As a rookie, Kevin Durant stepped onto a rebuilding team.
He won just 20 games.
In his second season, following relocation, Durant and the Thunder won just 23 games.
Things grew to be pretty good from there: Durant made his playoff debut in 2010, journeyed to the Western Conference Finals in 2011 and the NBA Finals in 2012.
A pattern of yearly improvement had been established.
“The toughest part about this business once you become successful,” said Thunder guard Derek Fisher, “is replicating that and doing it over and over again.”
For the first time in his career, Durant didn't, taking a step back this season.
The Thunder was eliminated in the second round, as a knee injury to Russell Westbrook derailed what potentially could have been a championship season.
Most would agree that the 24-year-old Durant has plenty of time to cement his place among the all-time greats with a championship. But the fact remains that, regardless of the reasons, this is the third straight season that a championship-caliber Thunder team has fallen short.
In no way is that an indictment on the franchise or the strides that have been made. But rather it's an acknowledgment of just how difficult it is to reach the pinnacle of success, which raises the question of how repeated shortcomings might fuel Durant this summer.
“Of course, that's the biggest motivator,” Durant said. “You want to get back and just go as far as you can.”
Durant doesn't do bold predictions. Well, not since the summer of 2009, when he crazily but correctly proclaimed that the Thunder would be a playoff team the following season.
Instead, it seems Durant prefers to just put in the work. Before darting off for the offseason, Durant spoke about how “fun” it's going to be to work on his game all summer. He said he's looking forward to growing as a player, coming back better next season and helping his teammates even more.
Then he talked about being more efficient. Better offensively. Returning with different shots, different moves.
“The only way I can go is up,” Durant said.
Recent playoff disappointments perhaps might make Durant as determined as ever. The Thunder lost in five games to Memphis, dropping each of the final four contests. It was the third straight season in which the Thunder was eliminated by losing four straight.
“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,” Durant said. “Everything is a process. You got to go through some tough times to get to where you want to get to. Everybody's been through them. All the best teams, all the great players, they've been through tough times.”
It'll be another four months before Durant gets another shot at writing the Thunder's script. In the meantime, Durant's only promise is that he will be stronger because of his setbacks.
“I'm looking forward to getting better this offseason like always,” Durant said. “I'll just work as hard as I can, and hopefully next season, I'll be ready.”
KEVIN DURANT'S 2012-13 SEASON BY THE NUMBERS
1.3: Blocks per game, a career best
12: Technical fouls, as many as his first five seasons combined
30.8: Scoring average in the playoffs
51.0: Percent field-goal shooting, a career best
90.5: Percent free-throw shooting, a career best
374: Assists, a career best
3,119: Minutes played, the second most in the NBA