Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder forced to wait at least another year

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Although the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to force overtime, not a lot went according to plan during the extra 5 minutes of basketball which proved to be the last 5 minutes of the 2013-14 NBA Season for the Thunder. Running into a familiar foe in the Western Conference Finals, this time would differ to the series in 2012. The Thunder were unable to come back from a 0-2 deficit and while they forced it to six games, they were unable to defend their home floor in Game 6 and succumbed to the San Antonio Spurs who have now moved on to the NBA Finals where they will seek revenge against the Miami Heat.

At the end of every season, we look back at what happened throughout the year, where the improvements can come from, what changes need to be made etc. In a constant drive to be the best, this type of information is invaluable and will form the basis for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s off-season campaign. From the NBA Draft, to signing free agents and developing their own talent, the Thunder have a lot to work with and a lot to look forward to.

The Thunder put together a terrific campaign. From Kevin Durant winning his first MVP trophy, to Russell Westbrook coming back from injury – twice – to return to the height of his game, there were a number of positives. Add to this the development of rookie Steven Adams in just one season and OKC being able to lure a solid free agent – Caron Butler, and things are definitely looking up. When you have a core group of talent that are all aged 25 years or under, there is the feeling of excitement – but we also need to temper these expectations in light of their inexperience. As one of the NBA’s youngest teams, the future is definitely bright for the Thunder, but they are still learning, growing, developing and maturing. This latest series loss is just another step in that maturing and growth process.

Against an experienced team, full of seasoned veterans in the twilight of their dynasty – the Thunder were outclassed. OKC remained competitive and dangerous for the entire series simply because of their talent and athleticism, but in the end, experience and maturity won out. That is what this Oklahoma City Thunder team has to look forward to if they stay the course and grow and develop together.

To win an NBA Championship is tough, otherwise everyone would be able to do it. It takes hard work, discipline, maturity, patience and so much more. Not just from the team of players, but also from the coaching staff and the front office. To build a contender is one thing, to be a Championship team is another. There is no denying that the Oklahoma City Thunder are a contender. From their NBA Finals appearance in 2012 to coming within a game and an overtime from this season – the Thunder are right around the mark.

Taking the next step is going to be the challenge.

Sam Presti and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder have built this team over a period of time. From their draft and develop strategy and sustainable success model, they have managed to put together a team that is one of the best in the NBA. Second best record in the NBA this season, Northwest Division Champs and Western Conference finalists. Not a bad resume. However, when a team has so much talent, there are perceptions that they should be “winners” right away. To be honest – the Thunder are winners and are well ahead of the curve in their quest for an NBA title.

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have an average team age that sits around 30 years old. Even the Chicago Bulls had an average age of 28 years old in 1991 when they were finally able to breakthrough for their first NBA title in the Michael Jordan era. In fact, in the past 20 years, the 2009 Champion Los Angeles Lakers have had the “youngest” roster with an average age of 26.33. This year with Derek Fisher and the addition of Caron Butler, the average age of the Thunder was 26.4.

It doesn’t serve as an excuse, but it does bode well for the Thunder. They are right around the mark and with the right moves in the near future, they might be able to put themselves in a position to win an NBA Championship. In fact, they might be able to build a dynasty similar to what we are witnessing from the San Antonio Spurs and even the Miami Heat with their four consecutive finals appearances. Thunder fans should be licking their lips at the possibilities and the future ahead of this young and talented squad.

The core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker has remained intact and developed over time. They haven’t won all the NBA Championships, but they have won their share and have always remained competitive. The Thunder core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka can do exactly that. If they stay together, develop, mature and grow as a unit, the cohesiveness they will build will be incredible. Add to that smart drafting of rookies, development of role players and signing of the right free agents and the Thunder can look more and more like the Spurs each year. And that isn’t a bad result.

Sam Presti and the Thunder organization should use the Spurs as the benchmark. They should make an example out of their sustained success and if they win the title this year, it only presents a stronger case. Stick together, grow, improve – force each other to be better than the season before – and the result could be a Larry O-Brien trophy. It’s a pretty compelling argument, especially for a team that arguably has more basketball talent than the Spurs have.

This loss didn’t just hurt the Thunder fans. You can bet it hurt every Thunder player and staff member and all those involved with the franchise. It’s a good hurt. One that will drive and motivate. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be back though, and it feels like they are only just getting started.

 

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