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No guarantee OKC Thunder will get back to NBA Finals

History shows that teams that lose in the Finals have a hard time getting back there.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 22, 2012

The window, many assume, is wide open.

For the Oklahoma City Thunder, a trip to the NBA Finals each June is supposed to be a tradition, a trek the franchise takes from now into the foreseeable future.

If only the NBA worked that way.

The Thunder fell short in its inaugural Finals appearance, losing in five games to the Miami Heat. But with a stable of young talent, the widespread belief is Oklahoma City will be back … and soon.

History, however, warns that franchises on the losing end of the Finals face a difficult time getting back.

Since the league expanded to 29 franchises in 1995, only two teams that lost in the Finals have gotten back the next year and won it all — the Heat this year and the Los Angeles Lakers, who won back-to-back titles immediately after losing the 2008 Finals.

Over that same span, nine franchises — Boston, Utah, New York, Indiana, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Detroit, Cleveland and Orlando — are still seeking a return trip to the Finals after season-ending losses in the championship round. Seattle, which made it to the Finals in 1996, never saw another Finals trip as the Sonics.

It took two teams, the 2004 Lakers and the 2006 Dallas Mavericks, four and five years, respectively, to return to the Finals after losses in the last round. Two other teams, the 1997 Utah Jazz and the 2002 New Jersey Nets, returned to the Finals the following year and lost again.

It's now the Thunder's turn to test the strength of its sustainability.

“Everyone within the walls of our organization understands and respects that every season is unique,” said Thunder general manager Sam Presti. “There's so many variables that impact a team and organization that are uncontrollable, forces that are simply part of the cycles of professional sports. No matter how a season ends, be it high or low, there will be a need to recommit to the process again, from square one, with a builder's mentality.

“There's nothing promised, and we aren't entitled to anything other than the same number of days to improve as the other 29 teams.”

Since the 1996 Finals, three reigning conference champions — Indiana in 2000, Philadelphia in 2001 and Dallas in 2006 — came back and lost in the first round. Five others lost in the second round.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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A look at the losing teams in the NBA Finals since 1996 and how they've fared since.


1996-Sonics-Lost semifinals-0 (in Seattle)

1997-Utah-Lost Finals-1

1998-Utah-Lost semifinals-0

1999-New York-Lost East Finals-0

2000-Indiana-Lost first round-0

2001-Philadelphia-Lost first round-0

2002-New Jersey-Lost Finals-0

2003-New Jersey-Lost semifinals-0

2004-Lakers-Missed playoffs-3

2005-Detroit-Lost East Finals-0

2006-Dallas-Lost First round-1

2007-Cleveland-Lost semifinals-0

2008-Lakers-Won Finals-2

2009-Orlando-Lost East Finals-0

2010-Boston-Lost semifinals-0

2011-Miami-Won Finals-1

By Darnell Mayberry


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