members of the party went down with differing maladies. 2Turnt had a bout with cholera, Lil’ Regg took to dysentery, and Sleepy hurt his back putting the supplies in the wagon.

Kansas River Crossing (Beginning of the season – Oct. 29 – Nov. 23)

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The team forded the Kansas River Crossing, which was a bit deeper than usual due to the incessant rainfall (all the tears shed by Thunder fans because of Kevin’s “measles”). In the process of fording the river, Russ got his hand caught in the wagon wheel and injured it. With that injury, the troupe had 7 people laid up in the wagon. With so many bodies down, Pa needed the other settlers to step up. Surprisingly, PJ, who had nary shown any initiative before, began to show why the wagon leader had brought him on the trip. Guys like Lancelot and Bassy started to prove their worth also. On the fourth day, Lil’ Regg had recovered enough from dysentery to finally join the working class of the group. After barely eating due to his illness, Lil’ Regg took to hoarding a lot of the food at dinner. Perk and Blocka looked on in disappointment at Lil’ Regg’s behavior. Eventually, Lil’ Regg righted himself, but has continued to battle with selfishness throughout the journey. PJ, on the other hand, stepped into a prairie dog hole on the 5th day of travel, and made his way to the wagon to recover. Even The Closet made a trip to the wagon after getting his foot tangled up in some nets. It got so bad for the laborers, that the group eventually had to hire an extra settler to help them on their journey. Luckily, The Blur was well liked by the Wagon Leader and Pa. As the days went by, more of the settlers got healthier, but the journey was becoming more and more arduous. By the 15th day, only Kevin, Russ, G, Young’in, and PJ remained in the wagon.

The Plains (Nov. 26 – Dec. 18)

With Kevin and Russ finally healthy, the group started working to gain the ground that was lost with all their setbacks from the beginning of their journey. The upcoming terrain was flat with nary an obstacle. Unfortunately, Bassy was bitten by a venom0us snake and had to be left on the side of the road. Last the settlers heard, Bassy was picked up by a band of Chinese settlers and is currently working with them. There was a stretch where the settlers made up 7 days on their trip and had everyone out of the wagon and working. Everything was looking up, until one day, while Kevin laying down the fire for all the settlers, he was stricken with a bout of scurvy, which sent him to the wagon. Young’in was also back in the wagon with him after an incident at a peyote bar left him with some bumps and bruises from some of the native folk.

The Hills (Dec. 19 – Jan. 7)

durant westbrook thunder

Russ took the reins over for the next 5 days and kept the wagon moving on schedule. They hit some bumps in the road, but were rolling at a consistent pace. But as is the case with Russ, his stubbornness can sometimes get the best of him. You see, Russ is so skilled at what he does that he sometimes lacks in trusting others with his workload, even when it’s obvious they could be of some assistance. On the 32nd and 33rd day of the journey, some of that mistrust manifested itself in the form of selfishness and bullheadedness. In fact, even after Kevin recovered from scurvy, Russ got into a heap with some “warrior” settlers and Pa sent him to the wagon to get over his temper-tantrum. This led to another lost day. The settlers in the group, at this point, were suffering from exhaustion and mental weakness. The Wagon Leader noticed that some other settlers were eyeing Lancelot. The Wagon Leader also had his eye on a wild gunslinger known as Dee. So he bartered Lancelot (and future food rations) for Dee in hopes that Dee would provide something that was missing in the group.

Courthouse Rock (Jan. 9 – Jan. 21)

After spending an entire day traveling next to another group of settlers who apparently were a traveling music band, the troupe made their way to an inn for some much needed rest. The extra rest proved useful as the settlers made up four days on their journey. At this point in the journey, the group was actually a couple days ahead of schedule.

Scotts Bluff (Jan. 23 – Jan. 31)

The North Platte River. One of the more treacherous passages on the journey. Many a trip goes awry trying to traverse this water way. And it was not different for this group of settlers. The water was roaring and a bit higher than usual. In the process of fording the river, many supplies were lost. In the process, Kevin stepped on a beaver, which in turn bit his toe and sent him back to the wagon for a couple days. The days that the settlers gained in Courthouse Rock, were quickly lost trying to get through the river and Scotts Bluff. It was at this point in the journey where the settlers were at a crossroad. Go one way and you risk getting off track and losing your way heading into the spring. Go the other way, and you allow the past couple days to toughen you.

The South Pass a.k.a the halfway point of the Oregon Trail (Feb. 2 – Feb. 11)

The settlers chose the path that would toughen them up, but lead them in the right direction. They made gains in this leg of their journey, but also suffered a loss. The Wall, one of the stronger members of the troupe (the resident heavy lifter), got into a fight with a male bison and injured his hand. He may have been sent to the wagon for a couple days, but the settlers regained some of the food they had lost in the river. The settlers found their way to another inn and got some much needed rest.

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What adventures await the settlers from here on out? There is still treacherous terrains and rapid rivers that the settlers have to get over in order to reach their destinations. In fact, some of the members of the troupe may not be with them when they begin their journey anew. The rumors are that some Spanish settlers have an ox of a man that could help out this current troupe. In exchange though, they would like two or three of our current settlers. Another issue complicating things is that the ox of a man also has issues with his feet, which makes him a problem for a band of travelers. Another group, the Gold Diggers, have a man whose skin is full of markings, but is also a skilled marksman. Whatever happens, you can figure the Wagon Leader will try to get the best collection of settlers together into to get this group to their ultimate destination.

Enjoy the Moment: Durant and the MVP

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Since the NBA’s first season in 1955-56, there have been 58 MVP’s. Those MVP’s have been won by 29 different players in 19 different cities (four of which currently don’t have NBA franchises). Of the 30 teams in the current NBA, 15 of those cities have never experienced an MVP season by one of their players. So when the inevitable happens and Kevin Durant is named the 2013-14 NBA MVP, Oklahoma City will join an exclusive fraternity of cities that have experienced a magical individual season by one of their players.

Oklahoma City has been lucky enough, in its short time as an NBA franchise, to experience a Coach of  the Year (Brooks, 2010), a Sixth Man of the Year (Harden, 2012), and a Rookie of the Year (Paul, 2006 with the New Orleans/OKC Hornets). The ultimate goal as a sports franchise is to win a championship. But what are teams but a collection of individuals. And if your team, if your city, houses the best individual player in that sport, that is like winning a championship in and of itself.

When an MVP season plays out, you see it coming. Of the 450-500 players that cycle through the league in a given season, only about 2-3 players are deserving of even being considered for the top individual prize in the NBA. And if you, as a fan of that team, are lucky enough to enjoy that experience, then you need to savor it. Because for as much as we like to think that MVP’s and championships will beget more MVP’s and championship, the future is never a definite when it comes to sports. The Russell Westbrook injury last season taught us that. A twist of the knee here, a tweak of the back there, an argument with the front office, and that player could be gone in an instant. Prime example is the last man to win an MVP not named LeBron James. Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose won the MVP in his third season in the league. He looked well on his way to contending for (and possibly winning) multiple MVP’s. But you know the rest of the story. Injuries and re-injuries have completely derailed his career to the point where we wonder whether he’ll ever get back to the MVP form he had pre-injury.

It’s not everyday you get to witness greatness. There are plenty of good players in the league. In any given game, you may see a 20-point scorer, a double digit rounder, or a defensive maven. Most nights the names change. But for MVP candidates, that dominance is seen on a night in/night out basis, over the course of an entire season. That degree of excellence goes from late October usually into late May/early June. That consistency is probably the biggest factor in determining who is MVP-worthy and who isn’t. It’s easy to get up for a game against Miami on a prime time Thursday TNT telecast. It’s that much harder to get up for a Tuesday night game in January against the Milwaukee Bucks. But those select few do it every night.

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Eat it up Oklahoma City. Our story is a weird one in which we were basically gift wrapped a once in a generation player. Most cities, when they first get a team, have to toil around in the dredges of the league before they finally find those couple of players that actually make them competitive. But OKC was like “insta-rice”. We got the team, popped in the microwave for one minute (season) and, Voila!, playoff contender. It happened so quickly, that media decided to call it the OKC model of team rebuilding. This model, though, only works if you get a player like Durant in your clutches. It will be very interesting to see where teams like Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and New Orleans stand in about 3 years when their rebuilds should start bearing fruit.

I always wonder how the OKC fan base will be react when this current run ends. Whether its in two years (a.k.a Durant’s free agency) or in 15 years, Thunder fans have been spoiled beyond belief. But this is the NBA, and success is very cyclical, especially for small market teams. Most Oklahoma fans suffer from what is locally called, the “Sooner mentality”. In three words, the Sooner mentality means “Championship, or bust!”. And we are starting to see that with Thunder fans. Lose a game in a series, and there is a section of fans that is clamoring for Scott Brooks’ head on a platter, and another section clamoring for Thunder GM Sam Presti to sign every available free agent, luxury tax and careful budgeting be damned. Those are the fans I wish I could grab by the shoulders, shake them a bit, look into their eyes, and say, “Stop worrying and enjoy this moment! It may repeat itself next season, but it also may be a once in a lifetime event”.

As we enjoy this moment, look back on the season that made Durant an MVP. Don’t focus on the numbers though. Even though the numbers improved, they don’t tell the entire story. Focus on the maturation of the man. Many players hit their head on ceilings they create because they get satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. Like the theme in the poem Ozymandias, they stand there relishing their accomplishments without realizing their satisfaction will eventually be their downfall. Durant could have been one of those players, and he still would have been considered great. But, instead, he took the hard lessons from the previous season and focused on how he could get better. It is a rare trait in a player to never find satisfaction in their successes. Instead of basking in the glow of their brilliance, they instead survey the field and know that others will be coming after what they have. LeBron James made that transition three seasons ago. Kobe Bryant before him. And Michael Jordan before him. This is the road the Durant is on, and luckily, for us, like Route 66 and I-44, that road runs straight through Oklahoma City. Congratulations Kevin. We are all proud of you.

5 for 5: The Run

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5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings  |  5 for 5: The Rivalries  |  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.

When the Thunder went into the 2009-10 season, their expectations weren’t that high. They were coming off a 23-win season that saw them change coaches mid-season and continued cultivating the young talent that would eventually become their core. They drafted James Harden with the 3rd pick in that year’s draft and ushered in Serge Ibaka, who was drafted in the previous year’s draft, but stayed in Europe for an extra season of development. With the coaching staff firmly entrenched under Scott Brooks and a full year after the Seattle to Oklahoma City transition, the team was looking for tangible improvements on the floor and in the win column.

Hindsight being what it is, the most important addition to the Thunder that season didn’t even don a jersey. After Scott Brooks took over for PJ Carlismo in late November of the previous season, the team also fired Carlismo’s number one assistant Paul Westhead. On December 31st, probably in response to Brooks’ inexperience as a head coach, the team hired veteran assistant coach Ron Adams, whose specialty was defense. The teachings of Adams didn’t immediately pay dividends as the team saw their opponents’ scoring average go from 102.2 ppg before his arrival to 103.7 after his arrival. But the seeds of his defensive principles started to take root after the team had an entire offseason and training camp with Adams.

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The team came out the next season with a defensive mindset that immediately showed results not only in the stat column, but also in the win column. They improved their defensive rating from 20th to 9th in the league, and held opponents to 98.0 ppg, which was a 5 point improvement from the previous season. The continued evolution of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook into All-NBA stewards also helped in the improvement process, as well. The result was a 27 win improvement that netted the Thunder the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Their opponent in wait were the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Run