In the first edition of the NewsOK.com NBA Roundtable, our panel of experts looks at who will be popular for the Thunder, who will be the mascot and where this team could end up in the NBA pecking order.
1. ESPN picks the Thunder as the worst team in the league. Where should they really be? Columnist Berry Tramel: They're not far from it. The Sonics won 20 games last year, so let's not get too carried away. If the Thunder reaches 30 wins, that's a 10-game jump and an excellent step in the rebuilding process. Memphis clearly is worse. But who in the East is worse? The Heat will rebound. The Knickerbockers can't possibly be in the 20s again, can they? Milwaukee is better. So someone will have to fall. Maybe Indiana could. Or even New Jersey. But right now, the Thunder would have to rank 29th. Columnist Jenni Carlson: Right now, the Thunder probably belongs at the bottom of the list. This is a team that won only a handful of games last season, is still very young and didn’t make any monumental offseason acquisitions. This is largely the same bunch that struggled mightily last year. Now, granted, the young stars are older and wiser and better, and the draft upped the team's talent level. But those factors aren't enough, just yet, to assume that this team is going to win a bunch more games this season. This group has the potential to do that, but until they show something, it's hard to argue with the worst-in-the-league assessment. Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry: Not last, but not much higher either. I suspect the Thunder has improved enough to leapfrog a few teams in the standings: Minnesota, Memphis, Sacramento, New York, Golden State and New Jersey. That would make it the 24th worst team. Not great, but much better than the second-to-last finish the Sonics turned in up north last season. NBA beat writer Mike Baldwin: ESPN is sleeping on this team. By Christmas they'll change their tune in Bristol, Conn. By adding Joe Smith and Desmond Mason, and the No. 4 pick in the draft (Westbrook), the Thunder will be much improved. Include the Ford Center home-court advantage the Hornets experienced and the Thunder should win 10 to 15 more games this season. If OKC wins 30 to 35 games that would put them around 7th to 10th in next year's draft. Even if they don't show dramatic improvement they should at least be better than Memphis, Minnesota, New Jersey and the Knicks. If they win 30 to 35 games they could also have a better record than Charlotte, Indiana, Milwaukee, Sacramento and the Clippers. Sports editor Mike Sherman: The roster the Thunder is bringing to Oklahoma City is a lot better than the squad the Hornets showed up with in October 2005. Position-for-position, man-for-man it's really not even close. Chris Paul might be the only starting position that I would give that Hornets squad the edge on this Thunder team. (I need to blog on this. Heck, I just need to blog period). In our "1-on-1 with Thundermadness.com" video this week I set the over/under for Thunder win total at 32. I could see them easily being better than Memphis, the Clippers, Golden State and even the Timberwolves. Could they end up better than that 2005-06 Hornets team, which won 38 games. Tell you what: Let's ask Desmond Mason, who was on both teams. A week or so into the season we'll just ask him which is better and whamo, there's a story. Columnist John Rohde: Memphis, New Jersey and New York could be worse. Charlotte, Indiana and Minnesota also could be worse. Seattle won't win a game. 2. Should the team have put "OKC" instead of "Oklahoma City" on the team's road jerseys? Carlson: Having OKC on the jerseys would be cool, but that's why teams have alternate jerseys. It's not like these are the only two jerseys that the team will ever have, so there will be time to do the OKC jersey. Besides, for the first jerseys, having Oklahoma City spelled out is for the best. It gives a nod to the city for all that it has done to land this team. It looks kind of retro, too. Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry: No. Let's not forget why we started down the road of this NBA journey. A big-league franchise was supposed to uplift Oklahoma City's image while adding to the city's quality of life. OKC across the chest initially would have been confusing to many fans across the country. Although it’s long, jumbled and therefore has a relatively smaller font, Oklahoma City on the road jerseys leaves no doubt in fans' minds from which city the Thunder hails. Besides, alternate jerseys with OKC can be introduced later. Tramel: I don't mind Oklahoma City, at least in the first few years of the franchise while the name gets established in the league. Eventually, OKC or, even better, "The City," would be fantastic. But frankly, I don't care if they put Cowtown up there, just so long as they do it in a more snazzy font. That block Thunder and block Oklahoma City are boring. Baldwin:It's a matter of taste. OKC would have worked. So does Oklahoma City. Either works just fine. Oklahoma City is a little long on a road uniform but it's not as big a deal as some are making it out to be. For all the debate on the logo, uniforms, etc., the one thing I like most is sky blue is the color for road uniforms and will be the team's primary color. Living in Big 12 country, no college program in this area has that sky blue like UCLA or North Carolina. Sky blue is unique in the Southwest. Way too much opinion on all the other things. Once we start concentrating on wins and losses, and this organization is close to completing its first season, the logo, colors, uniforms won't even be an issue. Sherman: I'm not a fan of two-line "hammer" headlines — in newspapers or on uniforms. So that leaves two options: 1) "Oklahoma" on top of the number, "City" on below. This is the option the Hornets opted for when they wore their Oklahoma City uniforms (which I thought was one heck of a P.R. move) or 2) Opt for OKC. I think OKC is the way to go. I remember when the acronym was frowned upon in our office and around town, but I think it's fresh. I think OKC is better for the brand, but I'm not a market consultant either. Rohde: Yes. It takes half a box of Alpha-bits to spell out Oklahoma City. On the plus side, we lead the league in syllables (six) and are tied with Philadelphia for the lead in total letters (12). 3. Besides Desmond Mason and Kevin Durant, which player will fans take to the most? Mayberry: Russell Westbrook. Jeff Green would be the easy choice as arguably the second best player on the roster and the Robin to Durant's Batman, but he's not the right choice. Green was Seattle's No. 5 overall pick. And although Westbrook was selected fourth overall just days before the Sonics officially relocated to Oklahoma City, many more fans in OKC tuned into the 2008 draft with bated breath than they did Green's 2007 draft. Fans see Westbrook as OKC's first NBA Draft pick even if he technically isn't. And remember, he was a controversial selection, causing even more fans to take a vested interest in who he is and how he performs. The fact that the high-flying, lock-you-down point guard has the goods to live up to his high selection, and the personality to boot, will make him a fan favorite from the start. Tramel: I think the fans are going to be stunned at Russell Westbrook's athleticism. Let's be honest, he who dunks rules the marketplace. I don't know if Westbrook can hack it as a mainline NBA star, but he's got showtime athletic ability. Carlson: Jeff Green will become a fan favorite. Not only is he outstanding, which is key in endearing yourself to fans, but he is also a complete character. I had a chance to observe him a bit during the team's media day on Monday. During his time with photographers, he was a total ham. He was always talking, always smiling, always having a good time. His personality will make him easy to love. Baldwin: Jeff Green because of his talent. Durant is the star, a future perennial All-Star. But Green also was named to the NBA's All-Rookie team. The Georgetown product takes great pride in his defense and he should improve his average from 10 points to 14.