Kevin Durant is 24 years old. So is Russell Westbrook. Serge Ibaka is 23.
Remember that Laker series three years ago? Durant and Westbrook were 21. Ibaka and Harden were 20. Jeff Green was the old man at 22.
These guys are growing up, have grown up, right before our very eyes. They're not getting old — I've got shoes that are 24 years old — but they are getting older. All of which makes this postseason a lost opportunity. The Westbrook knee injury and subsequent elimination by the Grizzlies this week in the Western Conference semifinals closed the window a smidgen on the Thunder's eventual championship hopes.
Thunder mainstays staged exit interviews Thursday, both with the franchise brass and with the esteemed press. And while Durant was adamant, and correct, that this was not a wasted year, ala Kobe Bryant's declaration in 2011, Durant was wrong when he said this wasn't a lost opportunity. Indeed it was. This was a missed chance deluxe.
The Thunder still has the brightest future in the league. No other team has such top-shelf talent locked up for three, four and five years. But that doesn't mean the Thunder is guaranteed a victory parade down the Bricktown Canal.
With every season that slips by, the championship window inches more toward the sill.
“I don't look at anything as a lost opportunity,” Durant said. “It's a blessing to play in this league, and we grew up. Of course we didn't win. But we learned so many lessons about ourselves, and once you look at it like that, you can grow from it. Everything is a process.”
Ah, yes. One of Sam Presti's favorite words. And just because it's exasperatingly repetitive doesn't make it any less true. It is a process to win a championship. Even the Heat, which tried to microwave a title through self-assembly by players, had to wait a year longer than anyone expected.
But next spring, Durant and Westbrook will be 25 and in their sixth year together. Ibaka will be 24.
It's cold and it's cruel, but it must be said. Their biological clock is ticking. This roster's biological clock is ticking. There's no guarantee that this trio will be San Antonio North. No guarantee they'll ride the range together as long as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have.
“I think you always have to have that mindset of what are we doing today, what are we doing this season?” Nick Collison said. “You can't look too far ahead, because there's no guarantees of anything. There's been a lot of teams that had promising young players and haven't been able to get over the hump.
“It was unfortunate that Russell got hurt. I think obviously it hurt us and hurt our chances. I think we competed to the best of our abilities, and Memphis outplayed us. They were a better team than us this season. But every year is an opportunity. You don't know how many you're going to get.”
Westbrook's injury taught us that. You can't count on the future. A torn meniscus. A bad bounce. LeBron playing out of his mind. Who knows what could keep Oklahoma City from being Titletown in some distant NBA playoffs?
Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka indeed are still young. LeBron's first title didn't come until he was 27. Michael Jordan didn't win until he was 28. But Karl Malone's and John Stockton's title never came.
Thus every season should be cherished. Every year with an elite roster should be considered nothing but precious opportunity.
“You got to go through some tough times to get to where you want to get to,” Durant said. “Everybody's been through them. All the best teams, all the great players, they've been through tough times. So I wouldn't say it's a lost opportunity. We learned a lot. And once you start to learn, you start to get better each and every year, and I think that's what happened with us.”
Absolutely the Thunder got better this season. The Heat was and is a big favorite to repeat. But the Thunder was favored over the Heat last June in the Finals. The Thunder certainly could have made a run at the championship this season.
But then Westbrook went down, and opportunity was lost. The Thunder will have many more chances. But the number of years is not infinite. The clock is ticking.
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 FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.