After scoring title, Thunder's Durant seeking more
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)
With all he has accomplished in the past year, Kevin Durant has earned a place among the NBA's elite players.
In just his third year in the league, Durant became the youngest player to win the scoring title.
His own improvement helped lead an Oklahoma City franchise that had won only 23 games a season earlier make it to the playoffs and scare the eventual champions.
Then, in the absence of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and some of the game's biggest stars, he was the MVP of the world championships in leading the U.S. to its first title since 1994.
It all sounds great, but Durant has his eyes on something more as the Thunder open training camp Tuesday, a day before his 22nd birthday.
''With me winning the scoring title and winning the gold medal, all that stuff really doesn't matter to me now,'' Durant said Monday at the team's media day. ''I can't hang my hat on what I did in the past. I've got to continue to keep working and make my future even better, and this team's future even better.
''We have our work cut out for us, and I think that's a challenge we're all looking forward to taking on.''
Durant averaged just over 30 points last season, about five more than the previous year and 10 more than he had while winning the Rookie of the Year award in the 2007-08 season. He finished a fraction of a point ahead of James, and recently earned praise from Orlando All-Star Dwight Howard as being the second-best player in the game.
It might have been a jab at James, who recently relocated to Florida as part of Miami's All-Star triumvirate with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but still quite a compliment.
One that the ever-humble Durant isn't letting go to his head.
''To be honest, as a competitor, as a guy that's real with myself, I don't think I'm on LeBron's level just yet. I'm working, though,'' he said. ''I'm working. I can tell you that. I'm trying to get there. But right now, I don't think I'm on his level.
''He's such an unbelievable basketball player, man. And to be honest, what people don't see, I think he's even a better person. But I don't think I'm on that guy's level yet. He's on his way to being the best player of all time.''
Durant could be considered on that path, too, just a few years behind in his young career. He now has his first experience with making the playoffs, and with accepting postseason failure. He's also learning what it's like to be in the spotlight.
''I feel like the same guy I was in high school,'' Durant said. ''Nobody knew who I was. A skinny kid like I am now. But I've got my own car, I've got a license. That's about it. That's the only difference.''
Durant said the most intriguing thing among all the offseason hype about him was a couple messages he received on Twitter suggesting that the Thunder, who were the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference last season, could win the NBA title.
''Even though that's kind of far into the future, that felt good to see,'' Durant said. ''For us being a lottery team two years ago to people saying we could win a championship, that's a big transition. That's a big change.''
Durant will be surrounded by much of the same supporting cast as a season ago. Oklahoma City returns all nine players from its regular rotation, and coach Scott Brooks will be charged with figuring out how new acquisitions Morris Peterson, Daequan Cook, Royal Ivey and first-round pick Cole Aldrich will fit into the mix.
''You can call me pessimistic, but I don't see a 27-game improvement this year,'' said Brooks, the NBA's coach of the year last season. ''That's pretty hard to get - 77-5 would be outstanding, wouldn't it?''
Brooks said with all the heightened expectations floating around the team, the only ones that count are the Thunder's own. He wants his players to expect to work hard every day and hold each other accountable.
''I think we did really well last year because we had the idea that we wanted to come and get better every day. We knew that's what we needed to do to make progress, and I think we still realize that,'' veteran forward Nick Collison said. ''So, I think our mindset won't change much. I think we understand that the success has to be earned every day. You can't skip any steps.''
It's exactly that approach that Durant tries to embody - even as he accumulates accolades and hears all the positive buzz about his development.
''A lot of people around me are starting to tell me about it, but I just try to stay the same person,'' he said. ''I know that if I continue to be humble, and every time I step on that floor continue to get better, then anything can happen.''