At the beginning of the season, I wrote that if there was ever a year for the Oklahoma City Thunder to come out of the Western Conference, this was it.
Well, they took advantage, but unfortunately, that only led to them being one painful step shy of the ultimate goal of an NBA Championship.
While the Thunder are, admittedly, still ahead of the typical schedule of progression, being only four years removed from missing the playoffs, the reality is that teams don't just get to the NBA Finals easily. It would have been nice for this Oklahoma City team to take advantage of the opportunity this season.
The Mavericks were reloading, and their offseason moves showed that they had no intentions of trying to repeat, and that they were looking ahead at possible moves to get Deron Williams or Dwight Howard to join Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas.
The Lakers had the pieces at the top of their roster, but everyone knew they didn't have the depth for a championship run.
The Spurs didn't look to be a serious title contender before the season, but overachieved to the point that they looked like an unbeatable force before the Thunder made its comeback in the Western Conference Finals.
My point is, while Oklahoma City will be the favorite to come out of the West again in 2012-2013 (provided there are no major roster shake-ups), there are no guarantees in the NBA. That's why Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing have no championships. That's why Steve Nash, Chris Webber and Mike Bibby have no championships. Even some of the greatest individual players or teams don't always get over the hump.
But, the Thunder's nucleus of players is younger than any Finals team before them. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka are likely four or five years away from the prime of their careers. But, while both Durant and Westbrook have committed to the team with long-term extensions, it remains to be seen what will happen in negotiations with Harden and Ibaka.