As the Oklahoma City Thunder reflect on their loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, disappointment is probably their main feeling.
It was pretty clear in their diverse facial expressions.
While it is a natural reaction to posses a somber mood after a playoff elimination, the Thunder should feel both encouraged about what they accomplished this year and be optimistic moving forward.
Looking ahead to next season, they have much reason to believe that they will take another large step into contention. (Assuming there are no major effects from the pending lockout.)
The Thunder will have the (potentially extra long) offseason to make improvements in every way.
It's so cliche to say, but the young team will definitely be in the gym for much of the summer improving on weaker areas of their games.
Kevin Durant is a bona fide workaholic, and we've seen that distinct ethic rub of on his teammates. No question they'll hit the gym hard after they came so close to getting where they want to be.
Sam Presti will also be in the works this summer. The always-productive GM knows he has some work to do in order to help the Thunder take another step in the right direction. Being one of the premier executives in the league, I'm sure he'll have no trouble making beneficial moves.
This past season, the Thunder were hit with a major trade in February bringing in center Kendrick Perkins.
While the move looked good on paper and did improve them a little, lack of chemistry seemed to play a role in their eventual downfall.
A full season with Perkins and any other future acquisitions will allow them to get an earlier start on getting a feel for each other. Additional unity for this squad definitely can't hurt.
Last season ended in heartbreak for the Thunder, much like this one. After losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, they took that experience and produced a season where they won two more rounds than the previous year.
They took the things they did wrong a year ago and found a way to correct them. They made a huge turn in the right direction and still have more room to build upon.
Losing to the Mavs in the conference finals expands their limits in terms of amelioration for next season.
The San Antonio Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks were the top three seeds in the West this past season. They are all also filled with players in their 30s.
Not really the best blueprint in terms of long-term success.
With the Thunder being seeded directly below them, the potential decline of the top three opens thing up a little more for the notably young franchise. Another year in the tank is 10 times more beneficial to the youth than the archaic.
This reason lacks complexity, but it makes all the sense in the world.
The sheer fact the Thunder have Kevin Durant leaves them in no place to worry looking into the future.
He's the two-time reigning scoring champ and a top-five NBA player, and he's only getting better. What he has accomplished in four seasons is phenomenal, and he's even attained a few historical achievements in that span.
As long as he's around, things look remarkably bright in Oklahoma City.