Relax, Thunder fans, Oklahoma City is not playing its way out of the Blake Griffin sweepstakes. The notion that Oklahoma City is suddenly winning too much to have a shot at the Oklahoma power forward is nonsense. The most important thing to remember is that the team with the worst record in the NBA is not guaranteed the top pick in the draft. The worst record only gives you the best chance (25 percent) at winning the No. 1 overall selection through the NBA Draft Lottery’s ping-pong ball system. And that "advantage” historically hasn’t been very helpful. Only four times since the lottery began in 1985 has a team with the worst record come away with the top selection. It’s happened only twice since the current weighted lottery system began in 1994, with Cleveland selecting LeBron James in 2003 and Orlando picking Dwight Howard in 2004. The Thunder’s 7-7 record in January was a step in the right direction for a young and rebuilding team, not a cause for panic. The goal for this team should be to win as much as possible and instill good habits and a winning culture. But as encouraging as January was, in no way does it mean the Thunder is out of the woods in terms of losing. The Thunder showed as much with this weekend’s pair of defeats to shorthanded and slumping squads in Utah and Sacramento. Oklahoma City will be tested by even better teams over these final 34 games, and another rough stretch is certainly in store. But wins and losses aside, remember the Thunder has three first-round picks in this year’s draft and two first-round picks in next year’s. If Oklahoma City doesn’t land the No. 1 pick, it has enough assets to be an attractive partner for a team potentially looking to part with it. The Thunder would have the third pick if the ping-pong balls fell according to current form. Either Washington or the Los Angeles Clippers, currently tied at 10-37, would have the No. 1 overall pick. But both of those teams have enough in the frontcourt to take a chance on passing up Griffin to move back two spots and select a player with similar upside while obtaining a later or future pick. Ditto for Memphis and Sacramento, two 11-win teams also vying for the top selection. The trade-down method also makes financial sense for several teams. Getting a player or two via the draft makes managing the salary cap easier for general managers because of players’ locked in rookie contracts. The relatively cheap "scale” contracts, especially in the mid-first round, also allow teams more room to sign a higher paid veteran. Oklahoma City has options, Thunder fans. Don’t rule out Griffin playing in a Thunder uniform just yet.
Looking ahead to the NBA Draft
Five to watchFive players the Thunder could target if it doesn’t land the No. 1 pick.
|James Harden||Arizona St.||SG||6-5||220||So.||19|
|A versatile player who was overshadowed by last year’s freshman class that included Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love.|
|An amazing athlete and a good teammate. Needs to work on his perimeter shooting.|
|Raw offensively and might never develop on that end of the floor. But shot-blocking ability is as good as it gets.|
|Talented post player who can go inside and out. The knock on him has been a lack of focus and desire.|
|B.J. Mullens||Ohio State||C||7-0||260||Fr.||19|
|A true 7-foooter who is raw but has great athleticism and gobs of potential.|