The Oklahoma City Thunder Worst Season: 2009

The Oklahoma City Thunder decamped from Seattle after the 2008 season. Fans on the prairie inherited a franchise that had bottomed out the previous year but had a ton of promise. Kevin Durant played his rookie campaign in Seattle. Russell Westbrook joined after he went fourth overall out of UCLA. And James Harden followed a year later, third overall out of Arizona State.

But this isn’t about the 2008 season. The only reason I mention Seattle at all is to provide a bit of context and backstory. This is otherwise an expansion team.

Of course, that means I have to break another rule. I don’t normally count expansion years for this feature because new franchises are supposed to be terrible at the start.

What all this really means is that the NBA screwed Seattle. Or that Seattle screwed itself. KeyArena was a dump. The new Climate Pledge Arena, home to the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, is better in every way.

Wait, what was I talking about again? Oh yeah. The 2009 Thunder. They stunk.

The On-Court Record

Oklahoma City is one of the teams never to suffer a sub-20-win season. The worst year in Seattle, that 2008 team, produced a 20-62 record. The 2009 edition under discussion here went 23-59. And even in truncated seasons, the franchise’s lowest win total is 22 in the form of a 22-50 season in 2021.

The 2009 season sure didn’t start out that way. The Thunder started 1-16. 15 games later, they were 3-29.

Remarkably, this is when Westbrook and Durant started to figure each other out. Oklahoma City went 10-9 over the next 19 games. They had a stretch shortly after the All-Star Game when they won five out of six.

All told, that’s really where this story leads us. Young players play together, learn on the court, and eventually figure it out.

So sure, they posted a minus-6.5 Net Rating, fourth-worst in the league. Sure, the offense was putrid, second-worst in the Association. And sure, any team with Russell Westbrook on it is going to commit a whole heap of turnovers, worst in the league in fact.

But this is what young teams do the year before they break out. They stink sometimes. They show flashes of promise other times. And they’re bad enough to get one more high lottery pick, and that’s how Harden showed up.

The Featured Players

Durant, in his second season, posted 7.9 WS and .132 WS/48. Nick Collison posted 5.0 WS and .130 WS/48. And Jeff Green, who was second on this team in minutes, posted a respectable 4.2 WS and .070 WS/48.

This means Westbrook stunk. As a rookie, he posted a gruesome .035 WS/48 and turned the ball over on 17.6 percent of his possessions.

Among guys with at least 1,000 minutes played, Earl Watson and Desmond Mason both managed negative Win Shares.

But really, this is the story all about how a city’s new franchise got flipped, turned upside down by a developing young core.

The Coach

When you have the low expectations of a team still rebuilding in a new city and still manage to get fired after starting 1-12, you’ve done something special.

PJ Carlesimo will always be best known as the guy who once had Latrell Sprewell‘s hands around his neck. But Carlesimo’s teams were better known for having their hands around their own necks.

His career record is 239-315 (.431), mostly because he coached the remnants of the Portland Trail Blazers to three playoff appearances in the mid-’90s before embarking on the stinkathon that was his tenure first in Golden State and then in Seattle.

Scott Brooks got handed the reins to go 22-47 the rest of the way before coaching the Thunder to 50, 55, 47, and 60 wins in the next four seasons, that 47-win campaign coming in 66 games in the lockout-shortened 2012 season. 2012, of course, included a Finals appearance.

So Oklahoma City can thank one of the worst coaches ever (and really, that’s a well-worn phrase after examining so many rock-bottom NBA franchises since they’re all here) for being bad enough to draft Harden.

The Aftermath

Well, I just mentioned the Finals appearance. With Durant and Westbrook, Oklahoma City made the playoffs in 10 of the next 11 seasons. They nearly upset the mighty Warriors in 2016 before blowing a 3-1 conference finals lead.

And…well…things have gone downhill since. The 22-50 2021 campaign was bad. The 24-58 2022 season was second-worst in their 14 years on the prairie. And Chet Holmgren, the second pick in the 2022 draft, is going to miss the entire 2023 season.

Will the Thunder set a new franchise record for futility this year? If so, this piece won’t age well for anyone reading it in 2024 and beyond.

NEXT: Orlando Magic, or “why everyone in central Florida hates Dwight Howard.” Stay tuned and thanks for reading!