When the Oklahoma City Thunder began their 2020-21 campaign one thing stuck in everyone’s mind — Cade Cunningham.
Now Cunningham does not embody the franchise’s aspirations, or all of the fans, but take the Cowboy as a symbol, Oklahoma City wanted the number one pick.
Ever since Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and even Jerami Grant were shipped out of Bricktown in the summer of 2019 it was well known Sam Presti was manning a rebuild throughout the roster. Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder were expected to kickstart their rebuild as with a crusty Chris Paul, a lack of stardom at the forward spots, and a plethora of shaky prospects — they only had a 0.2% shot of making the playoffs. As the story has been reiterated a million times, that 0.2% chance turned into a fingertip away from the second round. A roster once deemed outnumbered sprouted into a group of unsung heroes in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder, Danillo Gallinari, and Lu Dort to name a few erupted — turning a suspected tank job into one of the hottest teams in the league.
Obviously, with the organizations future inscribed on the wall it was no surprise when Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder, and Danillo Gallinari took a one-way ticket out of Oklahoma City — they were starting this year from the ground up. The Thunder were expected to hit on 23 games this season, and with only six members remaining from the prior year, that evaluation was pretty adequate.
During this season, Oklahoma City opened the year smashing expectations again, as with a 20-27 start, the idea of tanking fell out of line rather quickly, but slowly this opportunity surfaced again. After Shai Gilgeous-Alexander suffered a plantar fascia injury and Al Horford was cut loose — the Thunder were back in business.
Oklahoma City’s major gashes in SGA and Horford cracked open the door for specialists in Moses Brown, Ty Jerome, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Kenrich Williams among others to burst out late in the year — but it also pushed the idea of tanking back into the equation.
Game-by-game the Thunder dug themselves into major holes early, and could never come back. At their lowest, point, Oklahoma City tied a franchise record in dropping 14-consecutive games, and entering Sunday — they were hinging on 10 straight losses again.
In this whole debacle, Oklahoma City slowly crept from the ninth-best lottery odds, to eighth, seventh, sixth, and even third by the final tip-off. Their improbable 117-112 regular-season win against the Clippers wiped that narrative.
Now, with no more games left on the schedule, Oklahoma City has reunited with a familiar face in the lottery standings — the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Given that both teams cherish 22-50 records on the year, the Thunder and Cavaliers are knotted in a two=way tie for fourth place in the lottery standings; however, that tiebreaker will not last forever.
Per Jonathon Givony, the NBA will hold a tiebreaker on May 25 to determine all ties in the following weeks, that flip of the coin will mean a lot for the Thunder.
Regardless of outcome, the Thunder and Cavaliers enter lottery night with identical odds inside the top four: 45.1% chance at a top four pick, 11.5% chance for the number one pick.
When you take a perspective outside of the top four, things change drastically. Whoever grasps the fourth-best odds heading into lottery night casts a safety blanket of falling, at worst, to the 8th pick — the loser can plummet to 9. For selections 5, 6, 7, and 8, the winner of the coinflip receives an enhances shot at picks 5 and 6 while the loser has a bigger shot of claiming a back three selection. Most importantly, the winner of the tiebreaker has a lowly 2.4% shot at the 8th pick, so if there is no blue moon out, they’ll be picking in the top 7.
Oklahoma City is not guaranteed Cade Cunningham, or any top prospect spiraling into the NBA draft, but take their late season push as a monumental success. Sam Presti is back in business.