Last year, the NBA had a handful of elite teams, but only a select few had a legitimate chance at raising a banner.

What a difference a few weeks can make.

By my count, there are now 7 teams with a shot (Miami, Golden State, Indiana, Chicago, San Antonio, the Clippers and Houston, in that order). The most glaring omissions are the Thunder and the Nets, but that’s the only similarity the two teams have had to each other since they were eliminated from the playoffs. Both decreased their chances in totally different ways. Let’s compare their routes to mediocrity:

I realize that it may seem like I'm forgetting about Russell Westbrook, but the Thunder couldn't win a title with KD and Westbrook. Why would they be able to win one now, when A) the league is as talented as it has ever been and B) OKC has no bench?
I realize that it may seem like I’m forgetting about Russell Westbrook, but the Thunder couldn’t win a title with KD and Westbrook. Why would they be able to win one now, when A) the league is as talented as it has ever been and B) OKC has no bench?

Sam Presti and the Thunder have done nothing this offseason. The only change in their 2013-14 roster will be that Kevin Martin—a key Thunder role player last year and the best asset that OKC got in exchange for James Harden—will no longer be playing in Oklahoma.

In past seasons, Westbrook and Durant may have been able to win a title by themselves. That won’t cut it this year, with Big Threes (plus exceptional role players) wearing every uniform color imaginable. Note the ‘plus exceptional role players.’ That is where the Thunder fall short. Reggie Jackson is the third best Thunder player, and he plays the same position as Westbrook, so his playing time is diluted. Serge Ibaka is their fourth best player, and he didn’t show up for the playoffs. Kendrick Perkins, the starting center, is the worst player in the Association. Oh, and he’s paid $8.5 million.

The Nets, on the other hand, have made a flurry of moves. Getting young is always something NBA teams should try to do.

Getting old is never smart.
Getting old is never smart.

But the Nets traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett––both of whom are on the wrong side of 35.

By trading for Pierce and Garnett, the Nets give themselves a one-year window (max) to win a title before KG and Pierce retire or are innefective. That one year is a year in which the NBA has never been more loaded. To even get to a Finals, they’d have to go through Miami, Chicago, or Indiana. Not happening with two old stars.

The Thunder’s biggest mistake is not lack of moves. It’s keeping head coach Scottie Brooks. At the end of the fourth quarter in the playoffs, teams are typically so evenly matched that everything comes down to coaching. Scottie Brooks has proven time and time again that he isn’t going to give his team an advantage at crunch time. When Westbrook went out in the Houston series this year, Brooks didn’t change the offense at all at first. Then, when that wasn’t working, he ran the give-the-ball-to-KD-every-play-and-hope-the-defense-doesn’t-notice offense. We’ll never know how long it would’ve taken him to figure out that was a gaffe.

OKC was eliminated before we could find out.

The Nets did shake their coaching staff up by hiring Jason Kidd fresh out of retirement. Not retirement from coaching. From playing. It would be incredibly difficult to find a tougher first coaching gig in the NBA. Not only will 8 million New Yorkers dissect Kidd, he’ll also have an angry Russian billionaire breathing down his neck after every loss.

I almost feel sorry for Jason Kidd.
I almost feel sorry for Jason Kidd.

I forgot to mention that expectations are through the Barclays Center billion-dollar roof.

And that four of the Nets’ five starters are used to being “the guy.”

And that anything short of a ring will be considered a complete and utter failure.

Phil Jackson would have trouble coaching the 2013-14 Nets. As a first job? That’s brutal.

So what will next season look like in Oklahoma City and Brooklyn?

The Thunder will make the playoffs again, solely because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the top ten players in the league, which still can get teams to the playoffs, it just won’t win championships. They’ll be a three-seed in the playoffs behind Golden State and San Antonio. The Rockets will have had a rocky start and be the sixth seed facing OKC. Here’s where the wheels will start to fall off:

The Thunder don't stand a chance against the Rockets this year.
The Thunder don’t stand a chance against the Rockets this year.

Due to a lack of depth, the Thunder starters will be exhausted.

Dwight Howard will manhandle Kendrick Perkins, because Kendrick Perkins is Kendrick Perkins.

Thabo Sefolosha won’t be able to guard an angry James Harden.

Kevin McHale will outcoach Scottie Brooks again.

The Thunder will be eliminated in the first round.

Now to the Nets. There will be major problems meshing as a team. Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson will all want the ball, which will make Kevin Garnett angry. Calls for Jason Kidd’s head will start around December along with rumors of hiring Phil Jackson, but Coach Phil won’t be headed to Brooklyn, and Jason Kidd won’t be fired. Kidd and Co. will basically be the 2012-13 Lakers. Only they won’t sneak into the playoffs.

There are plenty of ways to improve in the offseason, and there are even more ways to get worse. It’s all about getting the right balance of role players, stars, and coaches. I’m 14. The Nets’ GM, Billy King, is 47. If I can figure it out, why can’t he?



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