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Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant­ are the NBA’s new torchbearers

A new eris dawning NBA two faces forefront this generational transformatiare Derrick Rose KevDurant. | AP

A new era is dawning in the NBA, and the two faces at the forefront of this generational transformation are Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant. | AP

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Updated: May 17, 2011 1:59PM

Ignore that madman when he raves that he has seen the future, because when it comes to the NBA, so have you. In fact, it’s already here.

One need look no further than the conference finals for real, tangible proof. Derrick Rose, once Chicago’s special little secret, is now an A-List star and currently the league’s most valuable player. He’s got the trophy to prove it.

Then there’s Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. All he’s done in his four pro years is win two scoring championships, along the way making every fan reconsider the heights to which a sharpshooting big man can soar.

This tandem of 22-year-olds have skipped the growing pains associated with the Association and dominated from Day One. And one of them could walk away with a world championship next month, finishing the fast-tracked coming-of-age journey at breakneck speed.

Don’t look now, but maybe — just maybe — we’re witnessing a passing of the torch unlike one we’ve ever seen before. One in which the current torchbearers are not players in the twilight of their career, but rather not far removed from its peak.

Over the past half decade, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have been the most successful and most-feared teams in the NBA. Unceremonious exits from both squads in this year’s playoffs, as well as the ticking of Father Time, signify a difficult road ahead.

The Celtics’ Big Three, collectively, is 102 years old. Their future is tied to Rajon Rondo — a nice player, but one who pales in comparison to both Durant and Rose. The Heat didn’t oust the great Celtics, they ousted the ghost of the great Celtics.

The Lakers will have to replace a coach who reached the NBA Finals in 65 percent of his seasons. Kobe Bryant is still one of the most dynamic players in the world, but with each passing year, the wear and tear of his tenure accumulates. In addition to his 15 regular seasons, Bryant has amassed 208 postseason games. That’s another 2.53 seasons of high-intensity, do-or-die basketball. He can’t do it forever.

Since he broke into the national spotlight as a teenager, LeBron James has been pegged as the heir apparent to Michael Jordan. Well, outside of Chicago at least. Such talk locally will land you in trouble. Now 26, James has yet to clear that final hurdle of hoisting the championship trophy. Then there’s the larger issue of his role with the Heat.

He went to Miami to join Dwyane Wade’s team, to be a second fiddle. He took an irreparable hit in the public-perception forum. Fair or not, he won’t ever be accepted as the face of the NBA. Look, he very well could win multiple championships, but that is a different animal from being the man.

Rose and Durant have proven to be be capable of having such weight placed on their shoulders. It’s impossible to not be impressed with the remarkable poise each possesses. Think of what  you were doing at 22. Now think of how they’re handling all that’s thrown at them.

Of course, talent helps. And neither lacks any of that.

But they’re doing it right now, when it matters most. Durant leads all postseason scorers, averaging 28.9 per contest. Rose sits at 28.8.

Also telling is the businessman-like way they go about their duties. Each is calm, cool and collected, acting like they’ve been there and done that when, in reality, it’s uncharted territory. They let their games do the talking. There is little — if any — youthful brashness. You see that in Rose’s matter-of-fact answers. You see the same in Durant’s.

“Coach Thibs, you see how he focuses and prepares for the game, it makes you want to do the same,” Rose said after Game 1.  “Stay in the office after the game.  Not have a life.”

Then he gave this even more telling admission when asked if he wants to have a life during the playoffs.

“Not right now. I have to sacrifice a lot of things.”

Exactly what you want to hear from a player.

There’s no guarantee the success will always be there. Rose’s high-flying style leaves him to take a lot of punishment. There are questions about Durant’s lack of bulk. Hopefully, for fans and the good of the game, they can keep it up.

The argument isn’t that Bryant and James aren’t great players. They are. The argument is that the league is a fickle beast and there is no set timetable from when one era begins and the other ends.

What we can say for sure is that Rose and Durant aren’t the faces of the future. They’re the faces of right now.

And those faces have plenty of reasons to smile.

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