How many more times? This is a question that must be answered in the wake of an interesting, if not very lengthy, NBA Finals between clearly the two best teams in the Association. How many more times over the next five years will we see these two teams meet up to decide the championship.
All five years even seems possible given how much youth and talent are on both of these squads. Sure Dwayne Wade is 30 and is not the same player he was a few years ago but all he has to do is be LeBron James’ wingman in order for the Heat to reach the championship round on a regular basis. And if you don’t think James, with the championship monkey off his back, won’t be nearly impossible to beat in a seven game series with Wade and an in his prime Chris Bosh by his side your nuts.
As for the Thunder they are just going to get better. They’ll figure out a way to lock up James Harden long term which will give them a three man nucleus that are currently all under the age of 24. When you add in the learning experience from a humbling Finals defeat it will be a surprise if OKC doesn’t make the Finals in four of the next five years.
All this talk of predictability in the NBA isn’t very fun though. There has to be a team in each conference that could derail a repeat of Lakers/Celtics from the 80’s. Let’s take a look at who could potentially make the NBA playoffs more than a two-team show over the next half decade.
The Celtics are too old, the Bulls future is too uncertain with Derrick Rose recovering from a devastating knee injury and the Nets are a long shot to secure a Deron Williams/Dwight Howard tandem. The Pacers are the one team in the East with the talent, youth and cap space to be the Heat’s nemesis over the next five years. Let’s also not forget that they were a Game Four win away in the Conference Semifinals from likely taking down the Heat before their championship run ever got started. They also have a really good chance of landing Eric Gordon in a trade or as a restricted free agent this offseason.
A potential nucleus of Roy Hibbert (likely to resign as a restricted free agent), Darren Collison, Paul George, David West, Gordon and either Danny Granger or pieces they pick up with the cap room from a Granger trade makes for team that can challenge the Heat for years to come. The one problem I see is the lack of a superstar player. It is hard to take down the champs when you don’t have a player that can dominate a must win game, like LeBron did in Game Four against Indiana this year or Game 6 against Boston in the following series.
Los Angeles Clippers
I don’t love their cap situation in the near term with Caron Butler and Mo Williams on the roster next year making $8 million dollars a piece. Nevertheless, a core that starts with the best point guard in the NBA in Chris Paul and ends with a 23 year old Blake Griffin with significant upside to improve (for instance, Griffin averaged 21 points per game this season yet shot only 52% from the free throw line on seven attempts per game) has a realistic chance to challenge the Thunder over the next five years.
In order to become a serious threat though the other L.A. team must see DeAndre Jordan take a significant step up, especially on the offensive end. They also need to find consistent three-point shooting (only 12th in the NBA this season in Three-Point Field Goal Percentage) to make Chris Paul’s penetration more worthwhile. With the Spurs and Lakers past their prime and Memphis locked into a team, due to salary cap issues, with only 2nd round potential, the Clippers are the only franchise that stands in the Thunder’s way from owning the West for the foreseeable future.
This is the last In The Paint column for the 2011-12 season. I’ll be back covering the NFL with Point After in late August. Don’t be surprised though if I pop up a few times on TheXLog over the summer!