OKC model is A-OK, but is it reality?

April 5, 2012

In 2007, the Seattle SuperSonics traded Ray Allen to Boston for the rights to Jeff Green, drafted with the No. 5 pick.

Glen Davis, selected in the second round by Seattle that year, was also shipped to Boston. And Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West also went back to the Sonics -- but Allen and Green were the pieces that had everyone buzzing.

Allen was a 31-year old shooting guard who had made six All-Star game appearances. The Celtics were retooling to make a run at a title. They had already landed Kevin Garnett in a trade and already had Paul Pierce on the roster.

Meanwhile, the Sonics were a year away from a move to Oklahoma City, where they would become known as the Thunder. Before landing Green, they drafted Kevin Durant with the No. 2 overall pick.

Moral of the story: If you want to obtain a second lottery pick, as the Sonics/Thunder did that summer, you’d better have a really good player that someone else wants.

In this example, that player was Allen. He was, and remains today, one of the game’s premier outside shooters. In fact, during the season prior to the trade, Allen averaged a career-best 26.4 points per game.

So again, if your favorite team is in the lottery … and you want to obtain another lottery pick … you need to ask yourself a question. You need to ask yourself if your team has anyone like Allen.

You need to ask yourself if there’s another team, a lottery team, that is looking to do what the Celtics did back in ’07. You need to find a partner, basically, that is aiming for a quick fix -- and you need to have the assets to help that team reach its goal.

As one NBA general manager said, “A lot of people say, ‘It’s OK to stink for a while as long as we follow the Thunder’s blueprint.’ Yeah, well, easier said than done. It has to be the perfect situation. You have to find a willing dance partner, and maybe most of all, you have to get lucky.”

The GM speaks the truth, as Durant was drafted one selection after Portland took Greg Oden first overall. Oden has been nothing more than a walking M*A*S*H unit in his five NBA seasons -- so just imagine if the Trail Blazers had drafted Durant first.

After all, Oden was hardly considered a runaway option at No. 1.

The New Thunder?

As the playoff picture becomes clearer, and the lottery field begins to take shape, it’s time to look at some of the teams that might be in position to pull off what the Sonics and Celtics did in ’07.

Our first candidate is Washington. The Wizards have struggled mightily, proving to be a mostly young and very athletic team that has very little cohesion. But of the teams entering the lottery, they are viewed as the one with the most valuable pieces.

Point guard John Wall would certainly garner them a top five pick, maybe as high as No. 2. Center Nene and big man Andray Blatche could also bring high returns.

Granted, none of those guys are on the block -- but word is, the Wizards will have a new GM and coach before the draft in late June. They are a franchise in transition, and those types of franchises always have a lot of power when it comes to finding (more) youth around which to build.

Of course, the Wizards could also go the other way, and use their lottery pick to look for their own Allen and make a quick turnaround themselves.

But they aren’t alone among potential lottery teams.

Cleveland has a couple players others covet in Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson. But each is only slightly less available than point guard and rookie of the year frontrunner Kyrie Irving -- which is to say, not available at all.

New Orleans has an Allen-type in shooting guard Eric Gordon. But he sat out most of the season with an injury, and is therefore expected to sign the Hornets’ qualifying offer, then test free agency in 2013. But none of that means anything as far as potential trades go.

Also, New Jersey has a boatload of players who don’t seem to work well together, but who other teams would love to have. Same goes for Portland, Golden State and Sacramento.

Then again, if all the underclassmen who are expected to declare actually do, this draft will be considered the deepest in at least five or six years, maybe more. So no one will be in a big rush to trade off their lottery selections, especially if they already have two (Hornets, and possibly Blazers).

Want to build like Oklahoma City? Great concept that can't be argued. And, hey, good luck.

“It’s worked a few times, with the Thunder being the latest example,” the GM said. “But the reason everyone raves about the Thunder is because both they and the Celtics took a big risk that paid off. Most risks don’t. And just because you take a risk doesn’t mean someone else will want to. The stories we never hear are the ones about the Warriors, Wizards, Kings and others who go to the lottery year after year after year. That’s reality. The Thunder are a fantasy.”

That said, the Thunder model isn't the only one to follow. San Antonio (Tim Duncan), Chicago (Derrick Rose) and several others through the years have quickly become contenders with the bounce of a ping-pong ball.

Minnesota has also done an admirable job when it comes to making the most of its non-playoff seasons. Much like the Thunder, the Timberwolves suddenly have a young, exciting and competitive team that seems to be getting closer to very good things.

But the above franchises did it the old-fashioned way. They put their balls in the hopper and hoped for the best. Anymore, that's all fans of lottery teams can really expect.

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO