There is no shortage of reasons why the Thunder finished with the NBA’s second worst record last year. You could point to porous defense, predictable offense, pesky injuries or paltry overall talent.
But the leading factor in the team’s franchise-worst 62-loss season was youth, a hurdle few teams in any sport on any level clear cleanly. "The history of this league will tell you that,” said Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo. "Successful young teams in this league are few and far between. "When you have a lot of young guys it’s difficult to be successful, because traditionally it’s hard to get that consistency out of young guys. And the element that they’re missing is an element that they only get with time which is experience.” Despite a roster overhaul that brought in five new players since the end of last season, including battle-tested veterans Desmond Mason and Joe Smith, the Thunder will enter its inaugural season in Oklahoma City with a core that is younger now than it was last year. This year’s projected top eight players in average minutes — Mason, Smith, Earl Watson, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison and Russell Westbrook — will have an average age of 26 on opening night. The top eight players in average minutes on last year’s squad had an average age of 26.6 years old. So is the Thunder too young to win? While the experts generally respond with an emphatic yes, the Thunder’s projected top eight players will have an older average than four playoff teams from last season — Atlanta, Philadelphia, Toronto and Utah. Although no one’s suggesting the Thunder will be playoff bound in 2008-09, the consensus is enough upgrades have been made to avoid another 20-win season. "We’re in the same situation we were in last year where everyone was young,” said Wilcox, only 26 but entering his seventh NBA season.