Success can be measured in several ways for NBA franchises over the course of a season. It can come through securing a quality draft selection, standing among the 16 teams that annually qualify for the postseason or seeing the bottom-line in the black.
But the most flattering mark of success is when opposing franchises begin following suit, emulating your team’s blueprint and plotting a similar path to success. Surprisingly, after 43 wins in the past two seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder has risen to that level of respectability. "I think teams that are in a rebuilding stage are looking to be a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder,” said Minnesota forward Kevin Love, who leads his Western Conference-worst Wolves into the Ford Center tonight. "They really set the bar for where teams in a rebuilding stage want to be.” A year ago, the storyline in Oklahoma City was whether the Thunder could successfully implement past plans seen in San Antonio, Portland and Atlanta. Now, teams like Minnesota, Sacramento, Washington and, to an extent, Indiana are patterning themselves after the Thunder. "We’re hoping to be like them,” Love said of the Thunder. "They turned their season around quickly.” With his team still just a 33-win outfit, Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti likes to point out that nothing of significance has been accomplished, even if the Thunder has exceeded every expectation this season. On the contrary, the team is on pace to win 48 games, a 25-game improvement over last season, and return to the postseason for the first time since 2005. It’s an even more remarkable turnaround when compared to the Wolves, who entered the rebuilding stage the same summer as the Thunder but walk into the Ford Center tonight at just 14-45. And Minnesota, you could argue, had a head start in its renovation when it netted talented big man Al Jefferson in the mega deal that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston. Jefferson was added to a mix that included 2005 14th overall pick Rashad McCants and 2006 seventh overall pick Randy Foye. Even with 2007 seventh overall pick Corey Brewer, 2008 fifth overall pick Love and 2009 sixth overall pick Jonny Flynn, the Wolves still find themselves searching for the Thunder’s recipe for success. The formula is basic. Presti began by freeing the franchise of problematic contracts to overpaid, underachieving players.