Win At All Costs’ convinced Dontay Sowder to join the Thunder.

  • By Luke Forte, Day 1, 2023

Trade recap that acquired Dontay Sowder.

Thunder trade: SF/PF - Devan Carroll to Fireballs

Fireball trade: 2026 First round pick to Thunder

Followed by a sign & trade agreement:

Thunder trade: C - Antoine Hall & PG - DeAngleo Tarver to Lightning

Lightning trade: SF - Dontay Sowder to Thunder


19th September

Dontay Sowder didn’t say a lot during his meeting with the Seattle Thunder last Friday. The NBA’s most coveted free agent, however, did have one particular question that he posed to the Thunders core of Andre Phifer, Ainsley Tucker and Aaron Rowland while in a mansion in the Hamptons. Could he mess up the Thunders’ team camaraderie and chemistry?

The very well-prepared Thunder team collectively answered a question with a question and their team motto in mind.

“We asked him how many championships do you think we can win with the way the team is now? How many championships can you win without us? How many do you think we can win together?” Tucker told Channel 9 news.

The Thunders’ motto through the past 3 years has been ‘Win At All Costs’. And they have done that whilst enduring some heavy penalties from their large salary cap issues. And it’s definitely been that mentality that certainly played a role in Sowder joining the Thunder.

The Thunder not only brought their core three players, but also coach Mitchell Butler, General Manager Luke Forté, Assistant General Manager Kal Varnsen, and owner and wealthy industrialist, philanthropist and bicyclist H.E Pennypacker too, to talk to Sowder. Having been an All-Star Basketball teammate with Sowder, Phifer was most confident and comfortable speaking to him from a players’ perspective about what life as a Thunder would be like on the court for him. Tucker also said they sold Sowder on “culture, a dynasty and style of play” with a team that had a regular season record (for the last 2 seasons) of 62-20 games and 2 championships in a row without him.

It must not be forgotten that Sowder strongly had previously said winning was most important to him in his free-agency decision and a friend said he had previously inquired about Seattle life. The Thunder also told the 2019 champion that open shots were awaiting him in Seattle, along with all their other weapons. They added that unselfishness and a will to not just win, but to win championships, was waiting for him in Seattle too. With Sowder, perhaps these already score-thirsty Thunder players could be even more imposing than some of the greatest JBL teams ever.

“We told him he didn’t have to change who he was. You don’t have to change how you play. We will get you shots. If you shoot well over 50% percent contested, how would would you shoot wide open?” said Tucker. Rowland then said he was happy to take on the 6th man role from Carroll if it meant bringing Sowder to the team.

The Thunders’ meeting with Sowder lasted about two hours with the “main pitch” being winning championships together, Tucker said. Tucker added that he felt very good about that meeting since the vibe in the room was perfect with the right mix of voices. Even so, Phifer apparently felt it necessary to send Sowder a message hours after the meeting Friday night to reassure him about his commitment to “Win At All Costs” and unselfishness.

According to a person who saw the text messages, Phifer told Sowder in a text message that he could care less about who is the face of the franchise, who gets the most recognition or who sells the most shoes. The two-time finals MVP also told Sowder that if Sowder won the MVP award again or finals MVP he would be in the front row of the press conference clapping for him. In closing, Phifer’s message to Sowder was that all he truly cared about was winning championships and he’d like to do that as his teammate.

When asked what was the key to landing Sowder, one selfless Thunder telling me “it’s only about winning and all the other stuff doesn’t matter”.

Tucker woke up on the 18th of September liking the Thunders’ chances, but also would not have been surprised if Sowder joined a number of worthy suitors. Tucker, however, got the stunning word about Sowder’s decision just “20 seconds before it went public” via a text message from his new teammate’s childhood friend and business manager, Dr Martin Van Nostrand. Less than a minute later, Tucker’s phone was wildly abuzz with congratulatory text messages.

The “Win At All Costs” sales pitch worked as the Thunder immediately became next season’s championship favorite with Sowder saying yes to their “brotherhood.”

“I’m excited about the opportunity to add one of the best players in the world to our team and welcome him to our brotherhood,” Tucker said. “This will be some of the best times of our lives and I’m looking forward to it.”



Sowders decision to join the Thunder benchmarks one of the most important free agent decisions in JBL history, and the ripple effects will be felt for years to come. Losing Sowder is catastrophic for the other teams shedding salary to make room for him, and it’s understandable for the fan base to be disappointed. Particularly with such limited choice now with free agents. At most, only 3-5 teams each year compete for the JBL title, and the Thunder have been a part of that group for at least three years running.

For the rest of the league, every team now knows what the top of the JBL will look like for the next few years. While there’s some risk of the marriage between Sowder and the Thunder not working out– injuries can happen, people can end up not getting along in the locker room or playing well together, but it is unlikely. Given the worst case scenario Sowder has signed a 4+1 deal with a player option and he can’t really leave if the chemistry gets screwed up. He and his enormous salary would have to be traded. Phifer is an unrestricted free agent next summer, then Tucker after that etcetera – by far the most likely outcome is that the Thunder have cemented their path to one of the historic dynasties in basketball. Every playoff series teams get into with the Thunder, they’ll always be coming in as underdogs. In most cases overwhelming underdogs, no matter the talent.

People are already calling this this star-studded lineup the ‘Emerald City Five’* or often referred to as the ‘death lineup’ of the JBL. This small ball unit plans to wreak havoc on opposing teams in the JBL.

*Tucker Sowder Rowland Phifer Lynch



Following the trade, the GM of the Thunder, Luke Forté released a statement to the media:

“This is both a happy and a sad day for me and the organisation. We welcome to the organisation the once in a life-time player in Dontay Sowder and in doing so we say goodbye to 3 marvellous talents and people in DeAngelo Tarver, Devan Carroll and Antoine Hall.

I spoke to all 3 players individually and they understand the direction the organisation needed to take. If we could have fit all of these guys into the salary cap we would have. However if we did, we could cripple the organisation for years to come.

I think DeAngelo, Antoine and Devan can all reach their talent limits on other teams. Although these 3 individuals were very successful in Seattle and played fantastic basketball, I feel that given the spread of talent in our roster they were ever going to be able to get the numbers and a individual accolades they were capable of. These 3 players can be right up there in the mix with some of the greatest players to play our game given the right chances.

It was never our original intention to go after Dontay in Free Agency. Our intentions were to acquire a high draft pick to reduce some cap implications. Those negotiations failed over and over again with General Managers holding their draft picks very close to their chests. We could have given it one more year with our championship roster but we felt that bringing on Dontay negated our salary cap issues whilst giving us the ability to win a third championship and many more. Plus we didn’t want to miss this free agency opportunity.

The last 3 years have been about winning, whatever the cost and sacrifice. So let’s do it all again.”

Art Vandelay reporting for Channel 9 news.