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Can the Thunder win the championship this year?

A lot of questions swirl around this Thunder team, and all are valid queries. With only a week left in the NBA's regular season, you can answer the biggest question with a hearty yes.
by Jenni Carlson Published: April 10, 2013
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photo - Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) goes past Denver's Andre Miller (24) , Danilo Gallinari (8), and Ty Lawson (3) during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) goes past Denver's Andre Miller (24) , Danilo Gallinari (8), and Ty Lawson (3) during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

That's what the Thunder has to strive to do — be in position.

The reason is largely economic. If the Thunder followed the pay-up-and-win-now model of some franchises, it might work for a year or two but the downturn would be nasty. The Thunder doesn't have the packed coffers of a big-market team. It wouldn't be able to keep up a massive payroll ala the Heat or the Lakers, and when it had to cut loose star players and their salaries, it would leave the Thunder gutted for years.

Clearly, that isn't the Thunder's model.

This is a franchise building to win over the long-term. They've acquired stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook through the draft. They've developed players who've either become contributors to the team or commodities in trades. They've been frugal, especially when it comes to the salary cap in this latest collective bargaining agreement.

Already we're seeing evidence that the philosophy is working wonderfully. Looking at full, 82-game seasons, the Thunder is currently one of only four teams that has won 50 or more games in at least two consecutive seasons.

The others: San Antonio, Denver, Miami.

That is some stout company.

The Mavericks and the Lakers used to be part of the club, but this season, neither will reach the 50-win mark. Neither is a title contender either.

The Thunder could've dropped from the ranks of title contenders this season. Trading away a guy like James Harden could've staggered this team. Instead, the Thunder has just kept winning.

Going into Thursday night's game at Golden State, the Thunder needs to win three of its last four games to reach 60 wins.

A 60-win season is something of a holy grail in the NBA.

Does that mean there aren't questions to be asked and concerns to be raised about this team?

Absolutely not.

But I'm begging you, Thunder fans, don't get so caught up in the circus that you ignore what's happening right in front of you.

The Thunder is in the midst of a special season. Take a deep breath and enjoy it.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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