It’s been a trying season on everyone in the Oklahoma City Thunder organization.
Though a necessary step of the rebuild, nobody likes heading into most games with little hope of emerging victorious.
Countless franchises have embarked on drastic steps to start off a rebuild, and many have failed, finding themselves in a hopeless loop at the bottom of the NBA. For the Thunder, the future is still as murky as rain-wrapped storm clouds, but in the short term, the current OKC roster is flashing great residency.
As the 2020-21 season has worn on, Mark Daigneault has continued to see his team stripped of productive players. Whether it be through injury or trade, his young Thunder squad has never complained, instead focusing on improving and trying to get the job done on the court every night.
“Coach always reminds us it’s a 48 minute game,” second year forward Darius Bazley said after Oklahoma City’s loss to Sacramento on Tuesday evening. “It doesn’t matter what the score looks like or what it feels like, you’ve just got to keep going out there and keep playing every possession.”
Daigneault also preaches his 0-0 approach, where the Thunder approach every moment and every challenge as if there is no score, focusing purely on making the right decisions.
It’s served his team well, as they’ve been on a 2-21 skid since the NBA Trade Deadline.
Despite setting the mark for the worst loss in franchise history twice this year, Daigneault still gets his team to fight night in and night out, as exampled by how OKC pushed the Western Conference leading Phoenix Suns to the brink just one night after suffering a 57-point defeat at the hands of the Indiana Pacers.
“Tonight was a test of our 0-0 mindset with how we played last night,” Daigneault said after the Phoenix loss. “I thought everyone came ready to play and learned the lesson, but then moved on and got ourselves into the competition.”
That mental toughness needed to pick yourself up after a poor result will serve the franchise well as this core ages into the future.
In fact, it’s already paid dividends this year.
Rookie Theo Maledon praised Daigneault’s ability to keep the team focused on just the moment at hand, which has helped the team turn the page in the wake of their worst results.
“I think that’s something we’ve got to keep going for the next game and through the rest of the season,” Maledon said after Sunday’s battle with the Suns.
With just six games remaining this year, OKC will continue to focus on implementing the coaching staff’s models of play while building the mental strength needed for years ahead.
“It definitely is a mental thing, just regrouping in the timeouts and in the huddles and just subtle reminders on the floor,” Bazley said. “When it gets down to those moments where we know this is the fight to get back into the game, you just take it one possession at a time.”