In perhaps his final statements as a professional basketball player, Derek Fisher, five-time NBA champion, perhaps soon-to-be head coach, discussed in great detail what the missing ingredients are for the Oklahoma City Thunder in its elusive pursuit of an NBA championship.
“The toughest distance to make up is that little bit there at the end,” Fisher said Sunday in his exit interview a day after the Thunder was eliminated in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.
But there’s a formula for figuring out those last few inches. It’s not simple method, but the fate of a franchise ultimately will be decided by whether the current crop of Thunder players is willing to follow it.
“I wish I could sum it up in a simple way,” Fisher said. “I think it’s a combination of just continued maturity and growth for our players. The expectation levels are extremely high for a group of guys that are still really young... So I think growth, maturity and a continued understanding of how much sacrifice it really does take to be the absolute best. You can’t put that in someone else.”
Fisher then got real.
“There really has to be an experience,” he said. “There has to be a turning point, a defining moment that lights a fire in an individual and a group that says, ‘I won’t accept anything less than being the best.’”
Fisher believes the Thunder has had that moment.
“More than any other group in basketball, to be honest, in the last four years,” he said.
Miami is making its fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. The Heat already has won it all twice in that span.
San Antonio is making its sixth NBA Finals appearance under coach Gregg Popovich. The Spurs have won four titles.
Oklahoma City sipped its first taste of the Finals two years ago, and after coming up short on that stage the Thunder has experienced just how tough it can be to get back.
First, James Harden was traded. Then Russell Westbrook went down. And finally, Serge Ibaka injured his calf and the Thunder got outclassed by San Antonio.
So the fire is burning bright.
“This is the team that’s scratching on the surface of the best in all of basketball in recent years and in the history of the game,” Fisher said. “We’re not as far off as it seems in terms of how bad it hurts. But to get across that finish line, it’s a long stride there at the end.”
And there are more ingredients required.
There was a theme that emerged Sunday, as player after player was paraded into the media room inside the Thunder’s practice facility to reflect on the season that was. Each of the more tenured players, wise basketball minds like Fisher, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, talked about the need for this team to be more mature, to be more selfless and to be smarter players.
Continue reading this story on the...