Conventional wisdom proclaims this to be the season the Thunder don’t mind losing.
Never mind that first-year coach Mark Daigneault very much minds losing.
Ditto for the returnees — Shai Gilgous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, Hamidou Diallo, Mike Muscala — who enjoyed last season’s come-from-nowhere success.
Ditto, too, it turns out for youngsters like Kenrich Williams and veterans like Al Horford.
As they proved in consecutive overtime losses to the defending champion Lakers at Staples Center Monday and Wednesday, the Thunder are proving incapable of going down without a fight.
As tightly as they played the Lakers Wednesday, even without leading scorer and assist man Gilgeous-Alexander, as the schedule lightens, they’re bound to encounter many nights in which they’re incapable of going down, period.
Yet, the way they were built, shedding salary — OKC’s currently almost $37 million below the NBA’s luxury tax threshold — while continuing to add draft picks and swaps, the conventional wisdom holds.
The Thunder may lose kicking and screaming and not nearly often enough, yet if hard times hit and losses were to mount, well, it might not be the worst thing for general manager Sam Presti, who’s pretty good with the top four picks in the draft, having spent them previously on Kevin Durant (No. 2, 2007), Russell Westbrook (No. 4, 2008) and James Harden (No. 3, 2009).
So, bully for conventional wisdom. Where would sportswriters be without it, as a foil, if nothing else.
Here, though, is some real-time wisdom.
Whatever type of rebuild Oklahoma City’s in, it will be nothing like the one that produced Durant, Westbrook and Harden.
The Thunder are plainly incapable of being that bad for that long to get those picks again. Some of the picks they already possess may approach that neighborhood, but the Thunder’s own will not.
As the Seattle Supersonics in 2006-07, Bob Hill their coach, who Gregg Popovich stiff-armed out of San Antonio 10 years earlier, the team went 31-51.
The next season, still in Seattle, P.J. Carlesimo the coach, they went 20-62.
The year after that, finally in OKC, they went 23-59, Carlesimo getting fired in favor of Scott Brooks after opening the season 1-12.
Those seasons aren’t happening again. In an awful arena, with retread coaches, with a toxic relationship with local government, with an owner wanting out, they happened in Seattle.
Mark Daigneault the coach, with a core than includes Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort, with a coterie of supporting talents that play as though their NBA lives depend on it — because they do — it’s not happening here.
Playing for a fanbase that loves them, for an entirely functional organization, surrounded by an overachieving culture, it’s hard to suck and the Thunder don’t and won’t.
That’s why Presti’s next big move will be so interesting and appears bound to happen before the 2021-22 season tips. Because he just can’t wait any longer.
Oklahoma City is 10-14 and has lost three of four and two of those were in overtime to the reigning NBA champs and one of them, against Minneosta, came without Gilgeous-Alexander or Dort.
Were they healthy, they’d be a .500 team whose schedule is on the cusp of getting easier.
Watching them go toe-to-toe with Los Angeles was a sort of proof of how of much better they’d become with just one big piece added.
Oklahoma City has so many draft picks, so much cap space, even a $27.5 million trade exception generated by the deal that sent Steven Adams to New Orleans and it’s bound to give up only a fraction of it if it could convince the right player to come plant his flag alongside Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort.
“It’s getting old …,” was the way Daigneault began his postgame press conference from Los Angeles Wednesday, referencing so many narrow losses. “More importantly, we showed up to compete and we competed for 53 minutes. I thought we left it all on the court again.”
Horford, the veteran center, who went for 25 points, eight assists and four steals Wednesday, explained the Thunder’s being undaunted, even shorthanded, against the champs.
“We understand that we have to do it as a group,” he said. “Obviously, we’re missing Shea, a huge part of our offense … it was just an opportunity for other guys to step up.”
And they did, and for the second straight game, they dang near beat the best team in the league.
It’s hard to see Presti making his overachieving core wait for help that would make it a legit playoff contender again.
It’s hard to see Gilgeious-Alexander and Dort stand for his waiting to do it.
It’s hard to see how Presti, with so many draft assets so many years into the future, would fear beginning the next climb to soon.
He’s got everything he needs to begin the effort to be good again and a culture that won’t allow for tanking, anyway. The time for him to begin to work his magic again is coming.