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There are rare occasions in sport when two or three world class players come together as a team and provide that side with the means to dominate its’ respective league. In basketball, you need look no further than the current NBA champions, the Miami Heat. The coming together of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh delighted, frightened and intrigued NBA fans the world over, and could potentially become one of the best sides to have ever graced the NBA. Go back a few years and the trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman (or Horace Grant if you want to go a little further back) created a dynasty that the current Chicago Bulls side are desperately trying to escape the shadow of, let alone replicate just. Similar occurrences have happened in soccer, with the recent domination of Barcelona in world soccer, spearheaded by the breathtaking Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi. It would foolish to presume these players do it all by themselves, and highly disrespectful to the likes of Mario Chalmers, Steve Kerr and Carles Puyol, but the stars are the cornerstones of any dynasty, with supporting pieces coming and going over the years.
While the spotlight falls on James and the Heat at the moment, there is a significant question hovering over the young Oklahoma City Thunder side. Could they become one of these great teams who can win championships year after year and forge their own legend within the world of sport?
Well at a quick glance, it certainly looks as if they do. Do they have the talent? Check. Are they young enough to achieve their ambitions? Check. Do they have insightful leaders on and off the court? Check. Lastly, do they have a passionate fan base who will stick by their team? Check (If there is such a thing as a ‘double check,’ then it applies here).
In Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook you have two All-Stars, superstars of the game who will only continue to improve and could go on to dominate their respective positions for years to come. Behind them you have James Harden and Serge Ibaka. Both players certainly have the potential to become All-Stars, and with both players aged just 22, it would be foolhardy to bet against that possibility. Throw into the mix the physical presence of Kendrick Perkins, the perimeter defense of Thabo Sefolosha, and if the rumors are to be believed, the leadership of Derrick Fisher for at least one more season.
Ibaka and Harden’s youth has been mentioned, but Durant and Westbrook are also just 23, leaving Perkins and Sefolosha as the elderly statesmen amongst the starters at 27 and 28 respectively, but far from nearing the ends of their careers. This youth, whilst arguably playing against them in this months’ NBA finals, offers huge hope to Thunder fans, who will believe that they can go from strength to strength as they players develop as a group. Given how good Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka are at this young age, the ceiling for these players, particularly Durant and Westbrook, is colossal.
Pressure will be heaped upon young Head Coach Scott Brooks over the next few years to extract results from such a talented squad. To his credit though, Brooks has orchestrated improved performances in each of his four years at the Thunder. After failing to make the playoffs in his first season, he guided them to a first round exit in his second year, before falling at the conference finals last year. If he continues this trend of improvement, Oklahoma City will be on target for a much coveted NBA Championship next season. He should also be praised for his management of such a young team, a task often fraught with difficulties, which has, publicly at least, been free of controversy or major problems.
Whilst there seems to be no end of positives for the Thunder over the coming seasons, there are important questions which need to be answered if they are to achieve their goals of creating a ‘dynasty.’ Firstly, will they be able to keep hold of Harden once his contract runs out? Whilst Harden has made it known he is happy to come off the bench and contribute in that way, allowing the Thunder to start Sefolosha, who adds to their defense, will he be happy in that role in a year or twos time? Another issue is whether or not they can keep hold of Ibaka. The young power forward has made a name for himself as one of the best blockers in the league, an attribute which could well earn him some admiring glances from other franchises, franchises who may have the cap space to make him a very nice offer.
If Harden can be sufficed with a bench role for the long term, or Brooks can devise a way for him to start, and Ibaka can be secured to a long term contract in the same way Durant, Webstbrook and Perkins have, then there is no reason to suggest that this Thunder side will not be able to live up to their near limitless potential. The rise of this team from relative obscurity to genuine NBA contenders has been startling and makes their achievement of making the finals this year even more impressive. With this group of players having at least 10 years left at the highest level, we could be enjoying the Durant vs. James dual for some time now, a rivalry which has all the potential of Bird vs. Johnson.
Image Courtesy of OKC Thunder