Five Years with the Thunder

Just over a decade ago, the idea of an NBA team existing in Oklahoma City may have seemed unlikely. Fast forward to 2013, and the city has not only been home to the Thunder, but rabidly supported the team for five seasons running.

As the Thunder embarks on its sixth season as an organization, its players, coaches and staff have all had a chance to reflect on the team’s first half-decade in Oklahoma City. While the next five seasons will be an opportunity to put down significant pillars in the NBA world and in Oklahoma, the first five seasons were a wonderful chance to begin laying the foundation for what the Thunder will represent for years to come. A trio of players has been with the team since before it even had a name or a logo, and they have served as the caretakers of the organization ever since.

The team has risen together to increase its winning percentage in each year the team has been in Oklahoma City, and Nick Collison, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been leaders on and off the floor for the organization. Looking back, the Thunder’s stalwarts are amazed by the strides the organization has taken.

“(We’ve come) a long way,” Westbrook said. “It’s been a long process for us. I think we’ve done a great job of trying to get everybody together and everybody on the same page and let everybody know what the Thunder stands for.”

That synergy that Westbrook described has been an essential tool in the development of the Thunder as a team, as an organization and as a part of the community. Each aspect of the organization operates by a specific and well-thought-out process in order to both maximize effectiveness and efficiency.

From the very start, General Manager Sam Presti and his staff understood that being process-based as opposed to outcome-driven in all corners of the organization would help impact winning on the court. Every coach, trainer, staff member and player focuses on the minute details of their jobs in order to be successful on the margins – the areas that separate highly performing organizations from the rest.

“When Sam (Presti) took over he did a good job,” Collison said. “He had a plan in place and the thing that kind of separated him from other people who haven’t done as well is that he’s been able to stick to great principles and he won’t stray form what he’s trying to do.”

“We’ve been working hard as an organization,” Durant further explained. “It’s really awesome to see. Not just the players, but the coaches and GM and everybody who works behind the scenes for the Thunder, how much effort they put into making this thing work.”

Even if they can only impact winning in a small way, every member of the Thunder organization has committed themselves to improving their processes and their production, which has helped the Thunder elevate itself by an incremental amount each year.

The players have lived by the same rules, with Collison, Durant and Westbrook not only setting the tone mentally, but raising the bar for themselves and their teammates in terms of work ethic on the floor. Younger players and veterans alike take their cues from the Thunder’s most tenured trio, understanding that if they do their jobs to the best of their ability, they can affect results on the floor.

Every player that comes through the doors of the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center puts their fingerprint on the team’s culture. That unique identity is a critical aspect of any organization, which has been solidly formed thus far but will continue to take shape in the coming years.

“As it relates to us as players, there’s a lot expected of us,” Collison said. “But it’s very clearly defined and we’ve been good about doing the work every day to build something here. What I’ve noticed most is just how we’ve gotten better at it. We’ve come now to where we have a culture that helps us. It helps us win games. It helps us have success.”

Over the past five years plenty of changes have taken place in Oklahoma City, including with the Thunder. It’s the nature of the NBA as a business that players, coaches and staff won’t always be the same from year-to-year. It is the culture that is developed and what wearing the Thunder logo signifies, however, that will be the marks of the legacy the team creates.

Through its performance on the practice court, in Chesapeake Energy Arena, on the road and with the people in Oklahoma, Thunder players are proud of what has been accomplished in the first five seasons. Up next for the team is trying to cement the standards and the culture, to help future versions of this Thunder team play with the same intensity and integrity that it has thus far to continue representing Oklahoma City to the best of its ability.

“I can’t emphasize more that I’m just excited to be a part of such a great organization and program that has a plan,” Durant said. “Hopefully we just keep it up.”