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Oklahoma City Thunder preview: Good thing OKC is set up to win now

COMMENTARY — Sam Presti's goal of sustained success remains realistic. But the recent NBA labor agreement made it a lot tougher for markets like Oklahoma City.
BY BERRY TRAMEL Published: December 18, 2011

The NBA lockout was over for maybe 15 minutes when the Chris Paul and Dwight Howard trade talks started.

And the superstars weren't being offered to Milwaukee.

They've shrunk the NBA season, down to 66 games because of the lockout that stretched five months, and for what?

The NBA's major problem – the league's superstars all wanting to congregate in a few select markets – hasn't been solved one twit.

Paul already has been traded to Los Angeles, and the fact that it's the Clippers instead of the Lakers might make the other franchises feel better but doesn't do one thing for New Orleans.

And Howard seems headed out of Orlando for Brooklyn or LA.

Stark reality for Oklahoma City. The Great Lockout of 2011 was for naught. Had the lockout provided relief for small markets, for OKC and Salt Lake and New Orleans and Memphis and Portland and San Antonio and Orlando, then missing some basketball would have been stomachable.

Heck, miss the whole season if you have to, if it gave franchises like the Thunder a more equitable playing field.

But the lockout failed. The players took a lesser cut from league revenues, but nothing else has changed. The vaunted luxury tax hikes haven't slowed any of the big-market teams. The Knickerbockers already have spent $34 million for this year alone on just two players, Tyson Chandler and Chauncey Billups, the latter not to play in New York.

So now the Thunder knows. It got no collective-bargaining relief. The Thunder will have to win the NBA title or contend for the same, using the same methods that got OKC to the Western Conference Finals last spring.

Judicious spending. Superb scouting. Positive franchise atmosphere. And then a little luck never hurts while fighting the good fight.

It's not impossible. Heck, with this current Thunder team, not even improbable. The Thunder is as good a pick as any to win the West and take its chances against the likes of Miami or Chicago in the NBA Finals.

But now's as good a time as any to do just that, because the future is not so stable. Yes, for now, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook seem perfectly content to play in little ol' OKC and fight the Goliaths.

And should the Thunder stage a championship parade on the Bricktown gondolas, the title will be even sweeter, knowing it came without competitive-balance help.

But make no mistake. Sam Presti's stated goal of sustainability, his dream of building an organization that retains its identity and success even beyond generational players like Durant, is much more difficult without help from the labor talks.

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