There is an adage in the NBA that if you "pay your dues" then your team can build and advance to finally claim your ring. Lose in the Conference Finals; get over that hurdle the next season. Well, that really isn't the case.
The last NBA Finalist to win the title the year after losing the title was the 1989 Detroit Pistons. The Pistons lost one of the best Finals in 7 games the year earlier. Since then, no "runner-up" has gone on to finish the job next season. Aside from the Lakers...any season after.
Since that '89 Pistons team, the Blazers, Lakers, Suns, Knicks, Magic, Sonics, Jazz, Pacers, Sixers and Nets have gone on to lose in the Finals. Of those teams, only the Suns, Magic, Sonics and Pacers didn't even get back to the Finals [Pacers may this season, however]. Only the Lakers have won a title since....and it wasn't anywhere near the same team. In '91 it was Vlade, Worthy and Magic with Mike Dunleavy as the coach. In the 2000s it is Shaq and Kobe.
In fact, losing in the Conference Finals guarantees nothing either. Last years Conference Championship losers were the Pistons and Mavericks. The Mavs are already gone...and the Pistons have the Nets and Pacers on the horizon. Here are the losers of the Conference Finals since 1991.
2002: Kings, Celtics......2001: Spurs, Bucks......2000: Blazers, Knicks......1999: Blazers, Pacers.....1998: Lakers, Pacers....1997: Rockets, Heat....1996: Jazz, Magic.....1995: Spurs, Pacers......1994: Jazz, Pacers.....1993: Sonics, Knicks.....1992: Jazz, Cavaliers.....1991: Blazers, Pistons
Only the 1999 Pacers, 1996 Jazz, 1993 Knicks and 1991 Blazers went on to the NBA Finals the next season. All of them lost when they got there.
In fact, here is where the last 13 champions were ousted the season before: 2002 Spurs-Conference Semis....2001 Lakers- Champions....2000 Lakers- Champions.....1999 Lakers- Conference Semis.....1998 Spurs-Conference Semis.....1997 Bulls- Champions....1996 Bulls- Champions.....1995 Bulls- Conference Semis.....1994 Rockets- Champions....1993 Rockets- Conference Semis....1992 Bulls- Champions....1991 Bulls- Champions.....1990 Bulls- Conference Finals
You see that 7 of the 13 were defending champions. Five of the remaining 6 lost in the Conference Semis. The last NBA Champion to lose beyond the Conference Semifinals the year prior was the 1991 Chicago Bulls.
Hmm. Looks good for the Spurs-Lakers series winner this season. Of course, the loser of that series will look good for the 2005 NBA Title. Or it looks good for the Sacramento Kings...the only other Conference Semifinal loser from a year ago still in the playoffs [the Sixers and Celtics were the East's teams].