Since the 2000 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks have been the Western Conference Champions in all but one season (2011-12: Oklahoma City Thunder). It’s safe to say they have dominated the Western Conference for the past decade (just for the sake of comparison: eight different teams have won the Eastern Conference in the same span).
How is it that these three teams have enjoyed sustained success over an extended period of time? Since the 2000-01 season, the Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks have combined to miss the playoffs twice. Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki have been the best players in the West, and the best players win.
Bryant, Duncan and Nowitzki have all been dominating the West since their early 20’s. Over the course of a decade, they have evolved their play-style to adapt to aging bodies and younger competition. It’s this combination of elite talent, technical knowledge and longevity that have helped them achieve enduring success.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the obvious choice for the West’s elite team of the next decade. Kevin Durant is an exceptionally talented athlete that will one day be the best player in the league. Durant became the NBA’s youngest scoring champion at the age of 21, and now at the age of 24, looks to be getting even better.
Durant stands at 6’9,” and though he has the capability to play explosively, he marvels the world by how effortlessly he can score the ball. Unlike greats like Dwyane Wade and to some degree Bryant, Durant will have a longevity in his game that will extend well into the 2020s.
While Durant may be the 1A option for the Thunder, it’s important not to forget 1B, Russell Westbrook.
Also only 24 years, Westbrook and Durant form a young duo that can compete with any other one-two punch in the league. Westbrook can be a bit of a headache for Thunder fans – he’s brash, hot-headed and takes frustrating shots, but like the league witnessed in the 2013 playoffs, he’s going to needed to in order for the Thunder to win it all.
The Golden State Warriors will compete with the Thunder over the next decade for West dominance. The Warriors have a combination of young talent and veteran experience that can carry them into consecutive playoffs experiences for many seasons to come.
Stephen Curry is a 25-year-old point guard that is often compared to Steve Nash or Jason Kidd, both of whom have careers lasting deep into their 30’s. But Curry should be compared to the all-time three-point shooting greats, Ray Allen and Reggie Miller. Miller played at a high level until retiring at the age of 40, and Allen is still playing at the age of 37. Curry does not play a physically tolling brand of basketball, and if history goes to show, he will play for another 10-15 years as an impact player.
In the 2013 playoffs, Curry was often the best player on the court. That’s quite the accomplishment considering he was sharing the court with future Hall of Famers. Curry’s playmaking ability, court-vision and scoring barrages rank among the league’s best.
The Warriors’ front office has surrounded Curry with high-caliber players that are a recipe for success. The signing of Andre Iguodala gives the Warriors a veteran presence that will right the ship when their inexperience rears it’s ugly head. The young up-and-comers, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, complement Curry’s game near perfectly.
David Lee is the most under-appreciated Warrior of the past few seasons. Sure, he has a few flaws to his game, but most players, not named LeBron, do have flaws. Lee, though undersized, is a finesse power forward that scores easily. Again, longevity is the key to sustained success, and Lee has been one of the most consistent and healthy players for the Warriors. If he can come back next season healthy, he will be one of the biggest reasons the Warriors return to the playoffs.
The final team that has the potential to be a perennial playoff team and championship contender is the Houston Rockets. James Harden has certainly become a star in the NBA during his first year in Houston, but it remains to be seen whether or not he will be the first option next season.
Harden is one of the league’s best penetrators, thus being one of the best in getting to the foul line, but that may not be for the best. Unless he learns to evolve his game, the physical toll of hitting bodies and crashing onto the floor will prevent Harden extending his career well into his thirties.
Dwight Howard has the sheer physical ability to be one of the top three players in the league. But at only 27 years old, Howard has already had major back surgery. Next season will be a good indicator as to whether or not the Rockets will be contending for the West’s top playoff spots in years to come.
If Howard can stay healthy and adapt his play to complement Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, rather than force the team to run the offense through him, the Rockets will be a scary team for any Western Conference team to deal with. Howard’s strength and interior presence is difficult for any team to deal with, but pair that with the offensive talents of the the other Rockets, they will be very difficult to stop.