After a season filled with them, there was something about the way this particular cliche flew off of Kevin Durant’s tongue that made it seem like much more than a trite statement.
“Next year starts now,” he said, as he sat atop the postgame platform for the final time.
That’s what Durant told his teammates immediately following Friday night’s 95-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, a defeat that eliminated the Thunder from a wild and crazy Western Conference first-round series in Game 6.
In this instance, you got the feeling Saturday morning really will mark the start of the 2010-11 season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Listening to Durant, you got the feeling him and his close-knit group hurt so much after this loss they wanted to head over to their north Oklahoma City training facility just to get in a workout.
“We’re one of the hardest working teams in the league,” Durant said. “I think we deserve a lot…I think we deserve a lot more. But it’s all a process. It’s all about going through ups and downs. Tonight was one of those times we went through a down time. But the better days are ahead of us.
“I think if we continue with that mindset to come into every year always working hard and playing basketball the right way and respecting everybody we play then the sky is the limit for us.”
Durant and Russell Westbrook were asked what they took most from this storybook season.
“Just how tough the team is,” said Westbrook, “mentally and physically.”
Thunder players can go on summer vacation with their heads held high. They exceeded expectations and defied all odds. Oklahoma City saw a league-best, 27-game improvement, had its 21-year-old franchise player take home the scoring title, the youngest ever to do so, and watched its first-year head coach win the Coach of the Year award.
But don’t, for even a second, think the Thunder will be satisfied. Before the Thunder walked off the Ford center floor, Durant gathered his teammates and made sure not one of them would. He told them to go back home and work. Then he told them he loved them.
“We’ll be back next year,” Durant said.