The OKC Thunder should aim to be the Dallas Mavericks

The OKC Thunder are entering a rebuild, and while it may sound obvious, they should try to be the Dallas Mavericks. The two franchises have a lot in common.
Yeah, I know, the title does not exactly draw you in. I know about 55 percent of you have already made a comment to yourself, or probably something to the effect of “Duh. Draft and Trade for two generational talents.” Well, yeah. Every rebuild has that same goal in mind. However, the path to getting there is where the OKC Thunder are already starting to emulate.
The Dallas Mavericks have a proud, and very loud, owner in Mark Cuban. Who demands success at the NBA level. Since taking over the franchise he has created a winning culture in Dallas that has only been ranked below the San Antonio Spurs.
A run that featured two trips to the NBA Finals and an NBA Championship. Along the way came many disappointing finishes. Among those disappointing finishes was a first-round exit at the hands of the 8th seed “We Believe” Warriors in one of the NBA’s most historic upsets that leave a mark of frustration left by a generational talent enshrined immortally across two different arenas.
The Mavs–much like the Thunder–saw a lot of ups and downs during their best run in franchise history. Unlike the OKC Thunder, they at least got a championship payoff.
So, how are the two franchises similar? Well, Just like the Dallas Brass is a proud bunch, the OKC Thunder are led by one of the most respected General Managers in the NBA, and have seen just two seasons end without a playoff appearance. They are not exactly in the true “tanking” business, like other franchises around the league. For the most part, neither were the Mavericks.
Following their title run in 2010-11, having a historic upset of their own over the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks made the playoffs four more times, including two playoff losses to the OKC Thunder. From 2010-11 until now, the team has finished below .500 three times.
Their longest playoff drought was three seasons in that span with most assuming they will reach the postseason again this season thanks to the sensational play of Luka Doncic. Still, the year they drafted Luka they only tanked bad enough–or if your goal is tanking, would it be tanking good enough?–for the 5th pick in the NBA Draft.
After seeing the Suns and Kings, both with ties to Doncic, pass on him, they went up and got their guy using future draft capital (only a single future first-round pick, that later turned into Cam Reddish for Atlanta). Given what we know now, would you trade Luka Doncic for Trae Young and Cam Reddish? I think that the answer is pretty clearly yes.
What happened on the years they did not outright tank, as the OKC Thunder aren’t (yet) this year? Well, they drafted Dennis Smith Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, and hit on Jalen Brunson in the second round of the Luka Doncic draft in a three-year span. From there, they flipped Dennis Smith Jr. and a pair of future firsts for Kristaps Porzingis to pair with Luka Doncic.
Again, how does this relate to the OKC Thunder?
Well, this season after trading away their franchise superstar and all-star in Russell Westbrook and Paul George, they are still playing inspired basketball. If Sam Presti does not want to enter the tank yet, and drive it through the heart of this roster and absolutely carve it up like a Thanksgiving Turkey, then the team can continue to play at their same pace and have the 13th pick and the 28th pick according to as of right now.
Of course that all depends on how ping pong balls bounce, and how the Denver Nuggets finish their season but let’s assume this is 100 percent accurate.
Okay then, so 2019-20 is (likely) not the year you get your own franchise-changing prospect, well that’s okay, Sam Presti has a historic bevy of Draft picks to get it right. With the 13th pick just get someone like Dennis Smith Jr. and maybe a diamond in the rough at 28. That would be enough. Both on the floor and in a business sense.
On the business side of things, you establish this franchise as more than just the initial wave of OKC Thunder players (KD, James Harden, Russ, and company) and show that OKC is not going anywhere. You keep fan interest for at least most of the season, solidifying this fanbase by showing them you still care about trying to win. Some fans need that reassurance.
You hold on to your Dennis Smith Jr level player, and maybe he pairs better with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the prospect to be named later in the 2021 NBA Draft or beyond than DSJ fit with Luka Doncic. Heck, maybe he is more of a Donovan Mitchell than a Dennis Smith Jr.
But you still have that asset to wheel and deal when you finally do hit on your version of Luka Doncic. Oh yeah, and unlike the Mavs your best player is not a washed-up Dirk or an unmotivated Nerlens Noel, it’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander!
2019-20 just needs to be OKC’s Dennis Smith Jr. year. While landing a Luka would be lucky, they only need to draft a DSJ. This rebuild will not be in the same ilk of the Kings, the Suns, the Knicks, the pick you own adventure Eastern Conference team. The only real comparison is the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks rebuilt their franchise under one of the most respected and successful owners Mark Cuban, one of the most successful and respected GM’s Donnie Nelson, and one of the most respected and successful head coaches Rick Carlisle. The OKC Thunder has two out of three, not bad–in a hurry. A painless rebuild. Just as you start to embrace the tank, here comes LUKA DONCIC! That exit ramp is not on all highways, however, it is exit 1A for free and easy route Sam Presti is on.
Yes, I am aware that Luka Doncic’s don’t just grow on trees. However, everyone has praised Sam Presti as a “magician” and some even argue he is the best GM in the sport. If that is true, he has to be able to find the next Doncic, especially with how many chances he has coming up against multiple NBA Draft classes.
I think if I presented a magic button in front of OKC Thunder fans with the promise of just three years without the postseason, and a new face of the franchise superstar, they would hit the button in a heartbeat.