Sunday is the ninth anniversary of the settlement that allowed the owners of the Seattle SuperSonics to move the NBA franchise to Oklahoma City. Renamed the Thunder, the franchise has been among the NBA’s most successful since 2008-09, its first season playing in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder had a 23-59 record in their first season but have been above .500 every season since. Beginning with the 2009-10 season, the Thunder have a .653 win percentage, second to only the San Antonio Spurs’ .725 win percentage in that time.
Oklahoma City has made the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons. In that time, the Thunder have won five division titles, and they made the Western Conference finals in four of those five seasons.
Run to NBA Finals in 2012
The Thunder’s most successful season was the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign. A 47-19 regular-season record (.712) was second-best in the Western Conference behind the Spurs’ 50-16 (.758).
Oklahoma City swept the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs and finished off the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the Western Conference semifinals. The Thunder trailed the Spurs 2-0 in the conference finals before reeling off four wins for a series victory.
In Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals, the Thunder pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 105-94 win over the Miami Heat, but Finals MVP LeBron Jamesled his team to a 4-1 series win. Oklahoma City’s first three losses in the Finals were by a combined 16 points.
Trail Blazers’ decision sparked Thunder’s success
A key to much of the Thunder’s success was a draft decision made when the franchise was still in Seattle, and it was a decision made by another team.
In 2007, Ohio State’s Greg Oden and Texas’ Kevin Durant were the clear choices for the top two NBA draft picks. The only question was which player the Portland Trail Blazers, picking first, would choose.
The Blazers — the Sonics’ rivals three hours south on Interstate 5 — drafted Oden, “leaving” Durant to the Sonics.
In his eight seasons with the Thunder, Durant was first-team All-NBA five times, including in his MVP season of 2013-14, and an All-Star seven times.
Oden, on the other hand, played 105 games in his injury-ravaged NBA career.
Another key piece of the Thunder’s success came aboard while the franchise was in Seattle. Sam Presti was hired as general manager in 2007, and in the two years after drafting Durant, the Thunder selected Russell Westbrook (No. 4 in 2008) and James Harden (No. 3 in 2009).
Durant and Westbrook made for a combination rarely seen in the NBA. They each scored at least 25 points in 124 games, the second-most in NBA history to the Lakers’ Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, who had 210 such games (source: Elias Sports Bureau).
Harden, coming off a Sixth Man of the Year season, was traded to the Houston Rockets in October 2012. Durant left the Thunder as a free agent after the 2015-16 season and signed with the Golden State Warriors, with whom he was MVP of the 2017 NBA Finals.