Uncertainty and edginess for Thunder star Kevin Durant
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) It’s still the preseason, and Kevin Durant already is tired of answering questions.
Well, at least, certain questions.
Take this interview session after a preseason win over Denver, for example: Durant missed most of last season for the Thunder with a broken right foot that required three surgeries. After scoring 23 points and playing nine minutes more than his previous preseason high, the 2014 MVP repeatedly was asked how he felt.
”You played more than 30 minutes, you played into the fourth quarter,” someone asked. ”How was that for you?”
”It wasn’t the first time,” Durant replied. ”It felt good, though.”
”Kevin, how antsy are you for the regular season?” went another question. ”Is the progression – are you ready to go, or do you still need the two weeks.”
Durant rolled his eyes, hesitated, then responded: ”Next question.”
”Is this the best you’ve felt? I mean, you look …”
Durant laughed and elaborated briefly on the third question, but the responses offer a snapshot of an increasingly visible part of the four-time scoring champion’s personality. Durant’s openness during his MVP speech 18 months ago won him accolades across the country. He’s still that man – still engaging, humble and selfless – but now there is a pronounced edginess to this NBA superstar, even occasional defensiveness.
Much of the certainty Durant has known throughout his career is gone. For the previous half decade, Durant’s seasons were easy to predict. He’d be in the race for the scoring title and the MVP award, he’d be among the league leaders in minutes and his Oklahoma City Thunder would be in the title hunt.
Those things likely will be true again this season, but there are more external factors than usual this time.
He’ll be a free agent after this season, and rampant speculation from the media about where he might land has driven him to the point of calling people out. After building a reputation as one of the league’s ironmen, he’s faced a barrage of questions about his readiness, a tough pill for a man who missed just 16 regular-season games in his first seven NBA seasons.
Teammate Russell Westbrook emerged as an MVP-caliber player and scoring champion in Durant’s absence, and some wonder if two potential MVPs can co-exist. To top it off, he has a new coach in Billy Donovan, who has never coached in the NBA.
So the questions fly. People want answers, and in some cases, the soft-spoken Durant doesn’t have them.
Durant, of course, would rather let his game do the talking. This preseason, he averaged 18 points in five games and shot 59 percent from the field, including 57 percent from 3-point range.
After Durant unleashed an unusually vicious dunk against Fenerbahce Ulker’s Jan Vesely, Westbrook declared him ready.
”That just shows that he’s back to his normal self, and that he’s back to dominating and back to doing what he do,” Westbrook said.
Throughout the preseason, Durant has driven hard to the basket, closed out on defense, gone up strong for rebounds and has had no problem with contact or going to the floor – all signs of a player who isn’t scared or worried.
`’I never want to live in fear,” he said. `’I love the game so much, so if anything were to happen again, I’d have to live with it. I think if I would have went out there with doubt in my mind, something would happen. I was always taught, no matter what, if I’m on the court, I’m all right.”
He likes Donovan, though he’s quick to point out that the whole team has to get familiar with the new coach.
”It’s been fun,” Durant said. ”I enjoy him. Great basketball mind, but more so, a better person. We’ve hit it off since the beginning. Just excited to play for him.”
Westbrook said sharing the ball with Durant would be a non-issue.
”It’s easy,” Westbrook said. ”We’ve been playing together for eight years. It’s not rocket science. It’s something that we’re used to doing. We’ve been playing with each other for a very long time. We know how to get each other going and we know how to find our rhythm.”
As for his future, Durant is focused solely on what is ahead – this season in Oklahoma City.
”I just enjoy the game of basketball,” he said. ”I enjoy these wonderful fans here, and I just want to give them the best version of me that I can.”
Durant isn’t offering bold declarations about what he, or the Thunder, will do this year. He’s not worried that some feel the Thunder have lost ground to Golden State, San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston in the Western Conference.
”Radars and projections and comparisons – that really don’t matter to me,” he said. ”That’s not my job. My job is to go out there and work as hard as I can every single day and try to be the best leader and the best teammate I can be.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .