John Klein: Thunder keeps climbing toward title with core group
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, October 28, 2012
10/28/12 at 7:11 AM
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For more OKC Thunder stories.Original Print Headline: Thunder continues to climb
OKLAHOMA CITY - Teams that lose in the NBA Finals have a history of instability.
No one is very patient in pro sports. The fans demand to win immediately. Ownership wants to win immediately. Players want championship rings more than anything.
So, when you come up short, there is sometimes the urge to shake things up.
"There is usually some finger-pointing," said Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "There was none of that on our team. When it was over, it was time to move on for our guys.
"I was very proud of how we handled ourselves during that series and after that series."
Teams that lose the NBA Finals, in a rush to fix what went wrong, usually make all sorts of changes.
That didn't happen with the Thunder, at least until Saturday night.
The Thunder were moving forward with pretty much the same cast until a late blockbuster trade Saturday sent James Harden and three other players to Houston for Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb.
Now the core group of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, that has taken the Thunder from lovable loser to elite status will try to make one last step up to the title this season with a few new parts.
It is certainly within reach.
OKC has gone from a 3-29 start (23-59 in its first season in Oklahoma) to NBA Finals in four seasons.
"We didn't achieve our goals," said Kendrick Perkins. "We've reached a lot of our little goals. But, we have hopes of getting to bigger goals.
"We just don't want to get to the playoffs and win some games. We want to raise a banner here. We want to raise a few banners here."
Expectation in Oklahoma City is that the Thunder is good enough to win the NBA Championship.
Other teams in the league went about the business of making moves to get better. The Heat should be better. The Lakers should be dramatically better.
OKC, because of the experience, should be better.
"We've been there and come up short," said Durant. "It is tough. We're hungry to get back but everyone in this league is hungry."
OKC lost in five games to the Miami Heat. The Thunder lost the Finals even though it had home court advantage and had a perceived edge in talent. In a compressed season, it was believed Oklahoma City's youth would serve it well in the playoffs.
Instead, after getting out to a 1-0 start in the series at Oklahoma City, the Thunder collapsed.
It was painful to watch, even for the players.
"I still don't watch SportsCenter to this day," said Perkins. "I still haven't got over it."
It may be tough to get past but the Thunder believes there is an upside to the finals loss.
Oklahoma City learned a lot about itself.
"We have the same guys," said Westbrook. "We have to make sure we're better as players. We have to make sure we're better as a team.
"I think we learned in the finals just how close we were. We learned how each little play can hurt you. It is important to me. It is important to come in here this year with the right mindset."
Oklahoma City would love for the upward trend to continue. The Thunder has been better every year since it arrived in Oklahoma.
"Every step along the way is big," said Thabo Sefolosha. "When we first got in the playoffs, that was big. Then, when we won our first playoff series, that was the biggest. Each year is bigger.
"I think the main thing for us is to never be satisfied. It is on us players to motivate each other and get better. The finals were a different kind of basketball than the rest of the year. The experience was great. Hopefully we'll get back to the finals and use that experience."
The Thunder has been great about focusing on the big picture. Sure, these guys are pros and they have big egos. But, the tone is set by the older players like Perkins and Nick Collison.
"I'd rather win the championship any day than make an All-Star Game," said Perkins. "We've got guys that buy into the system. That is a good thing about our team. Our guys are not selfish.
"When you win a championship, everyone gets a piece of the pie."