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Which teams could crash the Thunder/Heat finals next year?

Jun 22, 2012, 1:47 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat - Game Five Getty Images

These finals didn’t feel like a one-time thing.

One year from now the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder could well be back on the NBA’s biggest stage. This is a budding rivalry. Between LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Between the flashy East Coast city and the solid Midwestern city. Miami’s stars are in their primes (and likely will draw some quality veteran free agents willing to chase a ring). The Thunder core is still all just 23 and they are getting better every time they step on the court.

A full on rivalry like this would be good for the league, and if this finals was any indication, good for us fans.

But what teams are waiting in the wings to crash this party?

A rematch may be the logical pick but it is far from a lock. There are teams on the cusp of this dance, maybe more free agency — and the Dwight Howard trade we all expect — changes the landscape this summer.

Which teams could spoil David Stern’s plans for a rematch?

The Chicago Bulls. We all expected an epic Eastern Conference finals between the Bulls and Heat, only to watch that get torn up along with Derrick Rose’s ACL. But Rose likely comes back the middle of next season and will have his legs under him when the playoffs come around. The Bulls defend like beasts, they have good athletes, they are intense like their coach Tom Thibodeau, they have had the best record in the East two. They pose a serious challenge to the Heat.

The San Antonio Spurs. They have evolved into an offensive force led by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Turns out Tim Duncan has a few miles left on the legs after all. They need to find some athletic, younger role players to go with the guys they already have, guys that fit the system, they could put together another run. Remember this team has had the best record in the West the last couple years, they blew through the first couple rounds of the playoffs this year looking dominant and they could be back.

The Los Angeles Clippers. This is the other up-and-coming team in the West, a team on the same learning curve as the Thunder just a few steps behind. But they have the best point guard in the game, they have a wildly athletic front line led by Blake Griffin, and they have some depth. If they can land a good two guard and upgrade their role players this summer, and if Vinny Del Negro is capable of leading them, the Clippers could be the second best team in the West. Or, Donald Sterling could screw the whole thing up.

The Indiana Pacers. They were the third best team in the East, they have a young core with Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger and Darren Collison who should be better next year. And they have cap space — a lot of cap space. If this team can lure or trade for one more elite player (someone like a Deron Williams) they would become contenders in the East.

Teams that if they make some big/key moves in the offseason and everything breaks their way could be in this conversation, too: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies, Philadelphia 76ers.

  1. caseybojangles - Jun 22, 2012 at 2:22 PM

    lakers are done in the kobe era. period. they will make the playoffs and get worked by OKC or the Spurs.

    celtics are done. allen probably won’t be back and even if they get KG back, both he and pierce can’t play the same minutes at their ages. they need more pieces.

    i don’t even know why the knicks are on this list…

    dallas is only there if they get hometown boy Deron to come and play

    clips, grizzlies, and sixers are good, young and getting better but they won’t make it to the finals by next year.

    pacers are an interesting team though. one can argue that they gave the heat a pretty good fight but the heat had to do it without bosh. with cap space, a lot can happen…i’m glad you mentioned that as most fans don’t even consider the business end of putting a team together. yes every player wants to win championships but they don’t want to play for far less than they could get either. for every special player like LBJ or durant who will kill it in endorsements so they can certainly consider less, there will be at least 10 others on the team that will not see the non-basketball money that these guys will. they have to make it on the court. you don’t need to look any further than the next guy on these two teams. Chris Bosh and Russell Westbrook will never get the endorsement deals that LBJ and Durant will get.

    • mrpostman985 - Jun 22, 2012 at 4:36 PM

      I can’t believe my Lakers are being left out considering they beat themselves in three games against okc when they blew leads at the end of game. If mike let those guys run more of the triangle the offense would be better. Kobe was second in the league in scoring but could have won it if he didn’t choose to sit against Sac. The Mamba is still a top 3 player in this league and second all time to Mj!! Lakers add a couple of shooters and there Gud !! Devin Ebanks and Jordan hill are good energy off the bench but I you really know basketball then you know the lakers don’t stay down too long !!!

      • caseybojangles - Jun 22, 2012 at 5:10 PM

        bro…its not impossible for the lakers to win it next year but its highly improbable with the team they got. the nuggs gave the lakers all they could handle and rationalize the OKC series however you want, they still got beat in 5…and inexperience could never be an excuse for losing close games like it is being used now with the OKC loss in the finals.

        couple this with the fact that lakers are well over the cap and don’t have a lot of options there. lakers are at $76M committed now and this is WITHOUT sessions, barnes, murphy, or ebanks if you want any of these guys back. you didn’t have the pieces this year and you don’t have the money to get better pieces. its going to be a tough ride for the next few years for you.

      • scalfor3 - Jun 23, 2012 at 12:22 PM

        kobe second all time? magic and bird would like a word with you

  2. TheJStyles - Jun 22, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    All the Heat have to do is convince Deron Williams to sign for league minimum.

    Win the title next year.

    Then after Howard goes through his lame duck season in Orlando, where noone trades for him because he refuses to resign….

    They convince him to sign for league minimum…

    Then the 2013-14 Miami Heat… 72 Win Bulls… You’re going DOWN!

    *kills self*

    • edweird0 - Jun 22, 2012 at 6:53 PM

      lol

  3. loungefly74 - Jun 22, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    not a bad list…there are about 8-10 teams every year capable of winning it all.

    • mannyfresh209 - Jun 22, 2012 at 3:03 PM

      There’s about 3 teams every year capable of winning it all

      • loungefly74 - Jun 22, 2012 at 4:02 PM

        I hear ya…I think there are about 3 teams “expected” to win it every year which might be more accurate…and several who could contend…i mean, heck, the masses/media were flirting with the thought of the Pacers making it!

      • gmen4life33 - Jun 22, 2012 at 6:10 PM

        Yea, Im sure Dallas was on your list of “3 teams” last year (when 99% of people were picking Portland to beat them in the 1st round). I agree with the 8-10 teams being able to make a run at it, but its tough because officiating does favor marketbale matchups in the NBA

    • eddiecrash1976 - Jun 23, 2012 at 6:40 PM

      Gmen- LMAO! Pathetic.
      News flash, Division III ball is the equivalent of street ball. Lol

  4. jimeejohnson - Jun 22, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    We’ll never know what would have happened if Derrick Rose did not succumb to a season ending injury.

    • blueintown - Jun 22, 2012 at 4:14 PM

      Yes we do. Russell Westbrook is as close to a copy of Derrick Rose as we have in this league, and he just got his clocked cleaned playing next to Kevin Durant. You see anyone on the Bulls roster similar to Kevin Durant?

      • mcjon22 - Jun 22, 2012 at 4:19 PM

        Um, Chicago plays defense. Oklahoma doesn’t know what defense is. And Russell Westbrook’s basketball IQ is in single digits. Seriously, how can you be so talented yet bet so ignorant about common basketball situations? As a basketball fan, it’s annoying watching him play. He has a Ben Gordon mentality to his game, that’s probably the biggest diss you can give to an NBA player.

      • chicitybulls - Jun 22, 2012 at 4:44 PM

        Couldn’t agree more mcjon. Rose is a MUCH more willing passer than Westbrook and has a much higher basketball IQ. Some people see that they’re similar athletically and call them “close to a copy” but thats not the case. And the defense aspect is huge as the Bulls play great team defense. Something I’m sure blue isn’t aware of…the concept of defense. OKC’s concept of defense is to funnel everything into Ibaka. He was essentially taken out of this series.

      • blueintown - Jun 22, 2012 at 5:50 PM

        Chicago played defense last season, too. And they lasted as many games as OKC. I love the Bulls. I want them to win championships. But I’m not going to view them through Derrick Rose colored glasses. It’s going to take a major infusion of talent to even dream of competing with Miami.

        I agree, Westbrook is a bit of a dope. I should have said he as close to a copy of Derrick Rose physically as there is in the league (not including LeBron).

      • blueintown - Jun 23, 2012 at 3:24 PM

        Spare me chicitybulls. I’ve been watching the Bulls my entire life. I know the difference between great defense and very solid defense. Again, the Bulls played defense last season, too. How did that work out? There was some great defense in that series, and it occurred when LeBron James was switched onto D-Rose and curb-stomped him in five. Eyes open, please.

  5. icewinna0 - Jun 22, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    Miami and OKC are going to be obviously favored this year but Spurs are going to contend for it. Chicago and Indiana if healthy can make a run at Miami too. Lakers and Celtics need drastic changes to contend. I don’t see the Clippers contending for title. Can’t take the Clips seriously. Memphis if they get their heads out of their butts can maybe get to the WFC but no title contention

  6. iowahbr - Jun 22, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    Theh Heat did in 2012 to OKC what they did to the Bulls last year. When LeBron plays ‘non-hero” ball and the refs let him muscle under the offensive basket as they do the Heat are close to unstoppable.

  7. fanz928 - Jun 22, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    If drose was healthy they still would’ve got sweep by the heat drose is good but is not on the same field as lebron and add bosh and wade who on bulls can guard bosh standing at the arc and dwade attacking and lebron passing

  8. xjokerz - Jun 22, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    Brandon knight better then wade. Greg Monroe better then bosh. Pistons

    • eddiecrash1976 - Jun 23, 2012 at 6:37 PM

      LMAO!

  9. icewinna0 - Jun 22, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    My very very early power rankings for 2012-2013:
    1. Heat
    2. Thunder
    3. Spurs
    4. Pacers
    5. Lakers
    6. Bulls
    7. Grizzlies
    8. Clippers
    9. Sixers
    10. Mavs
    11. Knicks
    12. Celtics
    13. Rockets
    14. Hawks
    15. Jazz

  10. ch8878 - Jun 22, 2012 at 5:45 PM

    I wish this Howard crap would just end but it may go on in till the trade deadline and then if he hasn’t resigned they will move him, he was going to be moved but he wanted to stay there not going to let him leave in free agency you guys can hang that crap up there is always a sorry team willing to trade the future just to sell tickets for the year.

    Also Howard hasn’t said a word just idiots like you guys trying to sell a lame duck story what happens if Howard stays and some top free agents go to Orlando ?

  11. chazatlas - Jun 22, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    Charlotte Bobcats? anyone? nah..guess not.

  12. 1historian - Jun 22, 2012 at 7:23 PM

    Howard has tons of physical talent but from all indications he seems to be as much jerk as is possible.

    I think Westbrook grew up in the finals and next year he won’t be as much of a jerk as he has been.

    Riley is the best GM of the past decade – signing those three guys and then getting the players to compliment them. LeBron’s maturity now matches his talent, and he is a team player. He was in charge out there last night – he didn’t throw his weight around because he didn’t have to. This used to be Wade’s team but it is now LeBron’s team. And Wade doesn’t seem to mind. And down the stretch LeBron was fantastic.

  13. jimeejohnson - Jun 23, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    You know all those “the west is superior” comments, you know, the ones that claimed the western conference champ was going to destroy the eastern conference champ: they were a product of a superiority complex, mostly from the Los Angeles fanbase, that was based on jealousy and an inferiority complex. The east is a beast! By the way: I reside west of Interstate 5. Life is what you make it, no matter where you live.

  14. acanniv - Jun 23, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Keep sleepin’ on the Nuggets at yr own peril.

  15. knightrider1755 - Jun 25, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    How about the Knicks?

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