Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Season: 23-59 (.280, 5th in the Northwest Division, 13th in the Western Conference)
Key Additions: Drafted James Harden, BJ Mullins, traded for Kevin Ollie, Etan Thomas
Key Subtractions: Earl Watson, Damien Wilkins.
I'm willing to wager that a healthy portion of NBA teams- lottery and playoff squads alike- would trade their lot in life for what the Thunder have cooking in their big cast iron, high plains basketball kettle. A killer core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, none older than 23, with more potential added in first rounder Harden. Scads of draft picks at their disposal. Cap space stretching to the tips of Oklahoma's vast horizon. A home city forgiving of their growing pains and just happy to have the team- any team, really- in town, meaning there's no rush to try and mess with the rebuilding blueprint and risk screwing things up in the process.
So intense has the love grown among fans and scribes alike for GM Sam Presti that it feels almost dirty, like he should be shrinkwrapped and put in the naughty section of the magazine rack. But it's all well deserved, which is why the man is smiling. You'd smile too if the future of your franchise was this bright.
As for this season, with the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race at least theoretically in question, the Thunder are a popular dark horse pick to slip in should any of last year's entrants leave the top eight. It's not as far-fetched a notion as it might seem at first glance. Yeah, OKC won only 23 games a year ago, but they started 1-16, then 3-29. After that, Durant and Co. were a still-bad-but-far-more-respectable 20-30. Five more wins there and the Thunder are a .500 team. Would that be enough to sneak in?
Sure, it takes a little imagination, but not the sort of hard drugs required to picture, say, the Kings playing deeper into April.