Tramel: OKC Thunder fans facing a new reality with unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar results
Pat Tower, 86 years young, called me the other day. She wanted to know if The Oklahoman would be publishing its annual Thunder preview section.
The answer is yes, and this column is part of said preview. But our motivation is different this year.
In NBA seasons past, we’ve sought to shovel as much Thunder information as possible to a hungry fan base. Russell Westbrook’s fashion. Steve Adams’ charm. Kevin Durant’s future. Paul George’s fishing holes. Chris Paul’s comeback. Andre Roberson’s shot. Serge Ibaka’s language skills. Victor Oladipo’s singing. The topics were endless.
This Thunder preview is not peeling back such layers. We’re not going to try to snow you. We don’t know which guys can sing. Don’t know which guys are fashion mavens. Don’t know who’s charming and who’s a snot.
This Thunder preview is all about introductions. We’re just like you. We’re just trying to figure out who these guys are.
And that’s why Pat Tower was calling. She was hoping this section might help her learn all these new guys, which is most of the Thunder roster.
“I've been with the Thunder since they came here, and they've brought me so much joy,” Tower said. “I have loved that team. I only got to go to one real game, which was a thrill.
“When they traded Steven (Adams, to the Pelicans a month ago), that was my last hope. But I will continue to watch our Thunder team until the day I die. I love them all.”
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Now if that’s not an attitude to make your day, I don’t know what is.
Tower represents all positive-thinking Thunder fans. She’s with the team, even if she doesn’t really know who the players are.
Indeed, it’s going to be a strange year.
When Hamidou Diallo is the elder statesman, the only player left from the Russell Westbrook days of 17 months ago, you know you’ve got an extreme makeover on your hands.
When the Thunder has as many new Jacksons (Frank and Justin) as returning starters, you know a new era has arrived.
When you could pass five Thunder players walking through Penn Square Mall and think they could be the world’s tallest barbershop quintet, you know it’s time for a tutorial on names and faces.
I caught a slice of the Thunder exhibition opener in Houston, which was streamed, and I swear, I couldn’t figure out who was wearing No. 34. Basketball is not meant to be viewed on a small screen, especially when websites haven’t started listing jersey numbers. Turns out it was Kenrich Williams. He might play a little. I had no idea.
Yep, it’s going to be a strange year. This is a franchise that not that long ago had the same starting lineup year after year after year. Durant/Westbrook/Ibaka/Thabo Sefolosha/Kendrick Perkins. As dependable as the morning sun.
Now we don’t even know some of the guys Mark Daigneault is trotting out. That’s right. Mark Daigneault. He’s the new Thunder coach, and most Oklahomans couldn’t pick him out of a lineup that included pygmies and bearded ladies.
Daigneault, at least, figures to be here awhile. Some of these guys? Who knows? I assume Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a long-timer, and Darius Bazley, too. Lu Dort? Rookies Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski? Don’t know. Anything is on the table during this Thunder rebuild.
Which means there’s even more adjustment for fans. All those winter nights when Durant or Westbrook or Paul pulled victory out of the fire and sent us all to bed happy? Those games are going to be rarer than a $40 steak, and we shouldn’t even be happy when they happen.
This is the new reality. The Thunder needs to lose. The more the Thunder loses and the longer the Thunder loses, the better the long-term reward.
Welcome to tanking, that awful method of rebuilding that is a curse on the NBA but is better than alternatives.
We’re going to have to suffer through some bad basketball, in hopes it brings good draft picks.
And don’t get too attached to some of these Thunders, even if some of them turn out to be decent players and charming young lads. Few on this team will still be here if and when the lottery-built ship comes in.
So learn the names, enjoy the games and put your feet up, awaiting the day when the Thunder can bring you joy again.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.