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Where do the Thunder go from here?

By Royce Young | NBA writer

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The sting of falling short in the NBA Finals is only a couple of days old, but the Thunder have to focus already to some important offseason issues. Extensions for Serge Ibaka and James Harden. A decision on whether or not to re-sign Derek Fisher. And the future of Scott Brooks with the franchise.

The Thunder have always been unique in their offseason approach because there's typically very little to do. It's about keeping what's already in place together, and hoping it all comes back better than it was before.

Depending on decisions made with some extraneous parts, the Thunder are essentially guaranteed to have the same team back next season.

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Also, important note about this team: They were in the NBA Finals, and very clearly good enough to win the whole thing. Fundamentally speaking, there isn't too much wrong with the roster when you're in The Finals, and seven or eight total plays away from winning it.

“We don't have to make any major changes,” said Kevin Durant at Saturday's exit interview session. “We don't have to get a whole new team in here. We just have to stick to what we've been doing.”

If you're talking major trades, or kicking around bold moves, you clearly don't fully comprehend the Thunder model. I realize it's fun to do, to talk about this guy for that, or if adding this piece would make OKC the bestest team ever, but just understand it's not realistic. On the docket for this offseason is not trading James Harden and Serge Ibaka for Dwight Howard or Kevin Love. On the docket is figuring out a way to get at least one of them extended, with a solid financial plan to keep the other, and the rest of the core intact.

With the Thunder, you should know by now that it's about the process. And that involves building a core that grows together. They've grown into a title contender. One good enough to win. Obviously there's room to improve, but I'm not sure what trade or move puts the Thunder closer to a championship then they already are.

The Thunder are essentially in the same position as a year ago. The best offseason move they can make is really none at all. Let the players stew on this feeling and come back hungrier and better next season.

"Unfortunately we came up short," Durant said. "And that was a great lesson for us. You can learn a lot from failures. It will only fuel us.

"Experience really is the best teacher and really does matter at that time," Durant said of the Thunder's first Finals trip. "It was a great lesson for us."

The Thunder have progressed in their plan continually, moving from the eight-seed, to a Western Conference finals appearance, to the NBA Finals. Clearly, the team is headed in the right direction.

However, next season is a brand new year. With no promises.

"There's no guarantee the next natural step is a championship," Brooks said. "We all start next season 0-0."

Extending Harden is probably the first order of business and by the way he spoke Saturday, it doesn't seem to be a concern.

“I'm just leaving it up to my agent and Sam [Presti],” Harden said. “They'll do a pretty good job of working it out. I'm focused on several other things right now. But when the time is [right], they'll figure it out and it'll be done.”

He did say he loves playing in Oklahoma City about 20 times, so that's something. And also this: “This is something special here,” he said. “A dynasty is being built here. So we're winning, we're having fun and we're brothers. The other stuff, you can't buy it.”

Is that him sort of hinting that he's willing to take less to stay? I'm not sure. But Harden does seem to have that kind of attitude and even he were posed with a having to take a little less to stay with the team, it seems he's leaning that way. The way he's always spoken, his unselfish attitude and desire to win definitely has him more interested in being well paid in OKC rather than being a max player in New Jersey.

My feeling? Harden gets an extension, and everything he wants. Ibaka goes into restricted free agency. Pending Maynor's recovery, Fisher is gone. I think he'd love to be back, but I also think he wants to play. And with a healthy Maynor, there's not much need for Fisher. Mohammed will depend on Cole Aldrich's development. And Ivey, I kind of expect him to continue his role a token veteran bench guy.

With Brooks? I'm close to convinced he'll be back, as long as the Thunder hit close to the ballpark on his number. He may not be the best game management coach in the world and he has his faults, but the organization loves stability and continuity, and making a serious change on a team that was this close to winning an NBA title would seem to be an overreaction. Sam Presti and the Thunder don't tend to overreact.

Brooks answered questions Saturday as if he was fully planning on returning next season and with the fact the Thunder have already offered him an extension, it's more of a question of when rather than if. Because clearly the Thunder want him back, which I think was initially a question. Now, it's just a matter of how badly both sides want the relationship to continue.

“I'm sure in the next couple of days we'll sit down and get together,” is all Brooks really said when asked about his contract situation.

There are limited, but important questions to be answered, but the reality is, this team is very, very good as is. The core is built and forgetting about extensions for Harden and Ibaka, there's at least one more season with this entire group as is.

Which means, not much has to change and they should have a chance to be right back at it next season. It's about sticking to the long-term plan, which right now, is about making it even more long-term.

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