NBA Season Wrap Up: Oklahoma City Thunder

5/16/13 in NBA   |   droth   |   127 respect

We are looking at each team as they are eliminated from playoff contention, trying to understand what went wrong and what's next as they prepare for the upcoming 2013-14 season.  You can check out our season wrap ups for all of the Western Conference teams that have been eliminated here.

Oklahoma City Thunder:

If that Kevin Durant-Dwyane Wade Gatorade commercial is any indication, Durant is probably already hard at May 15, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) comes off the court after losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in game five of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder 88-84. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sportswork, popping orange chewables and putting up shots in the gym until the wee hours.  

But the guy deserves a rest.  He just averaged 30.8-9-6.3 in 11 playoff games and took turns guarding Marc Gasol (while still telling reporters he needs to do more for his team).  He led the Thunder to the top spot in the West with a 60-22 record and they improved in points per game, opponents points per game, Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating from last season.

For all of the successes, this season will go down as a "what could've been" type of year for OKC.  They traded Harden just days before the season, attempting to reload before potentially losing him in free agency this offseason.  Then, when Westbrook went down in the first round, they were left with just one of their big three from previous years.  

Would they have won if Harden was still there?  Could they have beaten the Heat with a healthy Westbrook?  These are good questions but we'll never know the answers to them.

A million different people have opined about the Harden trade and everyone now realizes how important Westbrook is to OKC's success, but let's not overlook just how young this team is and how bright the future still is. 

In addition to Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, the Thunder received two first round picks in the Harden deal.  There is the 2014 first rounder that originally came from Dallas that is 1-20 protected until 2017 then becomes unprotected.  But the real gem is the 2013 Raptors first rounder that is top-3 protected this year, top-2 protected in '14 and '15, top-1 protected in '16 and '17 and is unprotected in 2018.  So that means that over the next few years, as the Thunder continue to compete for a title every year, at some point will add a lottery pick - potentially a very high lottery pick - to their roster.  And the Thunder seem to be pretty good at nailing their lottery picks.

So as many people in Oklahoma are talking about how the trade blew their chance for a dynasty, it is clear that Sam Presti and the gang have a long-term plan and they understand what they need to do to remain competitive for the duration of Kevin Durant's career.

The knee-jerk reaction to this playoff loss would be to build a team that can battle the big Grizzlies.  But the Thunder are not a knee-jerk, instant gratification type of franchise.  They need to stay committed to their run and gun style.  Maybe they could add a little bit of complexity to their offensive sets, but as we saw for spurts in this series, they're at their best when they play tight defense and then sprint down the floor attacking the basket even without Westbrook.
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