Oklahoma City Thunder: The Worst Team in the NBA?
Oklahoma City Thunder History and Highlights.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are members of the Northwest Division of the Western Conference of the NBA. The team plays its home games at Paycom Center. The Thunder are the only team in the major professional North American sports leagues to base themselves in the state of Oklahoma.
Founding and Early Years
Oklahoma City Thunder established itself as the Seattle SuperSonics, an expansion team that joined the NBA for the 1967-68 season. The team won the NBA championship in 1979, played in two other NBA Finals, won the division six times, and made it to the playoffs 22 times.
Lenny Wilkens was the first star of the franchise. He joined the team after the Sonics traded for him with the Atlanta Hawks. After averaging more than 20 points per game, Wilkens became a player-coach for the Sonics in 1969. Eventually, the team traded Wilkens to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1972.
First Playoffs Appearance
In 1974, Bill Russell became the Sonics’ head coach, and they finally made their first playoff appearance. In 1977, the Sonics brought Lenny Wilkens back to replace Russell, leading the Sonics to their first big success. The SuperSonics won 11 of their first 12 games under Wilkens and finished the season with a 47-35 record. They won the Western Conference title and led the Washington Bullets three games to two before losing in seven games in the 1978 NBA Finals.
First and Only NBA Championship
The following season brought the first and, so far, the only NBA championship for the franchise. After winning their first division title that regular season, the Sonics went to the Playoffs as contenders. In the playoffs, the Sonics defeated the Phoenix Suns in an epic seven-game conference final series to set up a rematch with the Washington Bullets in the finals.
The Sonics defeated the Bullets in five games this time to give Seattle its first and only NBA title. The championship team roster included the powerful backcourt tandem of Gus Williams and finals MVP Dennis Johnson, along with second-year All-Star center Jack Sikma.
Through the beginning and the middle of the 1980s, the Sonics had no success and any deep Playoff run.
The team’s new era started with drafting Shawn Kemp in 1989 and Gary Payton in the following season. George Karl took over the team in 1992, and the Sonics quickly became a Western Conference powerhouse. Payton and Kemp became the most attractive duo in the league, and their alley-oops are still legendary today.
The SuperSonics posted a 55-27 record in the 1992-93 season and took the Phoenix Suns to seven games in the Western Conference Finals, falling one win away from the NBA Finals.
The following season, the Sonics had the best record in the NBA at 63-19 but suffered a first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, becoming the first number one seed to lose a playoff series to an eighth seed.
The Sonics’ Best NBA Roster
The Sonics had the best roster in their history. Payton and Kemp had the support of players such as Detlef Schrempf, Sam Perkins, Hersey Hawkins, and Nate McMillan. As a result, the Sonics won the West and advanced to the NBA Finals, facing Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls. The Bulls took a 3-0 lead, but the Sonics didn’t give up, winning the next two games with a chance to tie the series with a home win. However, the Bulls proved too big of a challenge for the Sonics and won Game 6 and, ultimately, the NBA championship.
The Sonics remained one of the best teams in the West but slowly started to fall. Kemp was traded after the following season, and Vin Baker took his place. Payton remained with the Sonics until 2003, when he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in a trade that brought Ray Allen to Seattle.
The Sonics had a good team with Allen and Rashard Lewis but didn’t make any significant success.
Schultz Sells Sonics to Professional Basketball Club LLC
In 2006, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sold the SuperSonics to the Professional Basketball Club LLC, a group of Oklahoma City investors led by Clay Bennett. In 2007, Bennett announced that the franchise would move to Oklahoma City as soon as the lease with KeyArena expired.
The last two big moves of the Sonics happened at the NBA Drafts in 2007 and 2008. They selected Kevin Durant with the third pick in 2007, who played his rookie season in Seattle. Russel Westbrook was the fifth pick in 2008.
The Sonics moved to Oklahoma at the start of the 2008-09 season, becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder. Durant and Westbrook were growing each year, and the Oklahoma City Thunder continued to select well in the Draft adding James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Jeff Green.
The Modern Era
Heading into the 2010s, the young team quickly became a real contender, and the Oklahoma City Thunder made it to the NBA Finals in 2012, losing to the Miami Heat in five games.
Durant went on to win four scoring titles leaving the team in 2016 to join the Golden State Warriors. Westbrook remained with the team, becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season. He left the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019 to join James Harden in Houston.
The Thunder stayed a respectable team bringing in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but they didn’t last long and made only one playoff appearance.
After their departure, the Thunder has become one of the worst teams in the league and are currently in a rebuilding process.