ESPN analyst John Hollinger is rolling out his team-by-team season previews, and he thinks the Oklahoma City Thunder will again win the Western Conference and return to the NBA Finals. The question that looms for the Thunder is whether they can resign James Harden next offseason.
This year, fans should put aside their concern about bringing back Harden and enjoy the OKC team that's playing together right now, Hollinger says (Insider subscription required):
The Thunder have four All-Star-caliber talents in their early 20s, and if they can lock all four up for the long term it will take very little in the way of support to put them over the top. For that reason, I'd bet on a return engagement with the Heat this June ... even if they have to win a series or two on the road to get there.
Due to the top-heavy nature of the Thunder roster, Hollinger doesn't expect Oklahoma City to necessarily finish as the top seed in the West in 2012-13. Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka only missed four games between them in 2011-12; any sort of nagging injury to a star will put a dent in a squad that's not very deep.
The Thunder can become an even more dominant team if they just get more shots, Hollinger says. The team was second in overall offensive efficiency last year, though they took the fewest shots relative to their opponents in the league. Better rebounding on both ends and more efficient ball distribution would make a very good Thunder team even better.