Many things usually happen when a man goes from his 20’s to his 30’s. It’s a time where the rambunctiousness of his 20’s starts to turn into the maturity of his 30’s. It’s a time when a man’s professional career usually starts to stabilize and take off. It’s also a time when a man either starts to think about settling down or starts to appreciate what he already has. This has a lot of bearing on me because I just recently started my 4th decade (which means I just turned 30). While I won’t bore you with where I’m at in my life at this point, I do think it’s a good comparison for a young team that is facing mounting expectations.
There’s a point during this transition that I call the point of no return. While in your 20’s you can still mingle with those younger than you and still get away with it. It is not uncommon to see a +/- of age difference in a dance club of 8-10 years. So while the younger crowd may be in the 18-21 range, the older crowd will be in the 26-31 range. Once you start going past that, the dynamic starts to get a little weird and creepy, and sometimes, just plain sad. It’s a point where you’re too old to go back. You can try, but it probably won’t work out that well for you.
This is the point where the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves this year. A man in his 20’s is expected to fail as he finds his way through life. Failed relationships here. A job firing or two there. Its all part of the plan to find what really fits that person. But, if this constantly occurs to a man in his 30’s, then he is viewed as a disappointment. The run that the Thunder are currently on have seen them go from 23 to 50 to 55 wins all within a span of 3 seasons. But since we’re talking about a shortened season, let’s look at winning percentages: .280, .610, and .671. In order to achieve that final percentage, we’d have to get at least 45 wins in this 66 game season. Any regression at this point will be viewed upon as a disappointment, as we have now reached the point where at least a .600 winning percentage is expected.
The Thunder’s young players now have to shoulder a lot more responsibility. It’s one thing to surprise everyone by going from 23 wins to 50 wins, and say that you expected to win every game. It’s a completely different ball game to be expected to win every game that you play from here on out. You literally go from attacking the target to being the target. The burden of proof lies in many of the young teams over the years that have faltered when they were expected to make that giant leap from playoff contender to championship contender. The most recent one, the New Orleans Hornets, went from taking the Spurs to 7 games in a Western Conference semi-finals matchup in 2008 to complete team dismantling in 2011.
The leaders of the team are both 23 years of age. Responsibility is usually not something valued by most 23 year olds. But as we’ve seen throughout the last two seasons, these two are cut from a different cloth. Don’t be fooled by the number next to their ages. In terms of experience, they are about as young as a 25 year old sergeant that is serving his 3rd tour of duty in a warzone. One is a humble assassin, while the other is a fiery pit-bull. The unique thing is at certain points in a game, these two descriptions can be used for both players. It’s a thin line to walk when competition breeds results, and these two competitors set the baseline for the team to produce from. While very young, the qualities that these two exhibit will only help this team’s resolve as the expectations get heavier and heavier.
The acquisition of Kendrick Perkins not only supplied a need on the court, but also in the locker room. The lack of accountability on the defensive end that permeated on the floor since the departure of assistant coach Ron Adams was quickly addressed when Perkins stepped into that locker room. This was a risky move by the organization that proved that they too were looking to shoulder more responsibility and take chances.
The spotlight can be a double edged sword. Whenever HDTV’s started becoming more popular, there was an uptick in the plastic surgery performed on news anchors around the country. They loved being in front of the camera, but all of the sudden hated all the criticism concerning their wrinkles and unsightly blemishes. The Thunder became the darlings of the NBA at the beginning of last season. The team was coming off a successful season in which they made the playoffs for the first time and took the eventual champs to 6 games in the first round. Then their top two players led the B-Team to gold at the World Championships. They were given national games and the spotlight. But with that, came the constant scrutiny from the media about the relationship between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. While the team exceeded their success from the previous season, there was an undercurrent of concern surrounding the relationship between their two star players. Both claimed there was nothing to be concerned about, but that has all been said before by divorced dynamic duos throughout NBA history.
As we tear through this first week of the young NBA season, a word of caution as we head into this crazy season. No one knows exactly what lies ahead. Players that were around during the last lockout are like relics in a museum. While they may hold much wisdom, their usability is not nearly as plentiful. The Thunder are about as intact as any team out there from last season. They were not “humpty-dumpty’ed” like many other teams this offseason. The result has been a 3-0 start and a 1st place holding in the Western Conference. Funny, that I turned 30 a week ago and the Thunder are 3-0 a week later. While I’m not entirely set in my life, I can honestly say that I’m progressing at a reasonable rate and will enjoy this next decade of life. Hopefully the Thunder will join me on this ride.