Can OKC solve payroll issues?

The Thunder have personnel issues to fix and it won't be pretty

Updated: June 22, 2012, 3:38 PM ET
By Bradford Doolittle | Basketball Prospectus
ThunderRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesIt will be extremely tough for the Thunder to keep their "Big Three" together next season.

The climb of the Oklahoma City Thunder has been both steady and rapid. During the course of Kevin Durant's career, the Thunder have progressed from 20 wins to 23, 50, 55 and a pro-rated total of 58 based on its 2011-12 winning percentage. In the postseason, they've gone from first-round losers, to conference finals losers to league bridesmaid. Their two best players are younger in combined age than pitcher Jamie Moyer. Understandably, many have declared Oklahoma City to be the new dynasty in the Western Conference.

While the Thunder have done almost everything right in building one of the league's youngest powerhouses, it's unlikely they are on the verge of becoming an NBA monolith. Oh, they'll be in contention every year that Durant and Russell Westbrook play together, and both are signed through 2015-16. The modern reality of the NBA is that when teams reach a certain plateau (to borrow a metaphor I employed earlier this season), it's tough to knock them off, barring major injuries or the defection of an elite player, such as what occurred in Cleveland when LeBron James left.

Dynasty: a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time. (Merriam-Webster.com)

In sports parlance, we think of a dynasty being a single team winning a succession of titles, or at least multiple titles within a fixed time frame. It wouldn't be a big surprise if the Thunder meet that definition in the next five years. It also wouldn't be a surprise if Miami did it, or Chicago or some unforeseen powerhouse that may emerge.

The reality of the NBA salary cap and its myriad supporting tenets is that teams are strongly urged toward parity. There is a sort of dualistic parity in the league, where a group of four or five teams can win a title in a given season and if any one of them does it, it's no great surprise.

At the other end are the teams that aren't trying to win short-term. They instead are feeding the elite teams while trying to position themselves to land the franchise centerpiece every championship team must have. The teams in the middle -- either misguided in their self-evaluation or simply satisfied with being "competitive" -- are the league's non-entities.

The Thunder skipped over that dreaded middle class three years ago and have grown together with an incredibly young roster. If this roster were kept intact and able to coalesce the next few years, one could envision a 70-win season somewhere down the line. Unfortunately for Thunder fans, the chances of keeping the roster intact are slim and none.