How the Thunder failed to win a title after drafting three MVPs in a row


– On June 6th, 2012, the
Oklahoma City Thunder eliminated the Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. After falling behind two games to none, the Thunder rallied on their home court and headed back to San Antonio, tied 2-2. With a 103-101 lead, and under
30 seconds to play in Game 5, James Harden drilled a dagger three to push the Thunder’s lead to five. OKC left the building
with a 3-2 series lead. In Game 6, the Spurs led by as much as 18, but a huge third quarter from the Thunder, including this lead-grabbing
three from Durant, helped Oklahoma City set
a date with Lebron James and the Miami Heat in the Finals. It was their first NBA
Finals appearance since 1996, when they were known as
the Seattle Supersonics. This 2012 OKC squad was led here by a core of Kevin
Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and sixth-man
of the year, James Harden, all under the age of 24. At the helm were the man
that drafted these stars, General Manager Sam Presti, and former Coach of
the Year, Scott Brooks. But this trip to the finals
began in Seattle back in 2007, when the Supersonics drafted
Kevin Durant second overall. Durant went on to be
named rookie of the year, but the Sonics weren’t done
showcasing their eye for talent. In 2008, they selected Russell Westbrook with the fourth pick,
and Serge Ibaka 24th, via a pick they acquired
from the Phoenix Suns. But less than a week later, the Sonics, a beloved team in the Pacific Northwest, packed their bags and
headed to Oklahoma City, adopting the name Thunder on the way. A 23 and 59 record in the
first season in their new city landed them the third overall
pick in the 2009 draft. A draft in which the Thunder selected Arizona State guard James Harden. In 2010, they locked up Durant with a five-year, 86
million dollar extension. In return, he helped deliver the Thunder a 55 and 27 record, and a
four seed in the playoffs. OKC then advanced to the
Western Conference Finals, before falling to a Mavs team that would go on to defeat LeBron and the Heat in the Finals. The following year, the
Thunder handed Westbrook a five-year extension of his
own, before securing a two seed in the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season, behind Durant’s third
consecutive scoring title. A thrilling playoff run
put them within arms reach of an NBA Championship,
as the basketball world appeared to have its next dynasty coming together before its eyes. The Thunder had home court
advantage and momentum, as they entered a series
against a Heat team that was proven to be
vulnerable the year before. Could this young gun team delay King James’ crown one more year? No. (inspiring instrumental music) After taking Game 1 at Oklahoma City, the Thunder fell silent
as Miami’s big three turned up the heat. LeBron and company won four straight to give the City of Miami
its second NBA Championship. The off-season became one of big decisions for GM Sam Presti, as both Serge Ibaka and James Harden entered the final year of their rookie contracts. In August, Ibaka signed a four-year, 48 million dollar extension, casting a sudden shadow of doubt over OKC’s ability to re-sign Harden without diving head-first
into luxury tax hell. What the Thunder didn’t
know was that a new TV deal was going to help the salary cap explode in a couple years, providing aloe for those luxury tax burns. But with an inability
to predict the future, they did what they thought was right. They offered Harden a deal worth about $5 million short of the max. They asked their budding star, who had already sacrificed a
starting role to help the team, to sacrifice a little bit more
to help their bottom line. Harden understandably felt he
had sacrificed enough already, and with neither side budging, Presti decided to flip him to the Rockets for a haul including Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and draft picks. The max deal they
couldn’t afford to pay him worked out to about $16 million a year. Essentially chump change compared to some of the contracts signed after the salary cap spike. But that’s the tragedy of the situation. As the stars began to align,
the timing was just a bit off. Or they blew it. The choice is yours. (soft electronic music) Even without Harden, the Thunder dismantled
the rest of the league, en route to the Western
Conference’s best record, becoming the fourth-youngest
roster ever to win 60 games. A top seed in the conference set up a first round playoff matchup against a familiar face, The Beard himself and his eighth-seeded Rockets. It was the Rockets’ first
playoff appearance since 2009, and it’s all thanks to Harden flourishing in his newly acquired starring role. But as is customary in the first round, the one seed prevailed, as the Thunder closed
out the Rockets in six. But the most consequential
moment of the series came in Game 2, as a timeout was called in the second quarter, Rockets guard, Patrick
Beverly, lunged at the ball, connecting with Westbrook’s
knee in the process. An MRI revealed a torn meniscus, and surgery would
sideline him indefinitely. Game 3 would be the first
game Westbrook ever missed, including college and high school. He was sorely missed the following round as a rematch of the 2011 Semi-Finals handed the Memphis Grizzlies
an opportunity for revenge. An opportunity they seized, sending the Thunder packing in five games. In the off-season, one part
of the Harden trade left, while another one was cashed in. With the 12th pick in the 2013 draft, Toronto’s pick that they
acquired from Houston, OKC selected future
All-Rookie second team center, Steven Adams. Then, shortly after the
draft, Kevin Martin, who proved not to be the scoring replacement for
Harden the team had hoped, was flipped to the Timberwolves
via a sign-and-trade. A second knee surgery prior to the start of the ’13-’14 season, only cost Westbrook the first two games. And after filling the Knicks’ stocking with a 29 point loss on Christmas day, the 23 and five Thunder looked
primed for another title run. But mere days later, it was announced that Westbrook would undergo
a third knee surgery, sidelining him until late February. In his absence, Durant continued to do
what Durant does, dominate. OKC finished with the second
best record in the NBA, behind the Spurs, and for his
efforts, Durant was named MVP. But with the playoffs came another series against the grit-and-grind Grizzlies, this time in the first round. In Game 2, a Mike Miller
three put Memphis up two with under a minute to play. Then, down five, with the
shot clock turned off, Durant hit a shocker to
set up a four point play. (announcers shouting and crowd cheering) A put-back at the buzzer
by Kendrick Perkins sent it to overtime. It was the first of four
straight games to head to OT. But it was also the first
of three of those games to end in favor of Memphis. OKC found themselves facing
elimination in Game 6, and came out swinging, blowing out the Grizzlies
in Memphis 104 to 84. In the midst of that frustrating loss, Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph punched Steven Adams in the
face while in transition, leading to a suspension
for the pivotal Game 7, a game in which the Thunder won handily behind Westbrook’s triple-double
and Durant’s 33 points. The grind continued, as OKC battled through six
games with the Clippers. They prevailed to set up a
Western Conference Finals rematch with the Spurs, but lost
Ibaka in the process, as a calf strain in Game 6
would supposedly sideline him for the remainder of the playoffs. The Thunder struggled
mightily in his absence, missing his defense while being routed in the first two games. Then, much to everyone’s surprise, Ibaka returned for Game 3,
bringing with him new life to a Thunder team that managed to string together back-to-back wins. But a Game 5 loss put them
on the brink of elimination. With under 30 seconds
remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 6, Manu Ginobili drilled a three to give San Antonio a one point lead. Durant fell during the
Thunder’s ensuing possession, putting the ball back into
the hands of Ginobili, who split two free throws
and pushed their lead to two. Westbrook would send it to
OT with a couple free throws, but it was there that the
Spurs would pull away. Oklahoma City’s season ended
short of the Finals once again. Heartbreaking for Thunder fans? Of course, but at least their
core was perfectly healthy, putting them in position to run it back. (soft instrumental music) In October, prior to the
start of the 2014-2015 season, Kevin Durant was diagnosed
with a Jones fracture in his foot. He made his return in
December, but in February, he underwent a procedure to
relieve discomfort in his foot, and on March 27th, he
was officially ruled out for the rest of the season, after electing to undergo another surgery. Durant’s absence, along
with Westbrook’s missed time early in the season,
due to a fractured hand, put OKC in a hole that
they never recovered from. The Thunder were on the
outside, looking in, come playoff time, finishing ninth in the Western Conference, via a tiebreaker with the Pelicans. It was the first playoffs
without the Thunder since 2009, and it cost head coach
Scott Brooks his job. In the words of Serge Ibaka,
“Why would you fire him? “What has he done?” Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan was hired in his place, and with their core back at full strength, the team turned their focus to the future. Durant and Westbrook went on a tear, and helped push the team to 55 wins, good enough for a three
seed in the 2016 playoffs. After knocking off the Mavs in five, the Thunder once again met with the Spurs. But this time is was OKC’s turn
to finish the series in six, advancing to the Western
Conference Finals. It was there that they met the defending champion
Golden State Warriors, coming off a record-setting
73 and 9 regular season. By beating the ’95-’96
Bulls record of 72 wins, this Warriors team had a legitimate case to be remembered as the
greatest team of all time. But the Thunder were up
to the task, for a bit. OKC handed Golden State
their first home loss of the playoffs in Game 1,
thanks to double-doubles by four members of the
Thunder starting lineup. The Warriors bounced back in Game 2, but upon returning to Oklahoma City, the Thunder trounced the
Warriors in back-to-back games. OKC was in possession of a
commanding 3-1 series lead that had the greatest regular season team in NBA history facing elimination. Determined not to be
eliminated on their home court, the Warriors extended the
series with a win in Game 5, sending it back to Oklahoma City, and giving the Thunder a chance to end it in front of their hometown fans. But with five minutes
remaining in the fourth, Warriors trailing by seven, Klay Thompson hit a three
from way beyond the arc. It was his NBA playoff
record 10th three pointer of the night, and it cut
the Thunder lead to four. A three pointer a minute later from the other Splash Bro, Steph
Curry, cut the lead to one. In the final minutes of the game, the three point barrage
continued, as Curry hit again, this time tying the game at 99. With the score locked at 101, Andre Iguodala stripped Westbrook, leading to Thompson’s 11th
three pointer of the game. It gave the Warriors a
lead they would retain to force a decisive Game 7. OKC entered half up 48-42, in the do-or-die final game of the series. But then, the Warriors
did what the Warriors do, and dominated the third quarter, holding the Thunder to only 12 points, and securing a double digit
lead heading into the fourth. Oklahoma City would never lead again, as Golden State became the
10th team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1
deficit in the playoffs. An absolutely crushing
blow to the OKC fan base. The Warriors then went on to become the first team in NBA history
to blow a 3-1 series lead in the Finals, falling
to LeBron and the Cavs. But they were about to
get some major help. On draft day, the Thunder
traded Serge Ibaka to the Magic for a package
that involved Victor Oladipo. The plan was to give Kevin Durant, who entered the off-season
as a free agent, additional scoring help. But the salary cap spike that would have alleviated
the Thunder’s contract woes, had they given James
Harden a max deal in 2012, also gave just about every other NBA team enough space to make a
run at signing Durant. The winner of the KD sweepstakes, the team that signed one
of the greatest scorers of all time in his prime, was a team that already had two of the greatest, if not the two greatest
shooters of all time, and holders of a record 73 win season, the Golden State Warriors. It was a decision that sent shock waves throughout the NBA world, and especially through the
Oklahoma City team and fan base. The prevailing thought
after Durant’s decision was that Westbrook would
not sign an extension, and would instead play out the
final year of his contract. But Westbrook inked a three-year
deal in August, stating, “There’s nowhere else I’d
rather be than Oklahoma City.” And adding, “Loyalty is
something that I stand by.” When asked why he decided
to sign the extension now, rather than at the end of
the season, he replied, “There’s no need to wait if
you know where you want to be.” Thus began what has been dubbed
Westbrook’s revenge tour. His 42 triple-doubles
in the 2016-2017 season overtook Oscar Robertson’s
record of 41, set in 1962, and made him the first
player since Robertson to average a triple-double for the season. The MVP race that year
came down to two players, Westbrook, and his former
teammate, James Harden. In the end, Westbrook received the crown, but the real battle between the two came in the first round of the playoffs. It was the second time
Harden and the Rockets faced off against his old
team in the post-season. But this time, it was
Houston that would advance. The Rockets eliminated
the Thunder in five games, making it clear that Westbrook
couldn’t do it alone. As for Kevin Durant,
he was named Finals MVP as he finally became a champion. In the off-season, the
Thunder made two huge moves. The first came in July,
when they traded a package including Victor Oladipo for
Pacers superstar Paul George. The second came in September, when Westbrook signed a
five year supermax deal, worth over $200 million, cementing his place in a Thunder uniform. They also traded for former
All-Star Carmelo Anthony, which would have been a
bigger deal if it worked out. Anthony never really fit in, and it started a game of hot potato as he bounced around the league. But Melo stayed with the team
for the duration of the year, a year in which Westbrook and George proved to be a formidable duo. Just not good enough to get out of the first
round of the playoffs. But even as Durant collected
his second NBA Championship, and James Harden became the third member of the 2012 Thunder to be named MVP, OKC appeared to be on the verge of great things of their own. Despite speculation for years that George had a desire to play in LA, he resigned with OKC,
stating, “I’m here to stay.” Paul George was there to stay, committed to the Thunder for four years. (upbeat electronic music) Shortly after re-signing George, they sent Anthony to the Hawks, where he would play no games for them. On April 10th, the final regular season
game of the 2018-2019 season, Russell Westbrook tied Magic Johnson for second on the career
triple-double list, with his 138th. OKC won that game, locking in
the six seed in the playoffs. In the first round, the Thunder matched up against Portland and fell behind three games to one. They put up a fight in an attempt to stave off elimination in Game 5, but with the game tied at 115, Damian Lillard decided to mark his chapter in basketball lore with a
game-winner in Paul George’s face. – [Announcer] Long-range three. (buzzer sounds)
(crowd cheers) It’s good! – [Mike] Lillard ended OKC’s season, and then, waved goodbye,
which was fitting, because a few months later, Paul George requested a trade to the Clippers in order to join forces
with Kawhi Leonard in LA. In the wake of George’s departure, Westbrook asked for a trade as well. In an attempt to do right
by him, Oklahoma City found a trade partner
high on Westbrook’s list. On July 11th, Russell Westbrook was reunited with an old friend, when he was traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and a
backpack-full of draft picks. Sam Presti, without the
benefit of a number one pick, drafted three future MVPs
in three consecutive drafts. It’s the beginning of what should be a story of historic triumph. A meticulously crafted master plan for basketball dominance, but in the end, it was all just a stack
of paper in the wind. As fans and front office alike reached out to the pieces of
success floating around them, there was nothing they could do but watch it all disappear
over the horizon. (soft electronic music)

21 thoughts on “How the Thunder failed to win a title after drafting three MVPs in a row

  1. I blame Russ. Dude is an absolute cancer. Not a team player. For a point guard hes a terrible facilitator and a mediocre passer. And hes a god awful perimeter shooter. Not to mention despite his deficiencies he was unwilling to take a step back and defer to KD.

  2. Imagine this. Westbrook had 4 knee surgeries and had his best seasons after that. Even with a bigger workload. Guys a monster

  3. back when everyone was sucking this teams nut sack it was making me sick also they beat my lakers which got me even more tight but i called it in my last year of highschool this group was not going to win a chip and boyyyyy am i happy 🤣🤣🤣 no more okc fans!!!! its overrrrr been over since that 3-1 comeback from the warriors 🤣🤣🤣

  4. This was the longest 16+ minutes I’ve spent watching an episode of Collapse. This episode would’ve been leagues better if Seth Rosenthal narrated it. And I was greatly anticipating this episode. Such a let down.

  5. If they would’ve paid Harden and not be cheap they wouldn’t had this problem. When they were spending money it was too late.

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