The Thunder was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, and losing point guard Russell Westbrook to season-ending knee surgery didn't make the outcome any easier to accept for veteran power forward Nick Collison.
“Not really. It is what it is. We lost, so it's no good,” Collison said the day after losing the series 4-1 to the Memphis Grizzlies. “When you lose in the playoffs, you lose four times. The other team outplays you. That's what happened this series. That's what's happened in years past, so it tells you where you're at. We're in the same place we were the last couple years where we know we have to get better. That's how we look at it.”
The Thunder entered the 2012-13 season as the defending Western Conference champions, so only one goal remained for Collison and job certainly isn't getting any easier.
“I think it's getting harder now because our goal is to win a championship,” Collison said. “I don't think there's any question of that.”
The career clock is ticking for the 32-year-old Collison.
With two years remaining on his contract and general manager Sam Presti calling the shots, it's a virtual certainty Collison will never be traded.
Collison has been with the same franchise since being selected 12th overall in the 2003 NBA Draft (he missed his first season after surgery to both shoulders). Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat also have spent the last 10 seasons with the same franchise.
Only six active players have been with their original franchises longer — Kobe Bryant (17 seasons) with the Los Angeles Lakers, Dirk Nowitzki (15) with the Dallas Mavericks, Paul Pierce (15) with the Boston Celtics and Tim Duncan (16), Tony Parker (12) and Manu Ginobili (11) with the San Antonio Spurs.
For his first nine seasons in the league, Collison was on teams looking for the right pieces to the puzzle. All appeared to be in place as this year's playoffs began, until one significant piece suddenly was missing.
“If he plays, we're obviously a different team,” Collison said of Westbrook. “We still have to feel like we have to be better. We haven't won a championship. We haven't accomplished our goal yet, so we have to get better.
“I think as a team, we handled it OK at times. Other times, we didn't handle it as well. If he got hurt in January and we have more time, we probably would've figured out how to play better.”
A 60-22 regular-season record and the No. 1 seed in the West seemed somewhat meaningless roughly 14 hours after being eliminated, but Collison did allow himself a bit of wiggle room before ending his final interview.
“Obviously the playoffs weren't a good experience for us,” Collison said. “It didn't work out the way we wanted, but leading up to that, we were in good position because of the growth we made.
“I do think when you take some time (to reflect), we had a really impressive regular season. We had the (James Harden) trade right before the season started. We had to adjust to that. I think we did a really good job. Our consistency was good. We didn't really have a bad stretch this year. We'd have a bad game, but we were able to pull out of it, so I think it was a really good regular season. I think we grew this season and I think we'll be in a better spot next season.”