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OKC Thunder: What Sam Presti won't risk for a title

COMMENTARY — The Dwight Howard trade to the Lakers raises new questions about whether the small-market Oklahoma City Thunder can keep up financially. The answer is no, and hinges on one of Sam Presti's favorite phrases: “sustainability.” A refresher on how the Thunder defines that.
by Berry Tramel Published: August 15, 2012

Sustained competitiveness is not a pipe dream in small markets. We've seen it accomplished in places with smart management and fiscal responsibility.

That's why the Thunder won't overspend for Serge Ibaka and/or James Harden. Presti would love to have both building blocks signed on for the long haul, but you can't play with just four players. The four stars and a roster of cut-rate journeymen would not win a title or even come close.

Presti will not risk the fiscal stability of the franchise.

And frankly, it's too early to tell if some of the NBA bluebloods will, either. The Nets apparently will belly-flop into the luxury tax, because of Russian Monopoly money. The Knicks will, because they can and don't have better sense.

But we don't even know for sure if big spenders like the Lakers and Mavs will bust the bank and pay the potential huge luxury tax.

Howard, remember, is signed for just this coming season.

Meanwhile, the Thunder is doing all it can to make connections with the fans and community. Trying to build up all kinds of goodwill, in case of tougher times on the court. Granted, continued defeats, year after year of losing seasons, can't be fixed by any goodwill.

But fans who feel a connection to the team and franchise will keep buying tickets if they feel a connection. And it's clear that the Thunder and not just the city, but the entire state, has made a strong connection.

A sense of civic pride revolves around the Thunder franchise, and not just because of the crazy-quick success. Having a successful NBA franchise – at the box office as well as on the court – seems to matter to the populace. Unlike, say, in Philadelphia or Atlanta, where a quality product often goes unappreciated.

McLain, the reader, wondered if a decade from now, Clay Bennett and his partners sell out in the face of a dubious competitive and financial landscape.

I don't think so. Bennett knows what the NBA has brought to OKC and what an iconic hero he is to his hometown.

I'd say the economic factors of the energy industry are a bigger worry to the future of the Thunder than are the economic factors of the NBA. Another oil bust like we had 30 years ago, and no kind of collective bargaining agreement could save OKC.

But for now, the roster makes the Thunder an elite franchise. And for the future, management shows signs of doing the same.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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