NBA: How Losing the Draft Lottery Changed Basketball in OKC
Try to imagine for just a moment that we’re back at the 2007 NBA Draft. Everything about that night is the same, except for one slight difference. This time around, the then-Seattle SuperSonics have the first overall pick instead of the Portland Trail Blazers. What might have been? How would the NBA look today?
Perhaps nothing would have changed; or maybe everything would have. Think about it. If you’ve never taken the time to ponder this scenario, you should really give it a shot. It’s crazy to think about all the possible outcomes that may have arisen if the lottery balls had just bounced a bit differently.
Luckily for the people of Oklahoma City, they don’t have to worry about this scenario. For the franchise that would become the Oklahoma City Thunder had the good fortune of landing the No. 2 overall pick. And there was no better position to be in than that. Free will is one of the greatest gifts you can have.
But on June 28, 2007, the Sonics weren’t the ones tasked with making the difficult choice. That position belonged to the Trail Blazers, who were forced to decide between a potential franchise-altering center and a lanky forward with an unmatched talent for putting the ball in the bucket. The Sonics merely had to react to the first pick; the pressure was off. In the end, Portland took Ohio State big man Greg Oden, and Seattle, in turn, selected Texas Longhorn Kevin Durant. And we all know how that turned out.
Durant spent one season in Seattle before the SuperSonics eventually relocated and became the Oklahoma City Thunder. And he experienced two losing seasons before he helped turn the Thunder into one of the best teams in the NBA. Now in his eighth season in the league, Durant has won the scoring title four times, made five All-Star teams, won the MVP award, and led OKC to four division titles, including one trip to the NBA Finals.
Whereas Oden has only played in 105 total games since the 2008-09 season and has averaged 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game for his career. There really is no comparison here. Things just happened to play out this way. And one city was clearly the beneficiary of the perfect amount of luck and fate.
Barring a miracle, Oden will go down as one of the greatest first pick busts in the history of the sport. He would never become the centerpiece of an organization, nor would he even remain a consistent member of an NBA roster. Whereas KD has a chance to become one of the best to ever pick up a Spalding. He is already among the most gifted natural scorers the game has ever seen.
At his best, Durant is like poetry in motion. His release is fast and fluid, and when he’s at his highest point, it’s nearly unblockable. On top of that, he is strong; certainly a lot stronger than we’re sure most predicted he would become. Players like him don’t come around very often and he pretty much fell into the Sonics’ lap. There was never any other choice to make.
For all we know, even if they had landed the first overall pick, it’s possible the plan was to always make Durant a member of the Thunder organization. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe they intended to pick the size over the sniper. At this point, it doesn’t matter. They never had to decide. Once Oden was off the board, the choice was clear. By having this position in the draft, Seattle could do no wrong. In 2007, it paid to be second. Imagine that.