OKC Thunder has higher expectations for this season

OKLAHOMA CITY — The 2012-13 season for the Oklahoma City Thunder is almost upon us. Each year, it seems, the Thunder have just a bit more of an expectation put on them by the fans — and by themselves — to take that step closer to an NBA Championship — probably none more than this year.After reaching the NBA Finals last season, the Thunder has the nucleus of their team returning. Despite still being one of the youngest teams in the NBA, they have much more experience and maturity after enduring such a deep playoff run the past two seasons. After winning the NBA title last season, the Miami Heat would be the rival that the Thunder would expect to see again in the Finals.However, making it there this season may be a bit tougher after the Los Angeles Lakers picked up veteran point guard Steve Nash and probably the best big man playing in the NBA in Dwight Howard in the off-season.Monday was Media Day for the Thunder. Of course, the talk was focused on the team returning to the NBA Finals, and what the Lakers did in the off-season. The team went through a round robin of interviews, photo sessions and a sit down for media questions.With the departure of some of the veteran players (Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey), Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook now must become that voice of leadership, on and off the court.“First of all I would like to thank those (veteran) guys,” Durant said. “They helped to build the mentality we have here. They really helped us grow. Just like those guys helped me out, I’m willing to help our younger guys out, and be a leader on this team.”The Thunder has achieved more wins and gone further in the playoffs each year, and a lot of that winning attitude is because of the expectations put on the team and on the coaching staff each off-season.“I challenge all of our players and staff to get better,” said Scott Brooks, the Thunder's coach. “We take a lot of pride in developing our players. The moment that we draft them or acquire them through trade or free agency, we expect them to improve. We do that through the work that we put in with them. Our players and our coaches are the same. They went away this summer, and, hopefully, they’ve come back better.”Russell Westbrook put on a few pounds, but from the looks of it, it’s all muscle.“I put on a few pounds,” he said. “We’re going to keep it at 187. That’s what the media guide says.”The Thunder began their 2012-13 practices Tuesday, and will have several preseason games during this month before beginning the regular season. Expectations will be high this season, probably higher than they’ve ever been for this team.