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Thunder Journal: The Rebuild is Over

RIP: The Thunder Rebuild (2019-2023)
Thunder Journal: The Rebuild is Over

Well, that was quick.

After posting a losing record for three straight seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have officially ended the rebuild by blazing past the 41 win mark and securing a winning record in 2023-2024.

The team was ever so close, one win from .500 to be exact, from pulling the feat off last year. And just when you thought last season’s 16 game improvement couldn’t be topped, OKC is in the midst of an even more impressive leap this season.

The Thunder have much bigger goals in mind this season than just finishing over .500. The playoffs, a division title, claiming the #1 seed, winning a postseason series for the first time since 2016, adding a third MVP trophy and a deep postseason run are all within the realm of possibility for the NBA’s youngest team by weighted average of rotation minutes. But we’ll put those bigger fish back in the regular season freezer and fry them in a future journal.

For now, we should take a moment to appreciate and recognize the return to winning and say RIP to the rebuild.

The Thunder landed in Oklahoma City in 2008 and finished 23-59. OKC then rattled off 11 straight seasons of playing over .500 basketball. They didn’t have a losing season again until a dozen years later, dropping to 22-50 in the 2020-21 campaign.

But let’s rewind to one year before that, when the Thunder ended up stashing their rebuild on layaway. On July 6, 2019, a Woj bomb dropped on Thunder fans’ cell phones that they will never forget.

“Oklahoma City is trading All-Star Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-setting collection of draft choices, league sources tell ESPN.”

Oh no. After the initial shock and confusion, Thunder fans immediately acknowledged two stark realities: 1. OKC may no longer be a playoff team. 2. Homegrown hero and local legend Russell Westbrook may be next.

Sidenote: how crazy is it that future All-Star/All-NBA/MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t even included in the initial tweet?

Thunder fans’ worst fears were realized a mere five days later when Woj showed up unannounced and unwanted yet again.

“The Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed to trade Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, pick swaps in 2021 and 2025, league sources tell ESPN.”

Russ was gone. PG was gone. Jerami Grant jumped off the sinking ship in between, but I don’t think that warrants the Woj quote tweet treatment.

National media proclaimed that OKC’s demise was imminent. The team would go back to small market irrelevancy after a decade plus of Christmas Day TV games, Top 10 jersey sales, home sell-outs and Doodle Jump commercials. Would the team even survive in Oklahoma City with such a dark cloud of long-term losing on the horizon? Sorry OKC fans, it was a nice run. You survived the loss of Kevin Durant, but Loud City may soon be closing their Chesapeake Energy Arena doors with Russ and PG13 no longer hooping in the 405.

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Enter a washed Chris Paul, an always-injured Danilo Gallinari, a New Balance intern, an undrafted defender built like a football player and this Shy Gilge-gilgis-gill… who is this kid from the Clippers and how do you say his name?

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