Thunder on 

James Harden
Credit: Shannon Cornman

While several national media outlets recently have ranked the Oklahoma City Thunder as among North America’s top professional sports franchises, the team has other things on its collective mind these days: namely, the start of a new season and the challenge of winning an NBA championship.

Losing to the Miami Heat in last year’s finals was heartbreaking, but the team must move on and refocus. And that’s on top of distractions such as the loss of James Harden, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

Amid an impasse on a contract extension with Harden, the Thunder traded him — along with Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward — to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick.

Aside from the recent shake-up, it was a summer of accolades for the Thunder, which topped ESPN the Magazine’s annual ranking of 122 big-league franchises in terms of fan value, moved up from No. 6 last year. The rankings factored in such categories such as “affordability,” “fan relations” and “bang for the buck,” which measures “how effectively teams convert dollars from fans into on-field performance,” wrote ESPN’s Peter Keating.

Such sentiments were reflected in’s annual survey of league general managers, which designated the Thunder as the team most fun to watch and with the best home-court advantage.

The Thunder ranked 19th out of 122 major-league franchises in Bloomberg Businessweek’s list of the “Smartest Spenders in Sports,” which used payroll data to calculate how much teams spent per win over the past five seasons. Bonus points were added for wins above .500, playoff wins and championships.

The Thunder’s average payroll over the past five seasons was $60.8 million, compared to a league average of $69.3 million. The team averaged 39 regular-season wins in that time, including 7.4 wins over .500 and 4.8 playoff wins per year.

The top-ranked team on the list, the Los Angeles Lakers, had a five-year average payroll of $81.1 million and averaged 55.4 regular-season wins per year. Those figures were calculated before the Lakers signed Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

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