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We’re Not Rebuilding – You’re Rebuilding

We’ve all seen the tear-jerking videos of a military man surprising his family at a family picnic or the lost puppy miraculously found and caught by someone with a camera in hand. The tag line is along the lines of “I’m not crying, you’re crying” – because in effect – it’s hard for anyone not to get a bit misty-eyed.

So, what does this have to do with the Oklahoma City Thunder, circa 2019-2020? Well, it was a year that was supposed to be a bridge to the future and not a pathway to postseason success, at least not this season. In the offseason, the Thunder moved the cornerstone of the franchise, All-Star Russell Westbrook, to the Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul and Houston’s first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 as well as the right to swap first-rounders in 2021 and 2025.

Shortly before that blockbuster the Oklahoma City brass traded All-Star forward Paul George to the Clippers for forwarding Danilo Gallinari, guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a stunning haul of five first-round selections. Considering that the Thunder last reached the NBA finals in the spring of 2012 with the All-Star triumvirate of Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, yet still bowed to the Heat in five games, the chances of climbing that prodigious mountain again with only Westbrook and George leading the charge were not good.

The Thunder fans would not be happy with such a shocking liquidation of their most precious assets but it was a necessary teardown to a brighter future, or so the OKC suits said. Even Vegas and the online sportsbooks made the Thunder one of the longest shots on the board to win the NBA championship at 325-1 before the season began.

However, the disastrous season many were envisioning for this year’s Thunder has yet to occur and, in fact, the results have been no less than shocking as we check out the standings during the All-Star break. Oklahoma City has registered a 33-22 record and is tied with Dallas for the sixth seed in the West with 27 games remaining on the regular-season slate. If we check out SBR Odds, we see that those championship odds have plummeted to 195-1 as the playoffs are now a very real possibility for a team that was destined for the cellar this year.

One of the most surprising contributions for Oklahoma City’s unanticipated success this season stems from their bench, the role players. The Thunder has emerged victorious in 15 of their last 18 road tilts and in 41 of their 55 games the Thunder backups have outscored the opposition’s second-stringers. Veteran point guard Dennis Schroder (19.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game) has been one of the league’s most unheralded bench players and his admiration for Chris Paul is boundless. Schroder gushed, “He’s (Chris Paul) awesome. He’s one of the best or top point guards who ever played this game…. He changed the culture here as well — how we’re playing together as a team. He’s talking to every one of us every time during games, practices. Even if we’re off the court he talks to us. Leading this group. Obviously, he did a lot for us so he deserves it (an All-Star selection).”

We should also point out that two of the players the Thunder received in their blockbuster deals, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari, are the team’s leading scorers while Schroder is a candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. And let’s not forget to give oodles of credit to head coach Billy Donovan who has taken what his bosses have given him and forged a team that is strong on defense and even stronger on chemistry. San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich commented on Donovan’s performance this season and stated, “He’s done one of the more masterful jobs in the league this year.”

And while the Thunder’s record this year compares admirably to where they stood last season after 55 games (36-19), there are still games yet to be played and playoff seeds to be cemented. But from where we’re sitting, Oklahoma City is poised to be tipping off in the postseason come April and this Cinderella story has only just begun!

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Chuck Chaney

Founder & Editor-in-Chief.
Member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.