Nick Collison stood in the Thunder practice facility a year ago and talked about how tough comes progress in the NBA.
"You don't pick up 30 games just like that," Collison said.
Collison proved prophetic in truth but not in spirit. The Thunder gained 27 victories, rising from 23 to 50, creating a tremor that rumbles into this season.
National pundits declare the Thunder the next great team. City fathers map out routes for championship parades. Thunder fans settle in for a decade-long cruise to NBA glory.
But before Oklahoma City starts taking aim at Titletown, USA, let's go back to St. Nick. He fundamentally was right. Progress is tough to come by in the NBA. Championships are not awarded, they are earned. Hard-earned.
Which is why the Thunder might not continue their meteoric rise in Year 3 in OKC. Why the Thunder could, egads, fall back into 40-something wins. In fact, I'm picking 49 victories, because no way can the Thunder have the health it had a year ago.
"Odds are, probably not," Collison said. "Pretty unprecedented run of health."
Four Boomers started all 82 games, and Nenad Krstic started 76. Things didn't turn out that well on Marcus Welby.
But even if the Thunder avoids injury, there's no guarantee this young team keeps posting advanced win totals.
This is a league of patience. Take two steps up, one step back. A step forward, a step sideways, another step forward, a step back. That's the way it is.
And just because the Thunder took about 68 steps forward last season is no reason to believe it is immune to the other laws of NBA physics.
"You really can't skip any steps," Collison said.
That's why the Thunder could be better in 2010-11, yet its victory total could fall. A little bad luck is due in OKC.
"We had a lot of things go our way last year," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "Last year was a good year. We can't become a complacent team, and we haven't been ... it remains to be seen if we'll be a better team."
Truth is, we all need to take a deep breath on the Thunder. It's a fun ride the Thunder has started, and it could take us most anywhere. But the idea that Oklahoma City is on the fast track to the NBA Finals is misguided.
There is no divine right to a championship.
Ask the Dallas Mavericks, who have won at least 50 games 10 years running but have made just one NBA Finals and didn't win it.
Ask the Utah Jazz, who turn out a quality squad virtually every year, even had Karl Malone and John Stockton together on the roster for 18 years, and still didn't win it.
Ask the Phoenix Suns, who have had three generations of contending teams but still seek their first league title.
A perennial contender can be great fun but can also break your heart. The Thunder figures to do both before that parade route is needed.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.