How the OKC Thunder Can Cope With Losing Kevin Durant Through Smart Change Management

Change management is no small task. Whether you’re part of a company, sports team, or social group that’s undergoing a dynamic shift, you’ll inevitably confront frustration and doubt. Unfortunately, change is an inevitable part of life, and we humans have no choice but to adapt or die. Though change management is most often understood as pertaining to business, processes of significant change occur in all sorts of industries.

Take professional basketball, for example. In a rather shocking move, one of the NBA’s biggest stars, Kevin Durant, has opted to leave behind his team of 9 seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder, to join the juggernaut Golden State Warriors. Durant’s move created a massive ripple effect within the Thunder organization, and will force the team’s coaching staff to devise a new strategy to adapt to the change in team chemistry that will arise with Durant’s departure.

Being a basketball fanatic, I tend to make connections between the NBA and change management quite often. Keeping to that trend, I want to take a look at how each organization involved in this blockbuster move have adhered to Kakie’s Corner’s 3-phase plan to change management integration.

 

Phase 1: Prepare for change

For the Warriors, preparing for change in this circumstance was a welcome task. Though the team’s management had to pull off the right moves to create the financial flexibility to afford the addition of Durant, management was happy to do so if it meant adding one of the game’s biggest stars to play alongside Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and two-time reigning MVP Steph Curry.

The Thunder, on the other hand, prepared for the worst before free agency even began, despite league-wide speculation that they’d be able to hang onto their homegrown star. In a move that could have been perceived as a means of either bolstering their roster or preparing for Durant’s departure, the Thunder traded away star big-man Serge Ibaka for three young, talented players from the Orlando Magic. Rather than watch Durant walk and be left picking up the pieces, the Thunder front office took a proactive approach in preparing for what’s undoubtedly the greatest change in franchise history.

Though the Thunder is left worse off without Durant, there’s no question they’ve taken sound measures to prepare for a future without their star. They felt change was coming, and they acted fast to alleviate the massive lineup problems that would come with said change. The Warriors didn’t have a headache to cure – they’ve been sitting pretty, sipping bubbly over in the Bay Area. The Thunder, on the other hand, is left with a broken heart and an uncertain future, but has gotten off on the right foot toward recovery.

 

Phase 2: Manage the change

Unfortunately, from here we can only speculate about what the future will bring both organizations. Each franchise’s future success depends largely on how they proceed from here. Fortunately for both teams, their brilliant young coaches will assuredly prove capable of weathering the storms that are brewing ahead.

Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr has proven himself a master strategist, capable of devising a game plan that allows several superstars to not only coexist, but complement each other. Second-year coach Billy Donovan laid all doubts about his ability to succeed at the NBA level to rest when his Thunder squad pushed the defending champion Warriors to 7 games in last month’s Western Conference Finals. Durant’s departure will present an obviously new and more difficult task for Donovan, but my gut tells me he’ll be able to recreate a vision for the Thunder, communicate that vision, and manage the internal and external resistance that may arise.

Morale is surely low in Oklahoma City right now, as a team that could taste the Champaign of a championship seems to have been set back significantly. It’s up to their fearless leader, Donovan, to right the ship and keep everyone focused on recovery first, then redemption.

 

Phase 3: Reinforce the change

Sometimes change is planned for, and sometimes it comes as a complete shock. For the Thunder, Durant’s departure should be considered the latter. Though, as I said, the organization took a proactive approach in preparing for Durant’s departure, many within the organization simply couldn’t believe that he would really walk. Now left picking up the pieces, the team will need to adapt on the fly. Sure, head coach Billy Donovan will need to preemptively devise a new strategy built solely around top-5 superstar Russel Westbrook. But to think that such a strategy will be implemented smoothly is simply naïve.

There will be plenty of bumps and bruises along the Thunder’s road to recovery. The important thing is that the coaching staff is able to establish an open line of communication with the players so that they can collect individual feedback, measure how effective their change in strategy has been, and identify gaps in their new game plan so as to continue to adapt to their team’s dramatically altered dynamics and demands.

Only time will tell how the Thunder will recuperate after losing a generational talent like Durant. However, if they adhere to this simple yet profound 3-phase plan, something tells me they’ll find themselves in contention again just a few years down the road. The Warriors will have to face changes of their own, but it’s the Thunder who has the most work to do. Change implementation, as we all know, is a daunting task. For the Thunder, though, the players, coaching staff, and front office are hoping that it’s not impossible.

 

Christopher Smith
Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.
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