Budget & Tax

Curtis Shelton | July 21, 2023

What Oklahoma policymakers can learn from the Thunder

Curtis Shelton

The NBA Summer League recently concluded, and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s rebuild was front-and-center with a plethora of young talent on the roster. This talent has many pundits praising the direction of the team and how the Thunder rebuild has been handled. It also provides our state’s political leaders with an example they could follow.

Generally speaking, NBA teams have two ways to build themselves—either (1) through the draft and development of their own talent, or (2) signing free agents and trading for discontented star players. State policymakers could compare this to (1) creating a low-tax, low-regulation environment where businesses and employees take risks and grow, or (2) offering government handouts for businesses to relocate.

The Brooklyn Nets are an example of how poorly the second strategy can go. A few years ago, the Nets had built an upcoming team with mostly homegrown players. Rather than let the process play out, the team made major moves by trading away most of that talent and acquiring three star-level players in Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. After three years of turbulent play and a fired coach, all three players left after requesting to be traded.

Oklahoma City is one of the smaller markets in the NBA. OKC ranks 24th out of 30 NBA teams in terms of franchise value at $1.87 billion. The Golden State Warriors have the top spot at $7 billion. This makes it difficult for the Thunder to compete when it comes to offering free-agent maximum contracts or maintaining a roster of high-value contracts for a long period of time. Oklahoma City also lacks some of the off-court amenities that bigger markets can provide. So rather than try to compete at a disadvantage with a strategy that comes with plenty of risks, the Thunder has taken a different approach by accumulating draft capital and developing their talent within the team’s infrastructure.

While it’s still too early to tell, the Thunder is consistently mentioned by national pundits as the NBA team with the brightest future. Oklahoma’s political leaders could learn something from the Thunder. Instead of trying to lure specific companies with large government subsidies, the state should enact pro-growth policies that help businesses and families grow from the ground up. Low taxes and a light regulatory burden create an environment where businesses and workers can thrive. In the short term, those already in Oklahoma are sure to benefit. In the long term, a pro-growth environment will attract those living outside the state—as proven by Florida and Tennessee, two of the fastest-growing states in the country.

Image credit: fifg -

Curtis Shelton Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton

Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on fiscal policy. Curtis graduated Oklahoma State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Arts in Finance. Previously, he served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time as a staff accountant for Sutherland Global Services.

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