With the NBA Finals notched at a 1-0 advantage Thunder, OKC went on to lose an unfathomable four games in a row to the Miami Heat. Each passing game the Thunder seemed to look younger and younger, with James Harden looking more like a petrified kid wearing a Brian Wilson costume than a future All-Star. Kevin Durant and Russ Westbrook still shined under LeBron’s total eclipse of the court, but both young stars couldn’t do enough to prevent the gentleman’s sweep.
Think about that: it’s not just that the Thunder were beaten by the better team: they essentially were swept out of the Finals after being spotted a game. Yes, two of those contests were only decided by six points, but those losses happened because of the superior execution by the more seasoned villains from South Beach. OKC didn’t get beaten by coincidence or luck or suspect circumstance. They didn’t even “come up just a bit short”. They got mauled right out of the Finals. Three more games? Yes, they only have to win three more games. But what they need to close a gap of 144 minutes is far more complicated than just a few more W’s.
Coming into the summer, the Thunder knew how much better they had to get. It wasn’t a secret–the youthful exuberance on the faces of the OKC stars was gone, replaced with a humility only served up by such a scalding loss. Lots of wholesale changes were bandied about by the media at large, especially when analyzed financially. The Thunder had secured both Durant and Westbrook to long-term contract extensions, but F Serge Ibaka and Harden remained unsigned beyond 2012-2013. If indeed the core needed some changes to win the NBA title, perhaps the coinciding cap crunch OKC would inevitably fall into could be the catalyst for a major trade.