MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It has been eight months since Kevin Durant played in an NBA game.
It has seemed far longer to the Oklahoma City star who suffered through a grueling process to mend his broken right foot.
"It seems like years ago," Durant said on Wednesday after the Thunder’s morning shootaround. "I’m here now. Try not to think about the past. I know I learned a lot from that situation and just trying to move forward and continue to have confidence in myself."
The wait is finally over for one of the NBA’s brightest stars. Durant was set to make his long-awaited return to the court on Wednesday night when the Thunder opened the preseason in Minnesota. He missed 55 games last season and needed three surgeries to repair a dreaded Jones fracture in his foot, an injury that contributed mightily to the Thunder missing the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Given the delicate nature of Durant’s injury, the former MVP spent all summer gradually working his way back.
He didn’t participate in a practice until the Thunder opened camp on Sept. 29, but has reported no issues with his foot during the strenuous training camp workouts.
"He’s been really good," new Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "I think he’s been getting back his rhythm, so to speak, scoring the ball. He’s had some incredible flashes."
Durant last played in an NBA game on Feb. 19 against Dallas. He missed the final 28 games of the season, and guard Russell Westbrook could see the pain that it was causing his teammate to sit on the sideline.
Injuries to Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka at different points of last season proved too much for the Thunder to overcome in the powerful Western Conference.
"I know what that feels like to be out for a long period of time and to sit back and be watching your teammates play without going out there and being able to help them," Westbrook said. "So him just coming back tonight and trying to go out there and find his rhythm, kind of get back into the swing of things is always great."
Donovan said Durant would play 18-22 minutes as he starts to ease his way back in.
"Since the first day of camp I’ve been trying to grind out with my teammates and tried not to think about me being injured," Durant said. "I just wanted to pick up where I left off. But I haven’t played an NBA game in a long time, just like these guys haven’t played in a long time, either. So I kind of look at it like that and try not to put too much pressure on myself."
Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine filmed a television commercial with Durant in the offseason and said he is happy to see one of the highest-profile players in the league back where he belongs.
"Every time you have a superstar like that who is hurt, you always want to see him in the game," LaVine said. "Especially as a competitor, you always want to go against him. I’m glad he’s back and healthy. We’ll see what he does tonight."