Fans can talk themselves into the draft picks, the young player, and the excitement for the future, but you never get used to it.
The lopsided scores. The painfully non-competitive fourth quarters. The games where the young players – that we love to love – make countless mistakes, which cost the team a chance at the first win in months.
Losing is not fun for the players and the fans, but it’s a necessary evil. Losses lead to draft picks, which lead to great players that may vault a team back into contention. It’s only through losing that small-market teams find their way back to national prominence.
So the 2020-21 NBA season was a different one for Thunder fans, players, and executives.
An organization that made 10 playoff appearances in 13 seasons now celebrated incremental growth in the younger players and adopted a win later mindset. It no longer was about beating the San Antonio Spurs on a Thursday night primetime game. Instead, it was about seeing Aleksej Pokusevski grow in confidence in his pull-up three.
We weren’t checking the Western Conference standings. Tankathon became the go-to website. We lauded a Pistons and Timberwolves win the same way we celebrated a Warriors loss just three seasons ago.
Things are different now, and we know it. Our NBA Finals isn’t seven games, nor does it carry the reward of the Larry O’Brien trophy and a parade downtown. The confetti won’t fall, and Thunder fans won’t be packed in an arena somewhere celebrating the first NBA championship in Oklahoma City history.
Our NBA Finals is the Draft Lottery, and the reward isn’t a trophy but a chance to draft one of the “can’t miss” prospects in this year’s NBA draft.
Will the picks the Thunder land net them a chance at Cade Cunningham? Will it be Jalen Suggs, or maybe even Jonathan Kuminga?
Who, besides Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort, will lead the Thunder into its next decade of success?
We won’t have a guess until June 22, when the NBA’s ping-pong balls tell the Thunder their NBA Draft fate. The season of intentional losing has led up to this moment in the NBA offseason. Now, it’s time to see if all the losing was really worth it.
It’s out of the ordinary, as a Thunder fan, to not have a team competing in the NBA Playoffs. However, it’s also a reminder of the different direction the organization is taking; aiming for sustainable success, instead of routine first-round exists.
“We have a clear direction and plan.” Sam Presti said. “Anytime you’re in the lottery, means really being able to accept the reality that you don’t control anything at all… You can’t control chance.
“We’ve had a lot of good luck, sometimes we don’t attribute that to luck. And sometimes we have some bad luck, and we don’t attribute it to bad luck. The same thing goes in the lottery. The only thing I would say about is that we control the way we think, and we do control how we react.”
Losing — no one ever gets used to it. However, it does have a purpose for small market organizations. Now it’s time to see if it pays off for Oklahoma City.