This postseason exit hurt more for Nick Collison.
More than the Pau Gasol tip-in in 2010, abruptly ending the Thunder’s first playoff run. More than the “what if?” Grizzlies defeat last season, clouded by the Russell Westbrook injury unknown. Even more than the Finals exit in 2012, the closest OKC has ever been to that elusive NBA title.
“This year feels different,” Collison said. “This year’s a little harder. It felt like more of a gut punch, probably because of the way the game ended.”
But there’s another reason. It’s deeper than Manu Ginobili’s cold-blooded three that helped force overtime or the variety of missed opportunities by the Thunder in that extra session.
It has to do with Father Time and that constantly ticking clock.
“Maybe it’s just me personally getting older,” Collison said. “I don’t know what it is, but (the loss) was tougher to take than any of the years since I’ve been in.”
At the start of next season – which will be the final year on his current contract – Collison will be 34. He’s out of his prime and on the downward slope toward retirement.
At times, he’s still been effective. And he has the type of game that would seem to age well – built off skill and basketball knowledge rather than athleticism. But his production continues to diminish.
This season, Collison averaged a career-low in points (4.2), rebounds (3.6) and blocks (0.3). And a lot of that was because he also averaged a career-low 16.7 minutes.
The Thunder has layered the back end of its roster with a batch of young talent itching for playing time. Steven Adams took a ton of it from Collison in the playoffs. Collison’s minutes dwindled to 10.8 per game, while the rookie’s rose to 18.4 per night. And Perry Jones is also looking for a larger role, with the Thunder implementing more versatile, small-ball lineups.
Collison remains a vital presence in the locker room and a valued charter member of the Thunder organization. But his on-court role has never been lighter. And as he heads toward his mid-30s, Collison admits the idea of eventual retirement is slowly creeping into his head.
“You start to have those thoughts as you get older,” Collison said.
Next season, he’s still expected to have a role. Brooks will still rely on his calming presence during key pockets of the game. Despite more limited use, Collison still had a cumulative plus/minus of plus-328 this season.
And he remains focused on expanding and evolving his game, particularly the corner three, which he feels will help him in his latter NBA days.
“I’m probably never going to be a Ryan Anderson or a guy that’s really just a knock-down shooter,” Collison said. “But I think that with the way the game’s played, with the way coach wants to play, he wants to spread the floor, and if you’re not rolling to the rim, he wants you to be spaced to the 3-point line.”
But entering a contract year toward the back end of his career, Collison’s basketball future has never looked cloudier. This next season is important because he doesn’t know how many more there will be.
“Things change a lot over time in the NBA,” Collison said. “It doesn’t really do a lot of good to worry about or try to make decisions now when it’s a year away. I really won’t know until the end of the year how I feel or what the team will want or what else is out there. It doesn’t really do a lot of good to ask yourself these unanswerable questions.”