Will We See Heat/Thunder Matchups For the Next Five Years?

6 Factors That Could Prevent a Heat/Thunder Finals For The Next Half-Decade

6/23/12 in NBA   |   Andrew_Ericksen   |   230 respect

Jun 21, 2012; Miami, FL, USA;  cMiami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) embraces Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) after winning the NBA championship in game five of the 2012 NBA Finals at the American Airlines Arena. The Heat defeated the Thunder 121-106. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIREIt was the matchup we’d been anticipating all season and it seemed like it came and went before Oklahoma City could fully prepare themselves for it.  Either way, it appears we could be looking at a rivalry to a similar magnitude of the Bulls/Jazz of the 90s.  Of course we can’t place that ‘perennial runner-up’ label on the Thunder quite yet, but it’s clear that they have the talent to win the Western Conference as frequently as the Stockton and Malone teams as of now.
 
However, if there is to be another team that makes it to the NBA’s biggest stage in the next 5 years, it’s going to have something to do with one of these 6 factors:
 
Apr 5, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) reacts after a turnover during the fourth quarter at Amway Center. New York defeated Orlando, 96-80. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

1. Dwight Howard

Let the trade talks begin once again.  Howard could instantly make so many different teams a sudden championship front-runner.  Orlando will probably play another cat-and-mouse game with their superstar as the 2012/2013 season begins but it’s highly unlikely Howard will be wearing Magic blue when the 2013/2014 season begins.  Just think of how few dominant offensive big men the Heat had to play on their recent title run….yeah, no one comes to mind.  I don’t think they’d like to see a matchup with Howard in May or June.
 
Apr 14, 2012; Newark, NJ, USA;  New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams (8) drives to the basket against Boston Celtics center Greg Stiemsma (54) at the Prudential Center. The Celtics won 94-82. Mandatory Credit: Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

2. Deron Williams

There’s going to be a lot of money thrown in the superstar point guard’s direction this summer and it’s for a good reason.  Williams could make a team like the Mavericks or Lakers an instant big-time threat to the Thunder’s Western Conference crown.  If he stays in Brooklyn, some big moves would have to go down, but don’t rule out the difference a top-level point guard can make.
 
Apr 28, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (1) brings the ball down the court during the first quarter in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center.  Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

3. Derrick Rose and Company

Yeah, the Heat got a bit of a free pass on this one.  The top seed in the East featured a deep roster led by one of the premier playmakers in the league and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t see them at full strength when things mattered most.  But there are still some big questions as to Chicago’s full potential as of now, whether they need a more dominant frontcourt player than the inconsistent and docile Boozer, especially when paired with the offensively challenged Noah.  At full strength this season, they may have been able to take down the Heat, but they may still be a trade away from really reaching their peak.

Dec. 11, 2011; El Segundo, CA, USA;   Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak watches media day from an window on the second floor at the Toyota Center.  Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

4. Mitch Kupchak/Jim Buss

Lakers fans would probably be fine with having this past year washed from their memories completely.  Watching Kobe average 40 points per game in his last two outings of the season while the rest of his team failed to support the effort was almost unbearable.  Trading Lamar and Fischer for chump change?  Being content with Sessions as the big trade deadline acquisition?  These aren’t the usual trends of one of the league’s most illustrious franchises, but as long as number 24 is still in purple and gold, the Lakers have a place on every NBA watcher’s radar.  Kupchak and Buss have to make some big decisions in the coming months, particularly whether Bynum is reliable enough to be Kobe’s #2 guy or if Gasol is worth dealing for a more consistent piece.  Either way, something needs to be done.
 
June 2, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (13) forward Serge Ibaka (9) and center Kendrick Perkins wait during a time out during the second half of a playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena.  Thunder defeated the Spurs 109-103 Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE

5. James Harden/Serge Ibaka

With Durant and Westbrook signed on for the next five years, GM Sam Presti has to set his sights on the next two most important pieces on the Thunder’s roster.  Ibaka’s low-post defense and Harden’s playmaking ability were key to getting out of San Antonio, and in order for the Thunder to continue their run, they’ll need to do all they can to retain their services.  Both players could become restricted free agents after next season and will most likely have some pretty attractive suitors, both players being worth 8-digit salaries in today’s market.  So we’ll have to see what kind of tricks Presti has left up his sleeve.
 


6. The Perfect Formula

There’s always the possibility that a team just finds the perfect ingredients for a championship run, somewhat similar to 2011’s Mavericks or 2004’s Pistons.  The Clippers, Spurs, Celtics, Grizzlies, 76ers and Pacers are some of the teams that could be a couple key moves away from getting over the hump.  Even though they may not have the same superstar status as the Heat or Thunder, sometimes a deep and motivated team can make all the difference.
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