The top seed in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder, were eliminated in five games from the Conference Semifinals round by the Memphis Grizzlies. After winning 60 games and hoping for a rematch against the win city the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, the Thunder are instead going home early and wondering what else they could have done to stay alive.
The Thunder were the second team to be eliminated after the Chicago Bulls. While the Bulls' season qualifies as a success despite injuries, the Thunder's season is more of a wash. With the knee injury point guard Russell Westbrook suffered in the first series, the ceiling was significantly lowered on this team. However, this year was finals or bust for the Thunder, who wanted another shot at winning their first title ever. Even losing to the Grizzlies in five games was a disappointing outcome.
This begs the question: where would the Thunder have gotten if Westbrook had remained healthy? Their offense was No. 2 in the league, while their defense was No. 4, and they had home-court advantage up to the Finals. It was conceivable that they could have made it all the way back to the Finals, but again be defeated by Miami. However, even the Heat may not be totally healthy this year, and a healthy Thunder team may have had enough to pull off the upset.
The trade of James Harden to the Houston Rockets will be looked upon as one of the worst decisions the franchise made this year. They were completely exposed at point guard after Westbrook went down, a position that Harden could easily have stepped into. The Thunder may attempt to re-sign Kevin Martin, Harden's replacement, but Martin is a pure scorer, whereas Harden was also able to handle the ball, dish it off for assists, and make his own shots.
Fortunately for OKC, the team does not have to add much this offseason to be competitive again next year. Westbrook will be back healthy, and Reggie Jackson is developing into a decent backup point guard. The team does need a pure point guard, however, especially to back up Westbrook. Jackson is more of a shooting guard who takes point guard duties sometimes. How they match up with the Miami Heat, however, will remain to be seen next year no matter their lineup.
Even if nothing changes for the Thunder, they will remain the favorites to win the Western Conference next year, as long as they remain healthy. Even more fortunately for them, health has rarely been a problem. They are still young and athletic enough to compete with any team in the league, and talented enough to win a seven-game series against anyone in the West.
David Michaels writes daily sports previews on his website, SportsBettingGlobal, and analyzes teams' betting odds and spread trends the win city. He has covered every game of the NBA Playoffs so far, and is also previewing important games in the NHL Playoffs this year. He also produces a series of daily podcasts, so check out his basketball betting podcast on iTunes. You can also become a fan of his website on the official Facebook fan page of SBGlobal.