4 min read

Is the Thunder’s building plan more honorable than the Heat’s?

Is the Thunder’s building plan more honorable than the Heat’s?
Mike Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty Images

“I hate the Yankees because they just buy championships.”

Unless you actually are a Yankee fan, you’ve probably said those words. I used to always say I hated the Yankees and when people would ask why, I’d say exactly that. They just buy their trophies.

For whatever reason, most of us saw something far more admirable in the way a team like the Marlins won their two World Series championships. By drafting smart, building from within, developing talent and managing money wisely. They didn’t have a blank check to buy every big name on the free agent market so they had to plan more carefully.

And with the Heat now being two games away from winning an NBA championship the same year that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to form a super-team of sorts, I’m hearing that same explanation as a reason to hate the Heat. And to make it better, the counter-argument all year has always been the Thunder.

On one hand you have a franchise that basically turned things around in one year because they had money and three players that wanted to play together. On the other, you have a franchise that has succeeded by managing the salary cap brilliantly, by drafting and by developing. Because of those two different models — to go along with humility, market size, market style and a number of other things — the Thunder were painted as the anti-Heat. As if that’s some badge of honor to wear while trying to win one for the little guys.

It’s something that I talked about on this week’s podcast, but I’ve been thinking more about it: Is there something more honorable in the way the Thunder are winning than the Heat?

Short answer: no. Long answer: forthcoming.

It’s simple: The Heat used a get rich quick scheme while the Thunder worked hard, invested, made smart moves and eventually saw all of that pay off. But here’s the thing: If you’re rich, does it really matter how you got there? Whether your get rich quick plan worked out or it took you years of hard work, if you’ve got millions in the bank, who cares?

I get the idea behind it though. Everyone praises Pat Riley for the job he did in constructing the Heat, but I’ve never been all that impressed. He basically made horrible trades with the only intention to clear cap room so there’d be enough space for Bosh, LeBron and Wade to all fit together. Any GM could trade marginally talented players for second-round picks. Doesn’t take a genius to pull off that one.

Michael Beasley — the No. 2 overall pick in 2008 — was dealt to Minnesota for nothing. Daequan Cook — a solid 3-point marksman — was sent to OKC for nothing. Other than that, Riley just had to get out of the way and let those three guys sort out which team they wanted to play for. And since Miami had to cap space, the market and the money, the natural fit was South Beach.

It really just came down to Riley holding a garage sale because someone was about to come dump a bunch of money in his house and he needed the space. Does he deserve credit? Of course. It worked. He landed all three and they’re closing in on an NBA championship.

Which brings me back to the point: It doesn’t matter how you win. It just matters that you win.

The Heat didn’t break any rules (that we know of) and aren’t cheating the system (as far as we know). They built a team overnight because that’s all it took. And it’s got everything the Thunder has too. Long-term sustainability, flexibility, young talent (LeBron is just 26, mind you) and wonderful locker room chemistry and togetherness. OKC acquired that with some luck, wisdom and hard work. Miami just bulldozed the house and someone built a mansion on top with some money they found.

What’s different about the Heat’s structure than the Celtics’ title in from 2008? Or the Lakers in 2009 and 2010? Those teams used their clout, money, market and cap space to “buy” a championship. But there’s no smear on those banners. They’re no asterisk on their trophy. There’s no disclaimer in the record books. Fans care about this honor thing because we all appreciate the way a team like the Spurs have won, but in the end, the trophy is what matters.

It’s fun to hate the Heat. I understand that. LeBron’s ego, Bosh is fake tough and the entire team oozes arrogance. In Oklahoma City, we couldn’t be more proud of our franchise. The way its committed to excellence, doing things the right way, humility, community and most importantly, winning. The Thunder speak for this city in that they’re resilient and were built from the ground up. We relish that. We love that. The Thunder really are the anti-Heat because they did do things differently. And because that was the process they used, we appreciate that.

I’d rather root for Kevin Durant over LeBron James. I’d rather win the way the Thunder have instead of the Heat. I’d rather support a franchise like the Thunder rather than the Heat.

But I can promise you, if Presti had just cleaned house and had a couple superstars land in his lap and it meant the Thunder won an NBA championship, you’d forget about all that stuff. You’d quit caring about the how and only care about the now.