Thunder Setting the Foundation of a Franchise

In its first playoff series and only its second season as a franchise in 2009-2010, the Thunder had to face the number one seed in the Western Conference, and eventual NBA Champion, Los Angeles Lakers. That was the Lakers’ 16th NBA title, extending its reputation as a team with a tradition of excellence. Sunday afternoon, the Thunder will face the Lakers for the third time this season, with a chance to match skill and wits with one of the league’s most respected teams.

“Playing against those storied franchises always puts you in a mindset of reflecting because those are the teams you grew up watching,” Brooks said. “You always appreciate how they prepare, how they represent the league and themselves. You always look back at the Celtics as teamwork and the Lakers as incredible teams. And that’s something that we want to be.”

Now in its fourth year in Oklahoma City, the Thunder and Head Coach Scott Brooks can reflect on what it means to play against esteemed organizations, and that those matchups help the Thunder learn what type of organization it attempts to be moving forward.

“We want to be an organization where people can look at us and be proud that we’re representing their city and their state,” Brooks continued. “It’s also an opportunity to be ambassadors to the league in a global way because people love watching NBA basketball, and we have a team that represents the league very well. Our guys are great guys that work hard. To me, I think they’re everything that NBA basketball is all about.”

While teams like the Lakers and Boston Celtics have decades of history supporting them, the Thunder finds itself in a different, but also advantageous situation. Core members of the team like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have the opportunity to define the type of organization and franchise the Thunder will be for years to come. As Brooks described, the style of play of organizations can be outlined very early on, and can truly set the tone for how the franchise will operate even once all the current players, coaches and staff have retired.

“I think about that a lot,” Durant said. “Just to know that 20 years from now people are going to start to say, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, they helped build the foundation of the Thunder and we started this whole thing off. That’s going to be pretty cool. We’re just trying to build something nice here and I think we’re going in the right direction.”

With a young base of the team that features 23-year olds in Durant and Westbrook and 22-year olds in James Harden and Serge Ibaka, Brooks and his staff sees the basis for a group that can help solidify Oklahoma City’s stature in the NBA world. Three playoff appearances in its first four seasons as an organization is certainly a good start, but the Thunder coaching staff believes that the work in the years to come could have an even deeper and lasting impact on the team’s connection to its city and to NBA history.

“We get to mold, it’s almost like I get to do the same thing as a coach, coaching all these young players,” Brooks said. “I get to mold them into being professionals. I think they’ve done a good job of representing themselves by working hard. It’s great being on the ground floor. We basically came in not knowing the city and the city didn’t know us, but now we feel like we have a great marriage and every day has been a blessing for all of us.”

The Thunder as a franchise has certainly done quite a bit to form a unifying bond to the Oklahoma City community, whether it is drawing massive crowds in Thunder Alley or the incredible and humbling display of support from local businesses for the Thunder throughout the year. That union with the citizens of Oklahoma will be strong regardless of the team’s results on the basketball floor, but players like Harden also aim to create a successful, unique style of play that can be a template for versions of the Thunder squad in the future.

“We’re young but we’re building something special over here, from the front office to the players, as far as consistent work ethic and working hard on and off the court,” Harden said. “Give us some years and we want to be mentioned with those organizations with championships and things like that. It’s confidence. You have to be confident and the people around here are amazing.”

The ebbs and flows of May and June basketball can be fickle, as one cold stretch or hot streak can be the difference between a first round exit and a NBA Finals victory. The Thunder, with its commitment to consistency, hard work and togetherness, won’t be fazed by those highs and lows as each summer rolls by. Instead, it will look to see what it can do each year to become the best iteration of itself that it can possibly be through a daily emphasis on development and improvement.

Center Kendrick Perkins, one of the Thunder’s deepest basketball minds and a former NBA champion with the aforementioned Celtics, agrees that this period for the franchise is an important one. For the 27-year old Perkins, this is an era that will set the stage for the ensuing decades of Thunder basketball.

“At the end of the day, I just feel like we have a chance to do something special in this four-to-five year period,” Perkins said. “All we have to do is just keep improving and the rest will take care of itself. I just feel like we get better every day as a whole as a team execution-wise and stuff like that. I think the sky is the limit, we just can’t get bored with the process, and then once we do it, then we can look back and see what we’ve done.”