After scoring title, Thunder’s Durant seeking more

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.”