As fans, we watched the team stay in playoff position from start to finish; we saw Kevin Durant become the youngest player to win back-to-back scoring titles; and we witnessed Russell Westbrook leap into superstardom.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe this is the same franchise that limped into Oklahoma City three years ago decimated by an ugly legal battle and years of losing basketball.
As we prepare for the first round of the playoffs, now might be a good time to reflect on how far this team has come in such a short time.
2008/2009: 23-59, fourth-worst record in the league 2010/2011: 54-26 (at press time), Northwest Division champions
That 23-win total in the inaugural season was actually three games better than the team did in its final season in Seattle. Two seasons later, they have more than doubled their win total, won their division, and were in play for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference as late as press time.
2008: Kevin Durant
2011: Kevin Durant
He may be the same guy, but is hardly the same player. When the Thunder arrived in Oklahoma City without a team name, Durant was the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, but was not the polished gem we watch today. The KD of 2008 was a shy, acne-riddled, string bean of a volume scorer who many felt would never be more than a statistical star on bad teams. In the present, he is a confident leader who terrifies opposing teams because of his efficient offensive performance and well-rounded game.
2009: Desmond Mason
2011: Russell Westbrook
Many people forget that when the Thunder started playing at the then- Ford Center, the second most popular player was former Oklahoma State star Desmond Mason. In many ways, he was also among the team’s most distinguished players. By 2009, he was retired when there was lack of interest in his services among other teams.
Now, the team has a legitimate allstar and a guy who has been discussed in the league MVP race just as much as Durant: Russell Westbrook. That’s an upgrade.
2009: Johan Petro/Robert Swift/ Mouhamed Sene
2011: Kendrick Perkins/Nazr Mohammed
If in 2008, someone had told me the Thunder would replace 21 feet of hopeless projects at the center position with two guys who have won championship rings as the starting post player, I would’ve sent them to detox.
Today, that is the reality, a much better circumstance than relying on three guys to blossom (two of whom are no longer employed in the NBA).
2011: a weekly commentary
Hopefully, a long playoff run will allow for several more editions, but with the season coming to a close, I would like to thank all of the readers on behalf of myself, Royce Young and Patrick for reading our musings about the team.
Matthews is an editor of the local blog TheLostOgle.com.