Thunder thrives in Oklahoma City

BY JOHN ROHDE Published: April 28, 2013
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In just four seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder went from being the league’s laughing stock to the NBA Finals.

With a 3-29 record out of the starting gate in 2008-09, the Thunder was on pace to set a league record for the lowest winning percentage in a season.

Since then, it’s been all good. There’s been nothing but playoff appearances, a greater winning percentage and a higher finish each season.

It’s abundantly clear the Thunder is off to a tremendous start in OKC, but there’s no telling what status the franchise will possess 20 years from now.

With its current roster fraught with amazing young talent and renewed contracts, the Thunder seems destined to win multiple championships if it can continue with the same steady improvement it has shown since the Seattle SuperSonics relocated here in July 2008.

However, given the significant challenges OKC faces with limited television revenue as the league’s third-smallest market, it also is possible the Thunder could struggle to stay afloat in the next 20 seasons.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti comes from the most captivating NBA success story of the millennium, learning his craft on staff with the San Antonio Spurs, a small-market franchise that has won 50-plus games each of the last 14 seasons.

As shrewd as the 36-year-old Presti has been since taking charge of the franchise in June 2007, the Thunder wouldn’t exist had it not been for the shrewdness of OKC civic leaders and the willingness of taxpayers.

An $89.2 million arena in downtown Oklahoma City was built three years before the New Orleans Hornets relocated for two seasons after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.

Oklahoma City’s support of the Hornets exceeded all expectations and the two-year period essentially served as an NBA tryout to see if pro sports had a chance to succeed in an area forever ruled by collegiate sports. The league approved relocation of the SuperSonics and Chesapeake Energy Arena has since undergone $94.4 million in renovations.

Should the NBA landscape change within the next 20 years, history has shown the city will change in stride.

“I don’t know if I can read the future for you,” City Manager Jim Couch said with a chuckle. “Right now, Chesapeake Arena is among the tops in the country, but how long we can keep current and continue to do so, that’s anybody’s guess.”

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