Let’s start with a couple of basics: from the 2000-01 NBA season through the 2004-05 season, the Sacramento Kings won 50 games every year. They never won an NBA title — 2002 was the closest year, and quite honestly, Tim Donaghy might have screwed them in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals — and never reached an NBA Finals, but they did thrill fans and generally dominate the Western Conference aside from the Lakers and Spurs. It was, quite probably, the most exciting brand of basketball at the time in the NBA, even if it wasn’t winning titles year-in and year-out.
Now, since the 2009-10 NBA season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have won at least 47 games every year, been to the NBA Finals once (lost), the Conference Finals once (lost), and are currently down 1-0 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western semis; if they lose, it will be the second year in a row they’ve lost in the Western semis. Changes could be coming — not necessarily on the court, where Kevin Durant just won his first MVP, but perhaps around it — i.e. Scott Brooks getting ousted or something of the kind.
Russell Westbrook has been hurt more often than not of late, and the Thunder did run into a buzz-saw in their NBA Finals appearance in terms of LeBron desperately needing that ring, but … it might be time to wonder if the Thunder (one of the more entertaining teams of the last 4-5 years) are about to face the same fate as those old Kings teams (one of the more entertaining teams of those years). Has their window on an NBA Finals run ostensibly closed after it was only open a crack? Or can they come back, then take down the Spurs/Blazers and get their rematch with the Heat? Is Scott Brooks going to become another Rick Adelman — taking squads and exciting their fan bases/making their offenses better but ultimately consistently losing to better coaches in the Conference Semis/Finals? What future have we wrought here?
Personally, I hope the run isn’t over — even if they go down to the Clippers on their “Donald Sterling Redemption Tour,” maybe the ’14-’15 season can be their return trip to the Finals. But if this is another story like those old Kings teams, sans the crooked ref, I’ll be sad.
Just for fun, let’s run a simulation on the 2002 Kings vs. the 2012 Thunder (the team that made the Finals). I ran one on WhatIfSports — I was obsessed with this thing in college, if you care — and I got Thunder 105, Kings 94. Durant had 28, Westbrook had 18, and James Harden (remember him?) had 20. Chris Webber had 16, but Mike Bibby was held to four points (for shame). When I played it out 10 times — for a slightly better sample size — the Thunder won six, and the Kings won four. The Kings tended to win if Webber topped 25 points (logic).
Thunder-Clippers Game 2 is tonight in Oklahoma City. Wear a Mike Bibby jersey if you must; let’s hope this Thunder run isn’t on the back end of its curve already.