The most important date on the NBA calendar for the Oklahoma City Thunder arrives Thursday.
The NBA Draft.
Plucking players from the annual amateur pool has and always will be the most critical component to the team’s roster-building. Being on the cusp of a championship will not change that.
In fact, the Thunder wouldn’t be where it is today without the draft. It undeniably has been the team’s lifeblood.
Nine players on this year’s roster were drafted by the franchise or acquired via trade on draft night, a rare reality in the new NBA climate, with its ever-changing rosters and the league’s unabashed push for player sharing. Excluding soon-to-be free agents, the Thunder’s lone exceptions are Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb and Hasheem Thabeet.
Of the nine homegrown talents, six are rotation players, and they illustrate why Thursday’s draft remains significant for OKC despite where the Thunder is selecting or where the franchise is in its evolution.
“We feel really good that when you draft a player,” said Thunder general manager Sam Presti earlier this month, “you can develop him within your organizational culture, can build habits and develop them in relation to your system and your current makeup of your team.
“So the draft has been something that’s important to our organizational building, but also our cultural building.”
Many are calling for, and perhaps even anticipating, sweeping changes this summer after the Thunder’s six-game series loss to San Antonio in the West Finals. An overhaul, they say, is in order before the Thunder can be crowned champion.
Three trips to the Western Conference Finals in the last four years, however, suggest the Thunder is on the right track. With a roster filled with age 25-and-under talent, there’s also reason to believe OKC should simply keep trucking.
Of course, until the Thunder is the last team standing, a certain level of cynicism will linger. Questions will be asked. Critics will demand changes.
But what’s set the Thunder apart, what’s made Oklahoma City special, is how it has stayed the course, in both its successes and its failures. There’s no reason to think the Thunder will veer off path now.