Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti has been as consistent as they come since the franchise came to town in 2008.
One of his most reliable refrains has been about his young roster. Presti maintains that the organization still isn't quite sure of the extent of its team's talent. The players, Presti says, “have yet to reveal themselves.”
And you could understand that sentiment when you consider that 10 players on this year's 15-man roster are 24 or younger.
By all accounts, the future is bright for the Thunder. But what exactly the Thunder players will be when they “grow up” remains a mystery. A more pressing question is how much growth can be gained in time for a playoff run this season?
Ask anyone throughout the league, though, and they'll tell you the Thunder is on the right track and the right train.
“Oklahoma City's tough,” said Atlanta guard Joe Johnson. “I think they got a complete team. They're a great team and a team you definitely have to look out for. They got so much talent. They're going to be unbelievable.”
The franchise's foundation starts with forward Kevin Durant, a two-time All-Star and impeding back-to-back scoring champ who is still just 22. Russell Westbrook, also only 22, made his first All-Star Game this season and is widely considered a top five point guard. Durant and Westbrook form the league's second highest scoring duo at 51.1 points per game, just 0.4 point shy of Miami's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
But with Serge Ibaka, Jeff Green, James Harden, Eric Maynor and two center prospects, Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens also in the mix, the Thunder could have something special brewing.
“In this league, I think you need a strong three guys who play at an All-Star level four out of five nights a week,” said former NBA forward and current NBA TV analyst Rick Fox. “Then it's filling in the pieces around that with guys who understand their roles, are serviceable for 82 games and then not be complacent about the success they have.”
How far away is a championship?
“They're a couple of years away for that,” said Hall of Fame guard Magic Johnson. “But once you make the playoffs, you're on your way. All you want to do now is take a step at a time.”
Each step is accompanied by a learning experience. The Thunder got its first taste last season against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. And as the current No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, OKC is on pace to get another dose this postseason.
Or will it dish out a dose?
“I don't know why people don't talk about them,” said former NBA guard and current ESPN analyst Jon Barry. “They're tied with the Lakers in the loss column. If they get on a little run, they could conceivably go past the Lakers and get a 3 seed. And if you get home court advantage, who knows what might happen?”