The Oklahoma City Thunder may look green in these 2012 NBA Finals, but the young squad will definitely have more chances at a championship in the future. Its young core, among other factors, is a big part of why.
Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are signed through the 2016 NBA season. Very few NBA teams can match that starpower in their top two players, and that alone is a big reason for why this team will be around for a long time moving forward.
Here are 10 reasons why the young Thunder aren’t going anywhere in the coming seasons.
As I stated in the previous slide, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are probably the most talented duo going forward in the NBA, especially given how much younger they are than Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
To have Westbrook and Durant locked in for the next four years is huge for this team going forward. You can say what you want about the other players on this team and their importance. The fact is that Durant and Westbrook are the backbone of this team. Period.
Another important factor in the Thunder’s continued championship contention over the next few seasons is the ability to sign the other young stars on the team long-term. Those stars are obviously Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and shot-blocking extraordinaire Serge Ibaka.
While Harden may seem to be the most difficult to sign, the Thunder should actually have the money to get it done. Harden will probably be a $10 million-a-year type of guy, especially since that is what his older counterpart Manu Ginobili has made most of his career. Some other teams may overvalue Harden and be willing to pay him more, but he would be foolish to leave a potential dynasty this early.
Ibaka will be easier to sign, primarily because of the glaring deficiencies in his game. While his shot-blocking does make a tremendous impact, he still has room to improve in his one-on-one defense and his offensive game is still far from finished. Look for him to be a $7-8 million-a-year guy.
Those aren’t astronomical numbers for Oklahoma City to pay, especially if they wheel and deal with their other players to make it work.
Speaking of those other players, they are all very inexpensive as far as role players go. Of all the Thunder players, the only one that could be a problem contract-wise moving forward is Kendrick Perkins, who is paid around $8 million annually.
However, if the decision is between keeping a young core together that could win multiple championships or keeping Kendrick Perkins, the decision will be an easy one. Perkins is the most likely candidate for amnesty in the future.
Thabo Sefolosha, Daequan Cook and others will come relatively cheap and shouldn’t be hard to keep, unless they need to be dealt for more cap room.
Much has been made of the frenzied nature of the Oklahoma City fanbase, and to assume that such dedication has no effect on the team would be incorrect.
These fans love their team and provide an incredible home environment for it. Players enjoy playing in such an environment, where the support and noise are nearly palpable. These fans will continue to be one of the best home crowds in the NBA, and that will only help this team continue to be successful.
When you look at the rest of the Western Conference, the perennial powers are beginning to die off. Of the teams that have won titles in the past decade, few appear able to challenge the Thunder in the long term.
The Los Angeles Lakers were bounced fairly easily by the Thunder in just five games. Kobe Bryant is clearly nearing the twilight of his career, and Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol could be gone at any moment.
The Dallas Mavericks looked incredibly old when getting swept by Oklahoma City in the first round. Dirk Nowitzki is still himself for the most part, but there isn’t much else on that team to help him, especially youth-wise. If a run in free agency fails, Dallas may not even be in the playoffs next season.
The San Antonio Spurs are the only member of the old guard that looks like they can challenge the Thunder moving forward. However, no one can deny the growing age of the Spurs’ big three, and we all know they power this team.
Considering the fact that these squads are much closer to rebuilding than the beginning of their runs, the Thunder should be happy about its odds.
Win or lose, this young Thunder team is gaining valuable experience in the 2012 NBA Finals.
By learning how to play at the ultimate level and against an incredibly tough opponent, the young players are gaining valuable insight that will help them going forward at winning in the postseason.
Experience is not a light thing when it comes to playoff success. If anything, it is required to have success.
Despite never winning GM of the Year, Thunder GM Sam Presti has done a stellar job of creating this Thunder monster that is now terrorizing the NBA. In fact, a case could be made that he’s been the best GM in the league over the past five years.
Whether it was drafting unknown Serge Ibaka, trading Jeff Green to get a defensive center in Kendrick Perkins or drafting Russell Westbrook and James Harden when no one thought he should, Presti has made all the right moves.
Considering his track record so far, it would seem unwise to assume that Presti will become a bad executive all of the sudden. He may not make as amazing moves as he has in the past, but he won’t ruin this team. In fact, he’ll probably keep it a contender for a very long time.
The 2010 NBA Coach of the Year, Scott Brooks has done a great job with this young Thunder team since he took over during the 2009 NBA season. He’s a young coach that has become a perfect match for this young team.
Brooks also has some pretty good assistants, the highest-profile of which being Maurice Cheeks. Cheeks, a four-time All-Star and an NBA champion for the Philadelphia 76ers, has been crucial for the Thunder and especially for the development of Russell Westbrook.
Brooks and his staff have pushed all the right buttons for this team over the past few years, and as this team grows up over the coming seasons, Brooks will grow up as a coach as well.
It definitely helps when your division is clearly yours, and that’s what the situation appears to be for the Thunder going forward. While the Northwest Division isn’t a bad one by any stretch, it is pretty clear that the Thunder are the best team in it.
The Portland Trail Blazers are messed up, having only LaMarcus Aldridge to truly depend on. The Denver Nuggets are a good team, but not one that will be able to dethrone the Thunder. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz are just behind the Thunder in terms of development.
This team is one of the youngest to ever reach a Finals in NBA history. They’ll only get better, especially since their four best players are all age 23 or younger. Serge Ibaka will get better on offense. James Harden will learn to produce better in big moments. Kevin Durant will improve on defense and at getting open. Russell Westbrook’s decision-making will get better.
This young team will get better because it has plenty of time, and it has really good chemistry. These guys enjoy playing together and have formed one of the most promising collections of young talent ever assembled in NBA history.
This team will get even better because it is young and the players actually like each other.