The Thunder simply ran into a better, more complete team this year in the NBA Finals.
They may have been the most dominant team up to that point—and they may have triumphed over three Western Conference teams that looked a whole lot more formidable than those the Heat had to conquer in the East—but they fell short against the most critical opponent.
So, what didn't they have? Well, they didn't have LeBron, for one thing, and that may have been all it took this year. After almost reaching the mountaintop last season, there was nothing stopping King James from taking what was rightfully his this time around.
Here are a few other things the Thunder could use in order to get back to the finals next year.
This was one of the biggest things that the Heat had and the Thunder didn't. LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh looked like the best team in the world for spurts of the 2010-11 season, and then they got to the finals and couldn't contend with a veteran Mavericks team.
Then, one year later, the Heat did to the Thunder exactly what Dallas did to them: They destroyed a young, athletic and extremely talented team in five games.
Now, maybe the Thunder can continue the tradition and get the job done next season. It's possible that after breezing through the first three rounds of the postseason with just three losses, they weren't prepared for the kind of challenge the Heat would present.
Maybe the team—and that includes head coach Scott Brooks—just needed an opportunity to learn how to manage minutes better, how to contend with a team that boasts so much talent up front and how to avoid foul trouble against LeBron.
Just like the Heat, maybe the second time will be the charm for OKC.
A Retooled Russell Westbrook…
It was clear from the way things went against the Heat that something needs to change with regards to Russell Westbrook. Either the team needs to bring in someone who can take part of the offensive load off him—since he clearly thinks he has to score all the points—or Brooks needs to find some way to get him to play more like a traditional point guard.
Westbrook took a lot of flak for the Thunder's shortcomings in the finals, but it wasn't all fair because OKC wouldn't have been there without his offense. But when the Thunder finally started losing, it became increasingly obvious that his approach—shoot everything from everywhere—wasn't working anymore.
Particularly problematic was his performance from beyond the arc in the finals, where he went a combined 3-for-22 in five games. He went 0-for-8 in the final two games of the series. He should not be taking those shots, and Brooks has to find some way to get the best out of him without letting him fire off 24 shots per game (his average in the finals).
There is absolutely no reason for Westbrook to be taking more shots than Kevin Durant.
… And Backcourt Help
Westbrook didn't play well in the finals. That's a given. In taking and missing so many shots, he's putting his team at a distinct disadvantage and creating an insane number of opportunities for the opponent. A veteran team, like the Heat, is going to capitalize.
That doesn't mean the Thunder should trade him, but they need to bring in some backcourt help that is going to take the pressure off him and get him to stop believing he must put up insane numbers every game.
Preferably, it would be veteran help because that is the one thing the Thunder were missing against a Heat team that had been around the block a few times. They need someone with composure and playoff experience who can still shoot—something in between a Dwyane Wade and a Ray Allen.
Though it would be exciting if the Thunder traded James Harden for Charlotte's No. 2 draft pick and snatched up Bradley Beal (that's what would happen in my super exciting perfect world), what this team needs is a sage leader to keep the fiery young sharpshooters under control.
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