5 Reasons OKC Thunder Will Repeat as Western Conference Champs Next Season
This young Thunder team will only grow hungrier with this recent Finals loss, and there are many reasons why the rest of the West still won't be able to knock them out of the playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies can count themselves all out.
The Thunder will repeat as Western conference champs next season, and here are five reasons why.
1. Still Young
There's no need to worry about this Thunder team's principal parts getting too old to compete any time soon. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 23. James Harden and Serge Ibaka are 22. Even old man Kendrick Perkins is only 27 years old.
And if you thought the Thunder was young last year, it is an even younger team this season. Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed are gone and have been replaced with Hollis Thompson (age 21) and Hasheem Thabeet (age 25).
This team is still one of the youngest in the league, which gives it time to grow and the youth to out athlete anyone in the West. OKC is still the most athletic team in its conference.
2. Same Team
The biggest advantage the Oklahoma City Thunder has is the fact that its main roster will be virtually unchanged from the one that won the West last season.
The only changes will be Eric Maynor instead of Derek Fisher as backup point guard, and Cole Aldrich instead of Nazr Mohammed as backup center. Both of those are probably upgrades anyway.
The core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden is intact for at least one more season before Harden becomes a restricted free agent. That alone is enough to make them the favorite, once again, to win the Western Conference. No one in the West can guard all three of these players simultaneously, and they'll have to in order to beat them.
3. Still Better Than Competition
The truth is that no other team in the Western Conference has passed the Thunder in terms of talent. Many teams have made substantial additions, but none have gotten better than the Thunder.
The Los Angeles Lakers added Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison. Considering the fact that neither of those players can guard a soul, it really doesn't make the Lakers any better against OKC.
The San Antonio Spurs added no one. Their young players will be a year older, but still aren't as talented as the youth the Thunder has.
The Los Angeles Clippers have added Lamar Odom, Grant Hill and Jamal Crawford while keeping Chauncey Billups. That would help the Clippers against the rest of the West, but it shouldn't scare the Thunder who have the players to match any of those "past-their-prime" veterans.
This Thunder team has remained the best in its conference by merely standing pat.
4. Been There
The Oklahoma City Thunder continued their progression toward NBA greatness last season by taking the next step in making it to the Finals. That alone is very valuable in terms of the experience gained.
The Thunder defeated many of the past champions of the decade in the Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks. Each presented a completely unique challenge to the young OKC squad, allowing it to show its ability to win in many different ways.
That experience, combined with the experience gained in the Finals loss to Miami, will be a big part of why this team is able to repeat as Western champs. These young players now know they can defeat any opponent they need to in many different ways.
5. Scott Brooks Has Gained Experience as Well
In 2011, many said that Scott Brooks was outcoached and a big part of why the Thunder were defeated by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. He responded by getting better along with his players and making it to the Finals.
It stands to reason he'll improve even more. He's a young coach and the fact that he grows with his team is a big reason he is the perfect coach for it. He's figuring it out along with them, which gives everyone a rich sense of camaraderie.
Brooks will continue to lead this team effectively and humbly in 2013 and beyond.