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News » Forecast is OK for Thunder

Forecast is OK for Thunder

Forecast is OK for Thunder
Basketball NOTES

There was a lawsuit filed against the team by the city of Seattle. There was negative publicity. About 70 team employees, from players to ticket office staff, left the Emerald City for a much different life in a state where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain. There was no team name, logo, practice facility, or floor to play on. The uniforms eventually arrived, just before Media Day. The floor arrived two days before the season began.

In about a 90-day span, the Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. And if that wasn't a big enough challenge in itself, the Thunder recently fired their coach, P.J. Carlesimo, and began the season without Thunder at 1-15.

A former Emerson College Basketball star, however, is working hard to get the franchise turned around.

"Every situation has its challenges," said Sam Presti, a Concord native who became the team's general manager on June 7, 2007. "We're no different from anyone in that respect. Moving and relocation present some issues that not every NBA team has to deal with. Our approach has been to support the players and staff.

"As we go through the change, we've had an interesting journey at this point. But we feel like the things we have endured and hurdles we've overcome will continue to build the organization in Oklahoma City."

While the Sonics had two stars in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis when Presti took the job, they had made only one playoff appearance together with the team, which was coming off a 32-win season, and they had millions of dollars earmarked for them on the horizon. Presti started from scratch and cleared salary-cap space by trading Allen to Boston and losing Lewis in free agency (he received a six-year, $118 million deal from Orlando).

"Most people involved have to look at them like an expansion franchise trying to get everything off the ground, getting everybody situated," Allen said. "It's like building the whole organization over again, regardless of having a team that has been transported from one city to another. They are starting over new and it's going to take them a while."

The Sonics struggled to a 20-win campaign last season, but added talented newcomers in Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant and swingman Jeff Green. Oklahoma City drafted promising point guard Russell Westbrook this year and has the draft rights to an intriguing big man playing in Spain, Serge Ibaka, a 19-year-old who played in the 2008 Nike Hoop Summit.

Next spring, Oklahoma City will have its own first-round pick and likely San Antonio's (though it's lottery-protected) as well as $25 million available for free agents.

In 2010, the Thunder have their own first-rounder and Phoenix's. If interim coach Scott Brooks doesn't retain the job, the young talent, draft picks, and salary-cap space will attract a quality coach.

So while the Thunder won't make many sparks this season, there is optimism. With the storied Sooners football program playing nearby, Oklahomans are used to winning.

But considering how long Oklahoma City waited to get its first pro franchise and the Thunder's relocation and rebuilding challenges, it wouldn't hurt to give the challenged Presti some patience and support.

"People in Oklahoma are passionate and excited about having an NBA team in their state and in their city," Presti said. "They had an experience previously by having the New Orleans franchise here in the wake of a national tragedy [Hurricane Katrina].

"But having your own team is different. That brings in different components. Our team is working hard to meet those components and I think the fans are supporting us as we start to get our feet in the ground in Oklahoma and our roots placed because the decisions we are trying to make from a Basketball perspective, business perspective, and a community perspective are for the long term and not a brief stay."




Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: December 1, 2008


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