NBA All-Decade teams punctuate missed opportunities by OKC Thunder

OKC Thunder, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook (Photo by Bruce Yeung/NBAE via Getty Images)
OKC Thunder, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook (Photo by Bruce Yeung/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Six of the 15 players on the NBA All-Decade teams of the 2010s are either former or existing OKC Thunder players. Which begs the question – with that much talent has the franchise underachieved?

The NBA released their All-Decade 2010s first, second and third teams. What stands out immediately is the dominance of the OKC Thunder. No other franchise garnered as much representation as the OKC Thunder.  In all five former Thunder players make the cut including the two most recent traded superstars Russell Westbrook and Paul George and one of the newest Thunder players Chris Paul.

As per NBA.com the 15 players were voted on by a panel consisting writers from NBA.com as well as television producers and analysts.

"To close this chapter in NBA history, we’ve selected our own All-Decade team. Fifteen players were chosen by a panel of NBA.com and NBA TV producers and analysts. The players were split into three teams consisting of two backcourt players and three frontcourt players."

First Team:

Second Team:

Third Team:

No other team boasts as many existing or former players on the All-Decade teams.  The five former players account for 25 cumulative seasons played in OKC. Newly acquired point guard  Chris Paul made the second team while Anthony played just a single season in OKC.

Remove those two players from the equation and the Thunder still have four players who played more than a season in OKC.  By applying this same factor across all teams (i.e removing players who have one year or less on a squad) the only teams who have more than one player on the All-Decade teams are the Clippers (Paul, Griffin), Warriors (Curry, Durant) and the Spurs (Leonard, Aldridge) with two each.

Squandered opportunity:

Clearly, the naming of these teams reopens an ongoing debate about the OKC Thunder. When that much talent has graced the hardwood at Chesapeake how is it possible there are no championships and only one Finals appearance to show for it? Granted Paul and Griffin also might be considered underachievers from their Clippers days but that’s two players.

Conversely, two of the top five players (Harden, Durant) played for three years alongside second-team guard Westbrook. Even if you consider this trio was still young at the time they were all on the same roster and Durant and Westbrook still played another four seasons together never returning to the finals.

Worse, the OKC Thunder had another shot with a trio on this list (Westbrook, George, Carmelo Anthony) who failed to get out of the first round. This situation repeated itself this past postseason with George and Westbrook failing to advance past the first round.

Luck plays a role:

Obviously, luck plays a role in any team’s success. The Warriors won the 2014-15 title when the Cavaliers suffered injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Similarly, the Raptors magical championship season came with Kevin Durant out injured. Klay Thompson missed Game 3 and left Game 6 injured, however, he did play 32 minutes in that final game. And, the Raptors were also navigating copious player injuries, but their luck will more likely be tied to four rim bounces in the East’s semi finals.

The point is there is no definitive way to win and luck will always play a factor. There was no way to plan for Westbrook’s knee injury in 2012-13. No shame in losing to the eventual 2013-14 Championship Spurs. Or any way to plan for Durant’s injury riddled season of 2014-15. Even the past few seasons the team always felt a piece or two short of being legitimate contenders and George’s shoulders made this past postseason seem like a long shot.

Yet, if there is one year which stands out among them all as a squandered opportunity it is the 2015-16 season when the Thunder had the Warriors on the ropes down 3-1. That season will always have the fanbase wondering just how invested Durant was. Even as the competitor he is, how mentally invested was he given reports he had one foot out the door midseason.

We’ll never have to question Westbrook’s drive or desire to win, but in the same token would a different coach have netted a different result? And, did Sam Presti surround his charges with the right personnel to succeed?

All of these questions, unfortunately, can only hang in the air because we can’t go backward to discover what a different coach or roster tweaks would’ve met.

Lessons Learned:

More from Thunderous Intentions

What we do know is the OKC Thunder have been graced by a third of the players considered the best of the past decade and will welcome a sixth to Peake this coming season.

The number 15 is also flashing in your subconscious because that’s the current number of first round picks OKC has at their disposal between the 2020 and 2026 drafts (assuming all picks fall outside protections).

That’s a lot of versatility and freedom to use to sculpt a new era in OKC Thunder lore. Depending on the prospects it’s still unlikely GM Sam Presti  ever gets the opportunity to draft players like Durant, Westbrook, and Harden in a four-year span again.

That’s the ‘what if’ in this equation. On the other hand, with the 2022 draft class expected to be stocked full of two year’s worth of classes the potential to meet or exceed a similar result exists.

In retrospect, there will be some in Thunder Nation who feel a golden decade was squandered. The optimists in the group will cite the lessons learned and marvel at the sheer talent which graced the home courts of OKC. That latter group will cross our fingers and organically try to manifest this R and R era to result in the reaping of talent for the second coming.

Ultimately, what the franchise has learned is no amount of talent guarantees championships. It takes an entire team, a coach who gets the most out of his players and a GM who drafts, trades and recruits to build the best roster possible.

Next. Thank you, Russell Westbrook; a trip down memory lane. dark

Let’s hope the hard lessons learned over this past decade afford the Thunder another chance to get it right the next time around.