Let's be honest. A sun-kissed basketball franchise landed in our lap.
The SuperSonics had lucked out in the lottery. Clay Bennett had the good sense to hire Sam Presti. Presti had the foresight to draft Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka. The oil and gas business has flourished.
Willie Nelson ought to be the Thunder's official anthemist. Blue skies, smilin' at me; nothin' but blue skies, do I see.
But as the Thunder's sixth Oklahoma City season approaches, a cloud or three hovers, really for the first time since Big Blue's arrival.
No Westbrook for the first few weeks of the season, and the Thunder discovered in the playoffs how chilling life can be without Peter Pan.
No real replacement for Kevin Martin, who last season reasonably filled the void left by the Harden trade.
A tougher Western Conference, if that's possible. The Clippers added a big-time coach, Doc Rivers, to that slick roster. The Grizzlies added a shooter, Mike Miller, to that Doberman defense. The Spurs refuse to release the headlock on Father Time.
For the first time, the Thunder seems unlikely to improve on the previous season's win total, 60 in this particular case.
The Thunder no longer can count on improvement coming from the general osmosis of growing up. To a large degree, the Thunder is all grown up.
Except for Serge Ibaka. None of us remembers what the Oklahoma sporting life was like before Ibaka arrived, but he's still just a hoops pup.
Ibaka has been playing basketball since he was seven years old. But playing in the Congo, using wooden backboards, is not the same as playing in the gyms of LA or D.C.
That's why Ibaka's ascension has been so steep. He's gotten better literally by the month during his four Thunder seasons. From a virtual shot-blocking specialist to now an all-around player who is as good as the NBA gets on 17-foot shots.
“I don't think he can shoot the ball as well as he did last year,” Scotty Brooks said without hint of a smile.
Go back and read that again. An NBA coach seriously says one of his best players can't duplicate a part of his performance from last season.
“If he can stay at that clip for the rest of his career, that's going to be historical numbers,” Brooks said.
Then the Thunder needs historical. Needs Ibaka to do what he did last season shooting – virtual 50 percent from 17 to 21 feet – and more.
Ibaka's four-year scoring averages with OKC: 6.3, 9.9, 9.1, 13.2. With no Martin, the Thunder needs Ibaka to get into the 15-point range, at least. If that happens, and Reggie Jackson's apparent development continues, then suddenly the skies are turning blue again.
“You cannot put a number on what you average,” Ibaka said. “All you can do is play hard. Play hard. That's it.”
No number. But Ibaka has a plan.
“I'm trying to be more aggressive,” Ibaka said. “Try go to free throw more this year. Everybody knows I can shoot. That's my first option on offense, is shoot the ball. My coach is always asking me, if I catch the ball in the post, try to face up, and if they let you, shoot. If I don't shoot, create.”
Ibaka is an OK foul shooter; 71.3 percent for his career. But per 36 minutes, his amount of foul shots has not changed much – between 2.4 and 3.0 per game in each of his four seasons.
An aggressive Ibaka could send shivers up NBA spines. Not just offensively; rebounding, too, where Ibaka is good but has the capacity to be great. But offensive forcefulness would make Ibaka an even better player. He might find himself not only on the foul line more, but even more frequently open for those jumpers.
“Scoring, I see that he will have another jump this year,” Brooks said. “I don't know how much. But we still want to score the basketball as a group and Serge is a big part of how we score.”
Ibaka knows that.
“That's how my team needs me,” Ibaka said. “They know, the first option is always KD. But he needs some support, too. He cannot do everything by himself.”
Durant needs Westbrook. We know that. And to keep the skies blue, Westbrook needs a Harden or Martin or an improved Ibaka.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. 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 newsok.com/berrytramel.