Who should the Thunder root for to win 2023-24 NBA championship?

The 2024 NBA playoffs have reached the Conference Finals stage, which means only four teams are left. The Oklahoma City Thunder saw their season end in Round 2.

In less than a month, a new champion will be crowned. This will mark the sixth consecutive year a new team has won a title, a sign league parity is finally here.

It was a bit of a disappointing finish as the Thunder had a back-and-forth series against the Dallas Mavericks that really could’ve gone either way. It went six games and finished with a zero-point differential. Game 6 was decided by one point.

There’s no consolation prize for falling short of a title — especially as a first seed. But the Thunder can take solace this was likely the first of several playoff runs with this core.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished runner-up for MVP and has ascended into one of the best players in the league. Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren round out one of the best trios.

Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault is fresh off a Coach of the Year award. Plenty of young talent fills the rest of OKC’s roster. The Thunder will have more bites at the apple throughout the 2020s.

With that said, who should Thunder fans root for to win the NBA championship this year?

Conventional wisdom suggests the Mavericks. If Dallas wins a championship, the Thunder can sleep knowing they at least lost to the eventual NBA champs in a grueling series. But there’s no real value in that.

A Mavericks championship is irrelevant to the Thunder besides feeling better about their postseason exit. That should hold little value in a results-oriented industry. Especially with a calculated and sharp front office like OKC’s.

The same can be said about the Indiana Pacers — who are on the verge of being swept. It’s a nice story, but this postseason run reeks of luck rather than dominance. Key injuries to the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks helped the fifth-seed Pacers make a surprise run.

There’s nothing the Thunder can learn from Indiana’s run. They’ve been the poster child of mediocrity for over a decade. Most small-market squads are content with that, but OKC has larger aspirations.

A Minnesota Timberwolves title would sting. It’s a divisional rival where both fanbases became toxically hostile toward each other.

Besides that, a team where three of their four best players are centers would contrast OKC’s roster-building philosophy, where it entered the postseason without a traditional backup big.

The real answer is the Boston Celtics.

It might cause Thunder fans to squirm a bit initially reading that — why would a small-market team root for a big-market legacy franchise like the Celtics? Why would you root for a Walmart takeover when the mom-and-pop shops struggle to stay open?

It’d go against everything the Thunder are about on a surface level. But digging a bit deeper, the similarities start to show.

Boston has had amazing roster continuity — something OKC hopes to have with its current core. Jayson Tatum is in his seventh season and Jaylen Brown is in his eighth season with the Celtics.

If the Thunder can get a near-decade worth’s of playoff runs with Gilgeous-Alexander, Williams and Holmgren, that’d be a massive success. Odds are, a few of those runs result in Conference Finals and NBA Finals appearances. From that point on, a championship for the Thunder would be within grasp.

But the Celtics weren’t the runaway best team in the league this season solely off their star duo. Massive contributions from Kristaps Porzingis, Derrick White, Jrue Holiday and Al Horford have also helped out.

Porzingis was a nice get after a bounce-back year with the Washington Wizards last season. White has been a steal of an acquisition from the San Antonio Spurs, who are amid a rebuild.

Holiday was the odd man out from the Bucks after they made the blockbuster trade for Damian Lillard. He’s been phenomenal for the Celtics. Horford has been the steady veteran presence in his second stint in Boston.

All four of those pieces were acquired via trades — a route the Thunder can certainly take, especially with their wealthy draft capital and young prospects.

Even as contenders, the Thunder will likely struggle to attract outside free agents. It’s the brutal reality of being in one of the smallest markets in the league. Instead, the draft and trades have been the lifeblood of OKC’s roster construction since it relocated in 2008.

From this point on, first-round picks should also be viewed as currency instead of solely college players to add to the Thunder’s roster. Nobody in the league can outbid OKC and its pockets are so deep with draft picks that an overpay wouldn’t dent its wallet.

The Thunder have already abided by this principle this season. The Gordon Hayward trade failed, but the thought process made sense. Tre Mann excelled with the Charlotte Hornets but wasn’t going to get those opportunities in OKC.

Even though the Hayward trade was a swing and a miss, they need to stay aggressive with adding veteran talent from here on out. Just like the Celtics did with the four players mentioned above, the Thunder will have to scour through the league and take advantage of opportunities where an established player might be discontent with their current situation.

The difficult part of building a contender is already done with Gilgeous-Alexander, Williams and Holmgren. Those three by themselves should guarantee a playoff spot if healthy. It’s now about improving on the margins and OKC has enough room for error to figure that out on several attempts if needed.

The Celtics’ blueprint is very replicable for the Thunder. They have their star trio figured out like the Celtics did with their star duo of Tatum and Brown.

Since they were paired in 2018, Boston has been in five out of seven Eastern Conference Finals and one — likely two soon — NBA Finals. The Thunder had a similar run in the 2010s with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in four out of six Western Conference Finals and one NBA Finals.

If the Celtics steamroll their way to an NBA championship during Tatum’s and Brown’s second contracts with the franchise, then the Thunder will be reassured what they’re doing can ultimately lead to the pinnacle of the sport.

Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire