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

Without something like the franchise tag. The NFL makes it possible for a franchise to keep its superstar, so long as it's willing to pay him at an elite rate.

The NBA? No. LeBron would have made more money staying in Cleveland. Carmelo would have made more money staying in Denver. CP3 would have made more money staying in New Orleans.

But they preferred roster-building. Pro sports seemed a little crass when players just jumped for the biggest paycheck, but that didn't offend sensibilities like this Super Team phenomenon.

Shipping stars from small markets to desired markets is terrible for basketball competitiveness. It might be good for league revenues – fans like to watch Super Teams – but hope fades fast in places like Charlotte and Minnesota and Indianapolis.

At least hope floats in Oklahoma City, thanks to the lottery luck that landed Durant and the careful ways of Presti. OKC was in prime position to contend for a long time, had the NBA developed a system that better discouraged superstar manipulation.

But that didn't happen, so no use belly-aching about it. This is the system. The Thunder has to deal with it.

No reason for OKC to get an inferiority complex. No reason to think a title is an impossible dream. Not with what we've seen of this organization.

But also no reason for a superiority complex. Yes, it looks good, with all the young guns — Durant, Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka — just starting to hit their prime. But championships never are easily won. And now excellence can't be easily maintained.

The siren song will swirl around Durant and Westbrook. Maybe they will resist; Tim Duncan resisted. But the song will come. New York, it will whisper. LA, it will croon.

And even if the Thunder keeps its core together, the Super Teams aren't going away. The competition at the top is going to be fiercer. Fewer teams in the middle. More teams mired in mediocrity.

We wanted in this rat race. We wanted in the NBA. Well, here we are and this is the way it is.

The shrunken season might even work out famously for the Thunder. A stable roster should make for a fast start, and young legs should make for a strong finish. Truth is, the Thunder could win the 2012 NBA championship.

But the lockout failure will make future Thunder titles much more difficult to come by.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

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