Summer Feature: 2012 to 2016, Perspective from Nazr Mohammed
Watching his friends and former Thunder teammates from afar, Nazr Mohammed realized in the spring of 2016 where he wanted to be: Oklahoma City.
Considering the Thunder organization has only been in existence for eight years, long-term perspective isn’t always easy to come by. Mohammed re-joined the Thunder after last playing for the team in 2012, when the Thunder went to the NBA Finals when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were just 23 years old. Mohammed’s relationships with Durant, Westbrook and Nick Collison were not only catalysts for his return to the Thunder, but also a kind of vantage point to recognize the evolution of basketball in Oklahoma City over the past four years.
After the 2015-16 season, Mohammed provided his evaluation of how the Thunder culture has grown and progressed since his first stint in Oklahoma City. He also outlined where he thinks the organization is headed in the future.
“I saw guys mature,” Mohammed said. “I got a chance to see guys surpass what I expected coming into it, as far as their growth. When I first got here the young guys were coming in and getting their work in, staying after, but it's almost like as the season went on, they were coming in at night. They were getting more work in. Guys were staying longer. Guys were paying more attention to detail. Guys were learning how to control themselves emotionally a little bit more, so it was just a lot of growth in that sense.”
Mohammed is a Chicago native who joined the NBA out of the University of Kentucky, where he played and won two NCAA Championships under one of Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan’s mentors, Rick Pitino.
An 18-year NBA veteran, he started his career with the Philadelphia 76ers after being selected in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, then traded. Mohammed proceeded to play for the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats and Chicago Bulls, and won an NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005. Clearly, he’s nearly seen everything there is to see in the NBA.
Having experience with all of those different organizations makes very clear the strengths and weaknesses of front offices, staffs, coaches and players. From what he’s seen in Oklahoma City, Mohammed is extremely impressed.
“The culture here is just unbelievable,” Mohammed said. “The people here have just made it amazing and continued to grow, and I believe it's going to result in a championship at one point.”
Mohammed has what the Thunder ultimately wants, an NBA Championship ring, but it’s evident that he values the other intrinsic qualities that the organization does have. Those characteristics also help Mohammed envision a bright future for the Thunder, on and off the court.
Looking ahead, Mohammed sees a coach in Donovan who trusted his scouting, trusted his team and remained patient in the face of adversity in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Spurs. He sees emerging players like Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Andre Roberson as young but experienced and very talented contributors. Most importantly, he sees Durant and Westbrook, who will only continue soaring to new heights as stars in this league with the innovative, forward-thinking culture around them.
“The biggest thing is just growth as leaders and growth as followers,” Mohammed concluded. “It's going to be more just emotional growth, getting better and guys getting in the gym and working on their games. Everything is here.”