The Thunder in the playoffs — next season. Next season. As in the year after a 23-win campaign. As in the year after the team started the season by winning only one of its first 17 games.
I’m not sure I’m ready to buy this Thunder-in-the-playoffs theory. Oh, it sounds good. The thinking goes that the Thunder has lots of young talent that will continue to develop. Add that to a stability on the coaching staff, stability in the franchise and a potentially franchise-changing draft pick, and bah-da-bing bah-da-boom, the Thunder is a playoff team.
The thing is, a 46-win team in the Western Conference didn’t make the playoffs this year. If that happens again next year, the Thunder could double its win total and still not make the playoffs.
A 23-game improvement seems oh-so unlikely.
But then amid my skepticism comes the opening of the playoffs. Saturday kicked things off, but among the winners Sunday: Philadelphia and Denver.
The Thunder beat the Sixers handily in early March, a time when playoff teams are supposedly jockeying for position and starting to play their best.
Against the Nuggets, the Thunder came within three points of splitting the four-game season series. That was the margin of defeat for the Thunder in a pair of home games against the Nuggets.
And hey, don’t forget that the Thunder split the season series with San Antonio, who didn’t play Sunday.
The moral of the story — the Thunder are competitive with many of these playoff teams. There isn’t a vast gulf between where the locals are and where those teams are.
Now, did the Boys in Blue get completely manhandled by some of the playoff teams? Absolutely. Heck, the Thunder got manhandled by some teams that didn’t make the playoffs. But really, this is a reminder that the Thunder can compete with anyone in the league.
Is this franchise poised to make the playoffs next year? I’m still skeptical. They need a more consistent outside shooter and a big man who can patrol the paint. Those are fairly big holes to fill. The draft could help with those areas, but the Thunder would likely have to make a trade or get into the free agent market to adequately solve those problems for next season. They would have to write a big check. They would have to pay to get what they need to make the playoffs next season.
The Thunder in the 2010 NBA Playoffs isn’t the craziest idea ever — it’s just going to be expensive.