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Oklahoma City Thunder: OKC can't just wait for the new Jordan, basketball's Belichick to capitulate

One of these days/decades, the teams who open the NBA Finals on Thursday in San Antonio will eventually step aside. The better bet for OKC is to get better and quick.
by Berry Tramel Published: June 4, 2014

The new Michael Jordan and basketball’s Bill Belichick meet in the NBA Finals for the second straight year. The LeBron Heat vs. the Popovich Spurs. Not a great time for the blossomed Thunder to be trying to crash the party.

The Heat can replicate the Jordan Bulls and win a third straight NBA championship, with an approaching-30 superstar. LeBron is 29. Jordan was 30 when the Bulls won their third in a row, in 1993.

The Spurs are cruising Patriot Boulevard. New England hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season but the crotchety Belichick and the evergreen Tom Brady still have the Patriots in the fast heat every season. San Antonio hasn’t won an NBA title since 2007, but crotchety Gregg Popovich has his ageless Alamos still playing like it’s 2003.

Just the Thunder’s luck to be dealing with such roadblocks.

Except for this. When hasn’t there been a sentry guarding the gate, keeping infidels from the throne room? Two sets of Kobe Lakers. Boston’s renaissance. The Jordan Bulls. The Dream’s Team in Houston. Detroit’s Bad Boys. The Showtime Lakers. Bird & Boston. The Dr. J 76ers.

You literally have to go back to the 1970s to find an era when the Larry O’Brien Trophy was there for the taking. Really, in only two seasons since the Carter Administration has the NBA race been wide open. Both resulted in Dallas-Miami Finals, 2006 and 2011.

So LeBron and the San Antonio Patriots are no excuse for the Thunder. No one’s holding the door open for you. You’ve got to kick it in.

And the Thunder didn’t kick in the door in 2014. In fact, the Thunder took a step back. The Boomers weren’t as good this season as last season. In 2012-13, the Thunder was fabulous. OKC ranked second in the league, behind only Miami, in offensive efficiency, and tied the Spurs for third in the league, behind only Indiana and Memphis, in defensive efficiency. The Thunder even had some eggheads (that’s a term of endearment) writing about the Thunder’s historic dominance.

The Thunder was primed last spring. The Thunder entered the playoffs as the West’s best, clearly. Russell Westbrook’s injury derailed those title hopes.

This season, the Thunder did not enter the playoffs as the West’s best. The Thunder was good. Really good. Just not as good. Injuries were a big reason. Westbrook missed 36 games. Thabo Sefolosha missed 21 games and Kendrick Perkins 20, most of them at the same time.

The Thunder slipped to seventh in NBA offensive efficiency and fifth in defense. Good. But not beat-the-Spurs good. Definitely not beat-the-Heat good.

The Thunder has been chasing the Spurs and Heat for the last three years. Momentarily caught San Antonio in the 2012 West finals, but otherwise, the Thunder has been just outside the exclusive club.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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