Written by: Matthew Blunk
The 2012 NBA Finals showed that the Oklahoma City Thunder are a team that is ready to contend for championships.
The Finals also revealed that the Thunder are not without flaws. Oh yeah, and that the Miami Heat were simply the better squad. But, as they say, postseason heartbreak in the Association is something of a rite of passage. LeBron James experienced that firsthand. And now it would appear Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and the rest of the Thunder knows what that feels like.
Durant and Westbrook played well throughout the playoffs and the Finals. But Harden and his smooth game disappeared in the Finals, when it mattered most. He seemed to lose his confidence and deferred whenever immediately possible. You can't blame Harden solely for Oklahoma City's downfall (you can attribute most of that to the fact that nobody on the roster, least of all Durant, could check James), but the Thunder were all the worse for it.
Heading into this season, OKC is going to look very familiar. Eric Maynor will be back from a torn ACL to spell Westbrook at point guard, and rookie Perry Jones could become an intriguing name sooner than later, but the Thunder's top seven seems pretty set in stone. This team will go as far as Durant and Westbrook can take them.
Harden remains a kind of wild card in Oklahoma City. His expiring contract looms large, and after the front office committed long-term money to Durant, Westbrook, Perkins, and Ibaka, Harden could wind up the odd man out. Of course, that only means that some other team will give him a max deal, so one can hardly feel bad for the guy. But he has said that he wants to remain with the Thunder, and he plays a vital part in a Manu Ginobili-sixth-man-type role.
2012-13 figures to be a fascinating season for OKC. How they respond to their rather sound defeat in the Finals could go a long way in seeing what this team is made of. The Thunder are young and limitlessly talented. But how's their mental game? Scott Brooks taught his team a lesson in pure class when, during a timeout late in Game 5 of the Finals, with the game and dreams of a championship out of reach, he demanded they treat the Heat as champions when the final whistle eventually blew. Do the Thunder have it in them this season to put an opposing coach in that position this June?
Notable 2012-13 Oklahoma City Thunder games
Nov. 1 at San Antonio Spurs
Nov. 21 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Dec. 7 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Dec. 25 at Miami Heat
Dec. 27 vs. Dallas Mavericks
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