The adorable Oklahoma City Thunder could soon become a little less lovable.
With a Western Conference playoff series possibly waiting against the league's potential new sweetheart in Memphis, an NBA nation that quickly embraced the Thunder might find a new favorite.
On the flip side, if OKC faces uber-franchise San Antonio in the next round, the country's love affair with the Thunder no doubt would intensify.
Such is the fickle world of sport.
Two seasons ago, observers had little to say about the relocated Seattle SuperSonics because the team basically stunk, starting out 3-29 and finishing with a 23-59 record.
Last season, people gave the Thunder props for its 50-win season, acknowledging the team's youth, talent, enthusiasm and potential.
Now, some evidently view OKC as a cocky bunch that needs to wait its turn.
Power forward Nick Collison smiled at the wide-ranging perceptions that have surrounded his team the past 30 months.
"One thing I've noticed being in the league is there's always a story line," said Collison, who has been with the franchise since being drafted 12th overall in 2003. "There's always a story, but in our day-to-day lives, things don't really change. A lot of that is kind of peripheral, and we don't really feel like it's real."
Before the Thunder's opening-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets began April 17, Denver Post columnist Mark Kizla asked coach George Karl to describe the biggest differences between him and Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who was one of Karl's assistants for 2½ seasons in Denver.
"He's pretty cocky," Karl said of Brooks. "He's confident. And his team is confident. At times, when you get by him, you think they might be too cocky."
During a shoot-around session at Oklahoma City Arena before Game 2, Karl said he definitely called the Thunder a "cocky" group, but didn't recall using that word to describe Brooks.
"And I never said being cocky was a bad thing," Karl said.
Labeling the soft-spoken Brooks as cocky came off as ludicrous, but categorizing certain Thunder players as such was not nearly as farfetched.
Passionate point guard Russell Westbrook has been slapped with nine technical fouls so far this season, has not shied away from staring down an opposing crowd or even engaging in occasional verbal warfare with teammates.
The naivety of the Congo's Serge Ibaka at times can be misinterpreted, but his finger-waving act after blocking a shot – a la Dikembe Mutombo – has no language barrier.
Kendrick Perkins' anger has resulted in 13 technical fouls in just 34 games (including 12 with Boston).
Even the revered Kevin Durant has copped an attitude at times with four technicals this season.
All this coincides with the Thunder's amazing ascent since its horrendous debut in 2008-09.
"Exactly. That's what happens when you start being good and people recognize that," Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha said. "There's a lot of good that comes with being a good team, but also a lot of people who want to say stuff about you and about your team. We can't be too worried about what people say."
When has a bad team ever been called cocky? Even if it were true, it wouldn't matter because the team stinks.
The better a team gets, the more confident it becomes. Some people view confident and cocky as the same.
"We're confident, not cocky," barked reserve guard Daequan Cook, who was with the Miami Heat his first three seasons. "There's a difference."
Center Nazr Mohammed, the Thunder's elder statesman at age 33, joined the roster on Feb. 24 in a trade with Charlotte. He brings wisdom and objectivity to the subject.
"These guys aren't cocky," Mohammed said without hesitation. "No one on this team is more cocky than anyone else in this league. This league is full of guys who are confident in their skills. There's nobody on this team who's cocky. We're confident. We're as confident as any other team. We know that we're a good team. We have good players, and when we come and play ball the right way, we have an opportunity to beat anybody.
"If that's cocky, then call us cocky."
The trick is being able to take perceptions in stride, whether they're true or false.
"I used to get worked up about that when I was a younger player, but now you realize it doesn't mean anything," said the 30-year-old Collison. "There'll be another story tomorrow."
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.