As the most unpredictable NBA Draft in recent memory loomed, thoughts of the Oklahoma City Thunder finding the missing piece that would bring home an NBA title danced through many fans' minds.
In the end, however, Thunder general manager Sam Presti stuck to his usual mode of operation, bringing in four young players—three 19-year-olds and one 21-year-old—with a lot of potential for the future.
There's no question the Thunder has issues that need to be addressed in the present time, notably inside scoring and bench scoring. Based on Thursday night, it appears the Thunder is very confident in the young crop of talent they have in Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and Reggie Jackson coming off the bench. It's also possible they believe Kendrick Perkins will bounce back to some degree after an abysmal year this past season, or perhaps they could go after someone in free agency. Regardless of what happens in addressing those issues, it's clear the Thunder brass didn't feel the draft was the best way to address them.
The choices Presti made Thursday night—particularly drafting center Steven Adams with the No. 12 overall pick—may have sent a false message of apathy across Thunder Nation. After all, none of the four players can be expected to contribute much, if anything, at all this season. Andre Roberson may be best suited to contribute the soonest, while Alex Abrines will stay overseas for the foreseeable future. Grant Jerrett and Adams will definitely be spending the year in Tulsa, working on becoming players that can thrive at the NBA level.
(Side note: the 66ers could be pretty good this season with all this young talent.)
Instead of apathy, Oklahoma City's draft actually showed just how much perspective Presti has on the Thunder's current situation.
There is always some level of urgency to win an NBA championship. With some teams—like the Boston Celtics, who are in complete rebuilding mode after shipping Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn in a massive trade Thursday night—that urgency isn't as high because it's simply not realistic. Other teams like San Antonio have a very high level of urgency because their best players could choose to retire any day.
Oklahoma City is in a very unique position with the young talent it has on its roster and the fact that its best three players—Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka—are all signed for the next four seasons. (Technically, Durant is only signed for the next three, but if you think he's leaving OKC anytime soon, you're crazy.)
There is plenty of urgency to win a championship in Oklahoma City, but not the level of urgency where OKC management is thinking the Thunder needs to win a championship this year or they'll have to blow it all up and start over. That's poor thinking that can be woefully destructive on a team's psyche.
Losing in the Finals to Miami in 2012 certainly fueled the Thunder's desire to win a championship soon, if for no other reason than to wash away the bitter taste of defeat.
The problem is fans don't understand how rare championships really are. If Oklahoma City wins two championships in the next decade, combined with various conference finals and NBA Finals appearances, it goes down as one of the greater runs of success in NBA history. That's not an opinion; that's a fact.
You don't have to win four or five championships in a small time frame to be considered a great franchise. If that were the case, there would be only three great teams: the Bill Russell-era Celtics (12 Finals appearances in 13 years, 11 titles), the Magic Johnson-era Lakers (seven Finals appearances in nine years, five titles), and the Michael Jordan-era Bulls (six Finals appearances in eight years, six titles). You could even include the 2000-2010 Lakers (seven Finals appearances in 11 years, five titles) and the 1999-2007 Spurs (four Finals appearances in nine years, four titles).
Often times, planning for the future completely gets overlooked, particularly around draft time when suddenly, one single player can lift a team to a championship. That may be true for a LeBron Jame-type talent, but that was anything but the case in this year's draft. No single player in this year's crop was going to help OKC win a title this year.
So Presti, knowing the foundation of his franchise is secure for the next several seasons, planned ahead, drafting players that can contribute down the road and help Oklahoma City win a title.
That's not negligence or a lack of a desire to win. It's smart thinking and yet another reason why he's in charge of an NBA franchise and you and I are not.