Tuesday February 1, 2011 6:21 p.m.
By Frank Hanrahan
In the midst of this epic 25-game road losing streak, Wizards coach Flip Saunders was searching for any bright spot that he could find to put this bumpy season in perspective and he did, pointing to Oklahoma City as a model for what the Wizards could be one day.
"Kevin Durant, look where they are, and his rookie year they won 20 games," Saunders said. "Sometimes you got to go through some growing pains. Is it tough at the time? No question. Is it tough on your fans? There's no question. You hope that they understand and they see our guys don't quit."
There's also no question that in order for the Wizards to get to where Oklahoma City is -- a legitimate contender in the West with a 30-17 record -- the Wizards must build through the draft just like the Thunder.
Just four years ago, when they were still in Seattle, the team drafted forward Kevin Durant with the No. 2 selection overall and traded all-star Ray Allen to Boston for forward Jeff Green, the fifth overall pick by the Celtics. In their rookie campaign, the Sonics went 20-62, the team got another lottery pick and from that they selected guard Russell Westbrook. Also late in the first round, the team selected forwardbanger Serge Ibaka, who sees major minutes off the bench now.
The next season, the first year in Oklahoma City, was dreadful. The team got off to a 1-12 start, prompting the firing of P.J. Carlesimo and the hiring of current coach Scott Brooks. The team would finish a disappointing 23-59 and garner another lottery pick. The Thunder took shooting guard James Harden with the fourth selection overall, and he is now a starter in his second season.
Last year, with the scoring of Durant, the electricity of Westbrook and Green helping to lead the way, things started to turn in the win column, as the Thunder won 50 games and gave the eventual champ Lakers a run for their money in the first round of the playoffs.
Like Brooks has Durant, Saunders has the major piece in rookie John Wall, but the rookie will need major help moving forward. If the Wizards can just build around Wall and be patient, things might turn out as well as they have in Oklahoma City. But right now that looks like a big if.