Despite the Thunder’s second round exit in this years playoffs, I really believe that OKC can win the NBA title next year. There was not much holding OKC back heading into this past year, but Russell Westbrook’s injury during the Rockets series prevented them from having the chance of winning the championship. However I think that this will be the reason why I think the Thunder can bec0ome the champions next season.
First, assuming Westbrook comes back healthy there is nobody in the western conference that will be able to challenge OKC next year. They still have that core of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka and because of Russ’s injury in the playoffs we have seen guys like Reggie Jackson and even De’Andre Liggins progress as players. I think that these guys will make very good contributions to the Thunder next year and make an already great team even better. Even though it seems impossible, KD and Westbrook both improved greatly last year. KD became a much better facilitator and all around player, and Russell learned to play much more under control. These two factors alone helped the Thunder become a much better team and I think that this will continue next year. The main contenders for next season will still probably be the same teams as this past year. Teams like the Spurs, Clippers, Nuggets, and Grizzlies. None of these teams have the firepower to keep up with a healthy OKC team, and that is why I think that the Thunder will win the western conference next year.
Now the real issue is the Miami Heat. The Thunder just haven’t been able to get past them, whether it is the regular season or the NBA finals. I think that the Thunder have the talent to beat them in a seven game series, but there is some mental road block that they have yet to hurdle. However, I think that they may now have the perfect thing to be able to overcome the Heat. I believe that Kevin Durant will now begin to receive a lot more criticism in this upcoming year. We can call it a less extreme “LeBron treatment”. When LeBron couldn’t carry a team to a championship in his early years with the Cavs or even in his first year with the Heat, he got a lot of criticism heaped onto him. I think that KD is going to begin to feel this next year because of his failure in the playoffs this past year. Now, I don’t think that he will deserve any of this because he did just about all he could in the Thunder’s playoff run without Russell Westbrook, but that is just how America operates. Everybody always jumps at the opportunity to criticize a player as good as Durant or LeBron. The reason that I think this will help the Thunder in beating the Heat, is because I don’t think that all of the talk and criticism of KD is going to resonate very well with him. I really think that KD will bring a 2011 LeBron mentality to the table for the Thunder. In that year LeBron had the mindset of “championship or championship” he was not going to let anybody take that from him and he got rewarded. The Thunder have all of the players needed to beat the Heat, but they just have to get over that mental hurdle of “we can’t beat the Heat”. If that 2011 LeBron mindset shows up in KD for next year, I think that the Thunder will be able to get over that hurdle and overtake the Heat for the NBA championship.