Feb 29, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) and guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Imagining the potential of the Oklahoma City Thunder

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So I was playing NBA 2K12 today (that’s how all my awesome stories start). Well, not so much playing as simulating years ahead in Association mode while controlling the Oklahoma City Thunder.

My goal was simple: clear enough cap to keep James Harden and Serge Ibaka along with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. This isn’t that hard to do in NBA 2K12. You can rip off the computer teams pretty easy with trades and get rid of bad contracts too.

I did it. After two seasons I had to trade away Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha in exchange for basically nothing. After the 2013-14 season, I had only five players under contract and was prepared to offer everything for Harden and Ibaka.

The two seasons before extending Harden and Ibaka, the Thunder made it to the NBA Finals and lost each time. After signing them, the Thunder went on to win the next three NBA titles.

Why? Well, because they had a top five player at four different positions! At least according to NBA 2K12 they did and you know what, maybe according to the real life future too.

It’s really crazy to think about how good a Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka core could be five years from now. It would be unprecedented with how talented those top four could become.

For some perspective let’s look at who the top five players are by position in the NBA right now.

Point guard: Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo.

Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Manu Ginobili, James Harden.

Small forward: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Andre Iguodala.

Power forward: Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh.

Center: Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Al Jefferson.

Okay so the Thunder have four players in the top five at their respective positions. I think Harden is a top five shooting guard right now. John Hollinger’s PER rating agrees with me.

So what might the makeup of the league look like five years from now, the 2016-17 season? Bear in mind that five years is a long time. Five years ago the Spurs won their last NBA title. As projected by me and NBA 2K12:

Point guard: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Stephen Curry, Rajon Rondo, Ricky Rubio.

Shooting guard: James Harden, Dwyane Wade, Tyreke Evans, Paul George, Kobe Bryant, Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo, MarShon Brooks.

Small forward: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Luol Deng, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Power forward: Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, Serge Ibaka, Josh Smith, Anthony Davis, Thaddeus Young.

Center: Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Andrew Bynum, DeMarcus Cousins, Roy Hibbert, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Greg Monroe.

How could any other team possibly compete with the Thunder if they keep Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka?

The Thunder need to start planning now to keep this core (and I’m sure they are). The Thunder have a good chance to win the title this year but if they don’t then it’s time to start planning for keeping Harden and Ibaka. Three more years of this core will become much more valuable than trying to slightly improve your team to win one title and sacrificing a future with Harden or Ibaka.

Who knows what will happen? I have a feeling when the time comes they won’t be able to keep both. But hopefully they can at least hang on to one.

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Tags: Best Player In The NBA Blake Griffin Derrick Rose Dwight Howard Dwyane Wade James Harden Kendrick Perkins Kevin Durant Kevin Love Kobe LeBron James NBA 2K12 Nick Collison Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka Thabo Sefolosha

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