In December, the Thunder seemed headed for history, flirting with the worst NBA record ever. Those days are gone, and now OKC has finished No. 4 in the lottery standings, behind the Kings, Clippers and Wizards.
Seems to me that’s a good place to finish from where the Thunder was: 3-29 on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. You never want to keep losing. But the worst thing you can do is get on what I call the Milwaukee Treadmill; winning 30something games every year. Never improving enough to make a playoff splash, never getting bad enough to feel like you have to start over.
The Sonics got to the latter point two years ago and started over, and the future of the now-Thunder looks promising. But OKC still has to leapfrog that Milwaukee Treadmill.
In the last two drafts, the Thunder has had overall picks of 2, 4 and 5, which has resulted in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green. Now OKC will get a pick somewhere between 1 and 7. We all hope for No. 1 and Blake Griffin, but even somewhere in the 3-5 range will produce a good ballplayer. No one was excited when the Sonics got the No. 4 lottery ball last year, but the result was Westbrook, now a cornerstone of the team.
And then that’s it. No way should OKC be in the lottery business after this year, at least not the upper lottery. I don’t think the Thunder will make the playoffs next year, but it shouldn’t be in the 20-win range, either.
This should be the Thunder’s last chance to make a big impact via the draft. Come June, OKC should have four players under the age of 23 and be about the business not of building for the future, but of winning ballgames. Not in the business of accumulating draft picks and salary-cap room, but of acquiring ballplayers.
The Thunder should be in Milwaukee territory next season. The key is not staying there, and if OKC drafts wisely, no reason why the Thunder will get on the treadmill.