The 2015th year of the Common Era has come to an official close. As we reflect on this past year, we should also take a moment to look back on the 8th calendar year of permanent NBA basketball in Oklahoma City, and the trials, tribulations, and times of the Thunder in 2015.
Injuries might be the unfortunate, but telling, place to begin the tale of the Thunder’s 2015. Kevin Durant had finally come back from his Jones fracture right before the new year turned over, and after a difficult start to the season, 2015 looked like the turning point for the team. The Jones fracture, however. Is a complicated injury even after surgery, and Kevin Durant was effectively shut down on February 19th after a 15 point win against the Dallas Mavericks. Durant had a second procedure on his foot shortly after that win. Serge Ibaka wasn’t immune to injuries either in 2015, as persistent soreness in his right knee led to surgical procedures that sidelined him for the last 17 games of the 2014-2015 season. The Thunder, without two of their big three, went 19-15 without Durant, and 8-9 without Ibaka in the 2015 calendar year, but were 10-5 with all three active. Sometimes fate has a way of changing everything.
The team’s constant struggle with injuries last year led to new faces finding their way to the heartland and landing big spots on the roster and in the rotation. Dion Waiters landed in Oklahoma City on January 5 via trade, followed by Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, DJ Augustin, and Kyle Singler making their way to OKC via trade on February 19. Their impacts, especially last season, have been palpable, especially the play of Enes Kanter, who has solidified himself as one of the most talented centers to wear the Thunder logo. Cameron Payne, the rookie point guard out of Murray State, joined the team after being selected 14th overall in the NBA draft over the summer, and is quickly asserting himselfas a solid role player on this team. The new faces have brought a definitive new look to this team, while keeping the continuity of an already stout starting five.
The front office also saw fit to make a move at Head Coach, bringing in the highly lauded Billy Donovan from the collegiate ranks at the University of Florida up to the big time in The Association. Donovan brought in Monty Williams and Mo Cheeks, among a few others, to strengthen his bench, while keeping some continuity, most notable Mark Bryant, the veteran big-man coach. Donovan’s professionalism and attention to detail, as well as his passion and ideologies were a great fit for what General Maneger Sam Presti had in mind, and the impression that Donovan and his coaching staff have made on the current roster and beginning to become very noticeable and especially positive.
The roster and staff weren’t the only new looks that this franchise debuted in 2015. Oklahoma City unveiled 3 new uniforms, including another Christmas Day jersey, and continue to expand their brand with the likes of the Oklahoma pride and Sunset Sunday jerseys. Love or hate the new uniforms, creativity and ingenuity are some of the things that have been strong for this franchise, and this year was no different.
The Thunder showed certain improvement over time through 2015, after a dismal 16-17 start to the 2014-2015 season, they went 29-20 through the first several months of 2015, and have posted a 23-10 record thus far in the 2015-2016 season. While a 52-30 (the Thunder actually played an exact full season’s worth of games in the 2015 calendar year) might not be the best calendar year in the Oklahoma City era, considering the challenges this team has faced, things are getting better every day. Kevin Durant has played in as many games this season as he did the entirety of last season. Russell Westbrook, who got married this summer and had his own signature shoe launch, has shown a great deal of maturity and poise, especially finishing last season without Durant and Ibaka. The year of 2015 may have been the first since 2009 that the Thunder missed the playoffs in a calendar year, but that hasn’t stopped them dead in their tracks. Hard work, and dedication have led to a consistent growth as a unit, and the future holds truly bright possibilities.
I would be remiss to fail mentioning that 2015 marked the 20-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. While the players and staff make this franchise great, the strength of the fans and the city make it spectacular. This city and its people have showed great resiliency over the past 20 years, to come from a horrible tragedy to where we are now. The Oklahoma City Thunder are just a lasting reminder that this city can come together as one, hold up our neighbors through dark moments, and continue moving forward. The strong, vibrant city continues to grow and develop every day, and the Thunder have been an integral and lasting legacy of that genuine growth.
As we head into 2016, let us reflect on 2015 with fondness. Learn from our mistakes, improve our own shortcomings, and cherish the wonderful moments. And, of course, keep Thundering up.