Will Thunder take next step or fall back?

BY foxsports • June 21, 2012

From the Oklahoma City Thunder perspective, the finish couldn't have been worse. Kevin Durant knew it. He was consoled by Derek Fisher early in the fourth quarter when Fisher put an arm around his shoulder.

That's what you do during a blowout, Game 5 loss coming after a pair of duds in Games 3 and 4.

Miserable. A 4-1 beating at the hands of Miami in the NBA Finals after a glorious run in the playoffs.

But from a realistic perspective, maybe it just wasn't Oklahoma City's time. Not yet, anyway. Maybe that's what Fisher was saying when he lifted Durant's head during that fourth-quarter timeout in the Heat's 121-106 victory.

So now what?

The question heading into the offseason isn't what adjustments coach Scott Brooks needs to make going forward or what adjustments he didn't make during the Finals.

It's probably a bit soon to be calling in Phil Jackson to right the ship. That would make about as much sense as gutting the roster and trying to build from the draft. Bad ideas.

The only thing left to question is what kind of team the Thunder are going to be moving forward.

Is this a progression to the next step or will they fade away after a nice, little run?

A season ago, the Heat were facing the same setup. Maybe they weren't ready when they wilted against a seasoned Dallas team in the Finals. This year, they were. They led the final six quarters of the Finals, closing with confidence. No one has suffered more through social media than LeBron James, but he's never played better, finishing an amazing Finals run with a Game 5 triple-double.

Miami might have not headed into the Finals as the better team, but now there's no doubt the Heat are.

That takes us back to the Thunder.

One series short, but one step to go, and there won't be many detractors saying Oklahoma City won't be back in this same situation soon.

But it's not a guarantee.

What's going to happen with the Thunder?

Are they like the Portland Trail Blazers?

Portland lost in the Finals in 1990 and 1992, and then looked set to be right back in it the next year with a team that featured Clyde Drexler and others. But the Blazers fell off and faded away. It took seven seasons before they got out of the first round again. Meanwhile, in the past nine seasons, Portland has been to the playoffs just three times and never gotten past the first round.

Or are the Thunder like the Detroit Pistons?

The Pistons lost in the Finals in 1988, but the next two seasons they were champs. More recently, Detroit ascended again, going from the conference semifinals in 2002 to conference finalists in 2003 to NBA champions in 2004.

Seems like Oklahoma City is on a similar path. A first-round loser and a No. 8 seed in 2009, the Western Conference finals last year and an amazing run this time, beating Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers and then San Antonio before running into Miami.

And its roster is intact. Three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant is signed through the 2015-16 season. Russell Westbrook will be in Oklahoma City through the 2016-17 season. James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha are back next year, and the only free agents are seldom-used reserves.

Durant embraced a number of people after the game in a receiving line of hugs, then cried as he headed off the floor.

He has yet to be truly criticized, and while Game 5 doesn't fall on his slumped shoulders, figure that Durant will head into next season carrying the burden of a Finals failure.

And maybe that's a good thing, because Oklahoma City fans are hoping that the pain this year means another gain next year.

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