While many NBA teams have spent the summer reeling in big name free agents and working on blockbuster trades, the Oklahoma City Thunder are taking a more patient approach. The team might not be on anyone’s short list of title contenders for next season, but they believe the future is bright.
“We’re not about the quick fix, we’re not trying to find the next free agent, who will be headline material guy, we’re not trying to spend a lot of money prematurely on a good player, who maybe is not the best fit for our team,” said Brian Byrnes, Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service during Wednesday’s Edmond Rotary Club meet at First Christian Church.
The key figure is general manager Sam Presti, who implemented that conservative approach towards building a winner.
“Sam is the guy to do it, Sam is one of the best basketball minds in the country and we have total confidence in him that he’s putting the pieces together and developing the team,” said Dan Mahoney, Vice President of Community Relations and Corporate Communications, who also spoke to the Edmond Rotary Club Wednesday afternoon.
The Thunder don’t have to look far for inspiration. The team is looking to follow in the footsteps of the Presti’s former employer, the San Antonio Spurs, who have developed into one of the most successful and consistent teams in professional sports.
“That’s where Sam learned the trade, where he grew up and cut his teeth,” Byrnes said. “(San Antonio) is just a very well oiled machine. Year in and year out you know what you get, you get excellence. And that’s what we’re trying to build here.”
The Thunder executives also expressed their confidence in the community. While some had doubts about Oklahoma City’s ability to support an NBA franchise, the fans quickly threw their support behind the new team. Last year the Thunder sold about 13,000 season tickets, which ranked third in the league. This year the team retained 85 percent of those season ticket holder while adding nearly 1,000 new ones.
“The night that we announced we were relocating, we had operators ready to take phone calls for people expressing interest in season tickets. And within a few days we had 20,000 people call,” Mahoney said.
“To have more season tickets sold than Cleveland with one of the world’s popular players in LeBron James, and to have more tickets sold than Dallas, Houston or San Antonio, I think it speaks volumes to the opportunities for Oklahoma City,” Byrnes said.
Despite all the recent success, Mahoney said the Thunder aren’t taking anything for granted. He said they’re committed to improving both the team and the gameday experience. The next step in the process is improving the Ford Center. The first phase of the renovations is currently underway, with improvements being made to the locker rooms, media areas and some concourses. But the most noticeable addition to the fans will be the new $4 million scoreboard.
“It has 10 video panels on it, all digital video, it’s really going to add to the game experience at all levels,” Mahoney said. “Everyone from the top of Loud City to the courtside seats will enjoy it.”
Mahoney also said the team will soon break ground on their new practice facility in north Oklahoma City. The project is scheduled to completed before the 2010-11 season.