Predicting the future isn’t an exact science, especially in the NBA. Ask the Clippers in 2005. Ask Portland in 2000. Ask Orlando in 1995. Ask Houston in 1985. Free agency, trades, the disease of more, petty jealousies and personal problems…they can all rip a team to shreds. Out of every five 40-win teams with upside, perhaps one will eventually turn into a legit contender. The rest fall by the wayside, victims of their own promise.
This past year, we’ve seen Miami go from afterthoughts to perhaps a future dynasty. We’ve seen Oklahoma City develop into a true contender overnight. And Chicago surprised us all, mixing veteran grit and toughness with young excitement.
If you were choosing who was the brightest future, which team would you pick? Chicago, Miami or Oklahoma City? We argue. You decide.
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Comparing three teams and their future success lies in the gravity of each of their question marks. For the Chicago Bulls, a roster that’s mostly returning and a head coach with a proven ability makes their future more clear and more bright than either the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Miami Heat.
Chicago bought itself the chance at an NBA championship when it brought in Tom Thibodeau as the head coach. This past season, the Bulls weren’t exactly sliced and diced by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals but lost because of crunch-time mistakes that were more symptoms of a young team rather than unfixable flaws.
The Bulls’ 4-1 series loss at the hands of the Heat came despite strong defensive efforts, the exact kind that Thibodeau fostered with the Boston Celtics when he won the 2008 NBA title as an assistant coach. Not far off from competing on the level of the Celtics of the past few years, the Bulls are one tweak or trade (an added scoring punch, possibly) away from a championship-caliber roster.
Derrick Rose is a franchise point guard who learned this past season how to better control a close game down the stretch. In addition, the Bulls have the defensive pieces at multiple positions in starters Keith Bogans, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. They’ve also developed a cohesive bench with guys like Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver filling roles that could put opposing teams on their heels for brief stretches of the game.
If Thibodeau can better integrate Carlos Boozer into the offensive scheme to alleviate the pressure on Rose to score, this team has the role players and the star power to win it all.
Of course, the Bulls have to go through Miami, but the Heat have a bevy of questions. They’ve got little wiggle room as far as money is concerned, maybe even less than we expect if the owners cut payrolls after the lockout. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade figuring out how to play better as a duo will be tough, and even if they play fantastic basketball, the team as a whole likely won’t have enough talent around the Big Three to make a championship a guarantee. Their ceiling is limited, and neither the meshing of their larger two stars nor the fate of coach Erik Spoelstra is certain. It’s a similar situation with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had questionable defensive chops in their Western Conference Semifinals and Finals series.
When it comes down to it, a large percentage of stability comes in the head coaching position and lack of roster turnover. Chicago, more than the other two teams, has the most solidified roster on top of the most identity-driven head coach of the three.
Predicting the future is difficult.
Actually – it’s impossible.
But this idea of subsequent fate has captivated our culture and eliminated our patience. We’ve become fascinated with what’s “next” and entranced by “what could be.” Second-to-second information transfer has created a new generation of knowledge-craving barbarians. Anxious monsters without tolerance for delay. We want the future and we want it now.
I am one of these monsters.
Despite my awareness for this heinous disease, there is no cure. Therefore I surrender to the anxiety and will feverishly look ahead like the desperate basketball fan that I am.
Though impossible to predict, the Miami Heat without a doubt have the brightest and most promising future. The idea of “having a bright future” refers to your chances of winning a championship. For example, the Charlotte Bobcats’ future is about as bright as the closet in my dorm room.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls both have bright futures. Probably two of the five brightest in the NBA. But not brighter than the Heat.
1. Oklahoma City struggled with eighth-seeded Memphis, then lost to Dallas in six.
2. Chicago went six games with eighth-seeded Indiana, then lost to The Team With The Brightest Future in five.
The Heat are the favorites heading into next season. They have two of the five best players in the NBA, and three of the top 20. They went all the way to the Finals in their first-year dress rehearsal, and should only get better with time.
The 15-point fourth-quarter collapse in Game 2, Wade’s fumbling of the inbounds pass in Game 4, LeBron’s refusal to attack the basketball in Game 5 are all symptoms of a first-year team (according to WebMD). Experienced teams – they don’t make these mistakes. Experienced teams close out games. Experienced teams execute in crunch time. Experienced team exploit your weaknesses. Experienced teams get stops when they need too. The Heat last year – they were not an experienced team, and it showed.
Just like any bad break up, time heals. But for the Heat, time will also repair. It will mend the armor that so many of us thought was impenetrable. It will rebuild the confidence that suffocated arenas and offended media heads. Time will make this team better. A type of “better” that may be better than anyone else’s “better.”
Think of the Heat as a rock-n-roll band – thrust on stage (NBA Finals) in front of thousands of screaming fans for the first time. At the end of the night, you make your way out of the venue. One of your buddies gives the performance an apathetic “that was okay,” followed by the rest of the group nodding and agreeing with the declaration. “It could have been better,” another adds, as the group piles into the car.
Same goes for the Heat: “they could have been better.” But that’s what happens with first time performances – things go wrong.
Give this team time. Who knows, maybe next year they’ll put on the best damn show you’ve ever seen.
The future is here and the future is now. There is no more denying that the Oklahoma City Thunder have elevated themselves to the best team in the NBA. Last season, they experienced more growing pains in the playoffs. Not to be denied though, they reached the Western Conference Finals to battle the eventual NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks.
Destiny and the growing pains of a great, but young team held them back last year.
This core has played together for two seasons now and amassed a 12-9 record together in the playoffs, both times exiting to the eventual champs. That is a feat rare in itself. Young teams do not come together that quick, including the great Michael Jordan Bulls teams.
That was last year and the reality of the matter is that it took this Thunder team only two seasons to gell and become a championship threat. They built through the draft, starting in 2007 when they landed a two-time NBA Scoring Champ and filled the rest of the core over the past three years by drafting current and future All-Stars.
The beauty is in roster balance, the character and chemistry they play with.
They have a top-five NBA player in Kevin Durant. He is going to light-up scoreboards over the next decade and carry this team. What makes Durant so special is that there is no player in the NBA like him. He stands nearly seven-feet tall with an enormous wingspan (7’5″). He has the best shooting stroke in the league and is also the best at getting to the free-throw line, a lethal scoring combination.
Russell Westbrook is a budding superstar in his own right. His combination of size, strength and explosiveness is unmatched. Year after year he proves to be the most complete guard in the game, averaging nearly 18 points, seven assists, five rebounds and over a steal a game for his career. If he continues to make strides in his game, Westbrook may surpass the incumbent superstar, Durant, as the face of the team.
With multiple All-Stars on the roster, the Thunder need to add the right types of role players around them. Harden and Ibaka have proven to be some of the best role players in the game. The glue is James Harden; he can do everything well and gives the team whatever is asked of him on any given night…including being the third-best player on both ends of the floor. Serge Ibaka is an enforcer down low. When you bring the ball in his paint, you will be denied.
The rest of the roster is filled with great complimentary players who know their role and do not demand money or attention. Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook all know their roles and play them well.
The only thing holding the Thunder back now is destiny. The growing pains are over.
What do you think? Who has the brightest future?
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