In the modern age of sports, everyday dream teams are becoming a dime a dozen. For years big market and even bigger money teams have been consuming superstars to fill seats and essentially buy championships and occasionally it even works out. Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Philly and now the Angels and Marlins are fishing for rings by throwing money around like a Kardashian at Bloomingdales. In basketball the “in” thing to do is have a big 3. Miami has theirs, the Knicks have theirs and after next year some team will drop a trillion to sign Dwight Howard and someone else to play along side their current superstar (the smart money is on Deron Williams and Dwight Howard to Dallas).
But, luckily we are starting to see a shift towards smaller market teams growing teams and in some cases dynasty’s (San Antonio Spurs) to compete with the bigger markets. We see it every year in baseball with the likes of the Devil Rays, San Francisco Giants and St Louis Cardinals. In basketball, The Oklahoma City Thunder is doing something very special and I hope to God they keep it together. Using the same business model as the San Antonio Spurs, we are seeing the Thunder build and grow through great draft picks (Durant, Westbrook and Harden) and key trades to add veteran leadership with the likes of Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher. As I am watching the Thunder playing the Lake Show, I am seeing a PACKED crowd all wearing blue shirts to show unison and they are going NUTS. (the residents of Tampa Bay should take notes, with the showing they had in the playoffs last year would have been enough for me to pick up and move to New Mexico, pathetic).
It appears that the Western Conference Finals will feature San Antonio vs OKC. As much as the NBA would love to have seen the Lakeshow vs Lob City, it isn’t going to happen, and we are lucky for it (although David Stern is pissed). The tip-off to this series starts tonight and eyes will be on the San Antonio hardwood for what will be most likely the most exciting playoff series in years, and again, we are talking OKC vs San Antonio. Gone are the Knicks, gone are the Bulls gone are the Lakers etc…. This post season has shown us this year more than any other year what makes this team so great, it’s not the amount of stars on your team or checks written to your roster, this season has shown us that by getting hot at the right time, units playing tight defense and unselfish offense and not looking across the bench and becoming star struck that you can beat the monster in front of you.
Philly pushed Boston to 7, Indiana pushed the Heat to 6 and earlier in the playoffs the not so surprising Memphis Grizzlies pushed the Clippers. But what the Thunder is doing this year (and the foreseeable future is different, they aint stopping. They were in this similar position last year and played as if they were “cool” with where they had gotten and if anything more would have been a bonus. This team is on a mission to win it all this year. Sweeping the defending champions, took the Lakers in 5 and are now primed to face a Spurs team (a mirror image on how they build their teams) the Thunder are going to look at anything less than the title is going to be a failure.
And the thing I love the most about the Thunder, the thing that I don’t think you hear enough of is these are good guys. Durant, Westbrook, Harden etc…. they are great guys. Remember the NBA that had bling, f-bombs being dropped and just the thug life mentality? Sprewell choking out coaches, everyone from Allen Iverson to Darius Miles walking around with a 40 man entourage (both of which are broke which is great) and anyone who played for the Trailblazers in the late 90’s and early 2000’s (all of which are incarcerated). The Thunder are leading the charge to get the NBA away from that image.
The dorky glasses in the post game interview, the backpacks, no headphones and Russ Westbrook wearing shirts that were made famous by Urkel are leading the charge to un-Thug the NBA and make in more of a gentlemen’s game (a stretch I know but just let it marinate for a second and you see what I am talking about). Although the Thunder and their success is exactly what the NBA needs, I am picking San Antonio to win the series (the coin landed on heads) but I see it going deep 6 or 7.
San Antonio who also fits the same formula of build from within and sign and trade for strong complement players are playing the best team basketball I have ever witnessed. I think San Antonio is too fundamentally sound, they have one of the best coaches to ever run a team, more experience than any other team in the league and finally I think this San Antonio team knows its destined to win it all. But again, that’s not my point, my point is that we are talking about the most exciting series in the playoffs and we are not mentioning Miami, Boston, LA, New York (like they have been mentioned in the last 10 years) or Chicago. We talking bout Spurs and Thunder (in Allen Iverson voice). If we are lucky, we will see one of these two teams beat Miami in the finals thus leading to complete turmoil to dismantle this store-bought hype machine. Whatever the outcome is, we can safely say that the smaller market teams are coming, and they are doing it through wise draft picks, smart trades to obtain veterans and role players and no bullshit hard nose basketball. Suck it Knicks.