Russell Westbrook, who often gets criticized as the most unpredictable player on the team, maybe even in the league, even stressed that returning smarter and wiser is the key.
“As players,” he said, “we all have tools to do it offensively and defensively, but mentally is key for us and will be key for us (next) year.”
Collison and Perkins talked about the Thunder needing to establish a championship approach from the start. That means being fundamentally sound, trusting teammates, making the right play, coming with consistent effort even on a mid-season Monday night in Milwaukee.
“Learning how to play the right way for 82 games and not try to turn on the on switch in the playoffs.” Perk said. “I think what you do in January (impacts) how you play in April, May and June. You got to develop that trust early. The two teams in the Finals right now, they play the same way all year long. They make the right basketball play every time down.
Perk deemed it agenda-free basketball.
“If you’re trying to take it to the next level,” he said, “if you’re playing all in, that’s the key.”
Then there has to be a certain level of good fortune. Losing Westbrook last year was a death blow. Losing Ibaka for the first two games of the West Finals didn’t cost the Thunder a trip to the Finals, but it was an unfortunate injury that greatly altered the series.
“You have to be able to put everything towards it, and then things have to go your way,” Collison said. “The only thing you can really do is be prepared for the next year and make another run at it.”
They know what they have to do, these Thunder players.
They’ve got the personnel, and they’ve had their pivotal turning point.
They just have to do it.
“One day, this team’s going to have a championship trophy,” Fisher said. “If I’m there, great. If I’m not, I’m still going to be just as happy, because they all deserve it, man. You’re talking about not just some of the greatest basketball players in the world, but some of the best people in the world, some of the best young men in the world. It’s been a pleasure to play basketball with these guys.”