Nick Collison called it a gut punch.
Russell Westbrook called it tough.
Kevin Durant said he has absolutely no idea how he’ll spend these next few weeks because he had no intention of having time off.
On the day that Thunder veterans went through exit interviews, both with franchise brass and assembled press, the disappointment over this season and its ending was palpable. This team had the loftiest of goals, and it fell short. Another season with great expectations ended without a championship.
Like it or not, the clock is ticking.
“What clock?” Westbrook asked when I asked. “What clock? There’s no clock.”
Well, actually, there is, Russell. It’s Father Time, and he stops for no one, not even you.
Maybe Westbrook can work on dunking even harder next season in an attempt to break the space-time continuum. Otherwise, nothing will stop the tick tock. Durant and Westbrook’s careers are a year shorter than they were a year ago today. Even if they spend their entire careers in Oklahoma City, their time in a Thunder uniform is another year down the road.
And still, no title.
So, as time passes and the trophy case lacks that be-all, end-all piece of hardware, is it time to panic?
There are fans and pundits alike who say yes, and their first suggestion about how to fix what ails the Thunder is to fire coach Scott Brooks.
Last season, he got something of a pass because of Westbrook’s knee injury. Lose one of your two best players — and one of the top 10 players on the planet — and it’s going to be tough sledding.
But this season, even with all the injuries — Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins during the regular season, Serge Ibaka during the playoffs — Brooks is out of free passes. Thunder Nation is beyond restless but somewhere short of pitchforks-and-torches rioting.
Sunday morning, I asked Brooks if he feels his job is secure.
“It’s something I don’t even consider,” he said. “I just do my job every day.”
Then, Brooks got a little sentimental.
“I’ve had a lot of valuable lessons in my life from my mother,” he said of his late mother, Lee, who raised seven children on her own, “and she’s always told me this – ‘Do your job every day, and you live with the results.’”
The question is, will the Thunder live with his results? We’ll have to see, but Brooks has at least one important endorsement.
“That’s our guy,” Durant said. “I’m riding with him.”
Even though the Thunder superstar is aware that time isn’t standing still for anyone, he looked across the court Saturday night at The Peake and realized that time remains. Leading the Spurs were Tim Duncan, 38; Manu Ginobili, 36; and Tony Parker, 32.
“But they’re still standing, still pushing forward for championships every year,” said Durant, who, like fellow superstar Westbrook, is only 25.
And before you say, “Yeah, but Durant won’t be with the Thunder when he’s that old because he’s out the door once his contract expires”, I wouldn’t jump to that widely assumed conclusion just yet. Did you hear Durant during his MVP acceptance, talking about “our state” and “the grass isn’t always greener”? And what about his postgame comments Saturday, mentioning “our city” a couple times?
None of that assures Durant will re-sign with the Thunder, of course, but before he signed this current contract, he talked about loving OKC, then he made good on that adoration.
“I like what we have, guys that want to be here and play with each other and want to win with each other,” Durant said.
Westbrook said: “We have a lot of guys on this team capable of making things happen. The organization has done a great job of putting us in a great position of winning a championship.”
The truth is, this team is better positioned than any to win the title next season. Its roster. Its salaries. Its contracts. All of that puts it in as good a spot as any team.
The Heat's big three first played together when their average age was 27.5 while the Spurs' was 25. The Thunder's big three will be an average of 25.6 next season -- and has already played 61 playoff games together, the most for three players under the age of 26 in NBA history.
The Thunder can’t stop the clock from ticking, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic either.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.