HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ten or 20 years from now, when someone talks about 2012, it will be remembered as the breakthrough year for LeBron James. He won his first title, a third MVP and a second gold medal.
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will be in the footnotes. He was there for almost all of the biggest moments, battling James and the Miami Heat in The Finals and joining forces with him on the gold medal ride in the London Olympics while making a statement of his own along the way.
But history won’t sugarcoat the fact that Durant broke out but didn’t break through that year.
That’s why Durant heads into the end of the summer with 2012-13 on his mind. He’s had enough of watching someone else hoist the hardware (Larry O’Brien) that he covets, even if it is his good friend and rival James.
Durant, even at 23, is keenly aware that the NBA clock waits for no man, that opportunity knocks for only so long before it moves on to the next one. There are no guarantees that you’ll get back to the big stage during the NBA season. There are too many men chasing that glory and far too many variables outside of one superstar’s control to make it a reality on a consistent basis.
Durant’s understanding of these things is what continues to drive him and what keeps him hungry, even with all that he has accomplished thus far. He’s got his eyes on the rest of the revamped Western Conference (Lakers), James and the Heat and whatever other challenges lie ahead in 2012-13. We get a little more from Durant courtesy of our main man Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:
With his focus on an Olympic gold medal at the time of that trade, Durant initially declined to discuss how the Lakers’ moves could affect the Thunder’s hopes of returning to the NBA Finals next season. But now that he’s back home with a gold medal in hand, Durant says the “confident” Thunder are looking forward to the challenge posed by the new-look Lakers next season.
“People outside, fans, media, of course they are going to say [the Lakers are the favorites] because on paper they have the best lineup in the league. But you still got to play the games. We respect everybody. We are going to go through the league respecting everybody as well.
“We already view ourselves as an elite team, but we have to prove it again. Last year is over with.”
The Thunder knocked off the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs last season. Los Angeles, however, has replaced traded All-Star center Andrew Bynum and departed point guard Ramon Sessions for two perennial All-Stars in [Dwight] Howard and [Steve] Nash. The veteran Lakers have also added some depth in Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark while re-signing Jordan Hill and keeping Pau Gasol.
Meanwhile, the Thunder return wiser and more experienced after losing to the Heat in the NBA Finals. Oklahoma City has a nemesis of Howard’s in defensive-minded center Kendrick Perkins. Additionally, point guard Eric Maynor will return from injury and the Thunder have an intriguing rookie in Perry Jones III.
“It was a great move for [the Lakers],” Durant said. “[Howard] is the most dominant center in the league. It’s going to make it tough on other teams. But I like that challenge. We all like that challenge in OKC. It should be fun.
“That’s what the Lakers do. They make big moves. That’s part of their DNA.”
The Thunder have an established DNA as well. Much like the Heat, they are built to contend for titles for as long as their core group stays intact. (Serge Ibaka is going to be a part of that group for the foreseeable future while James Harden‘s situation is to be determined.)
With Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden all returning to the locker room with gold medals (Ibaka earned a silver with Spain in London) to go along with their experience from The Finals, The Thunder will begin this new season in the same place they finished the last one: right behind the Heat in the championship pecking order.
Even with all of their superstar additions, we’re not ready to vault the Lakers past this Thunder crew.
The best lineup in the league on paper doesn’t make you the best … as the Heat found out in the first year of their vaunted Big 3. It puts you in the conversation and even gives you favored status, but it’s like one wise young superstar said, “you have to prove it.”