Durant: Open, honest and still growing

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks during the Thunder’s exit interviews on Sunday

Kevin Durant mesmerized the basketball world with a regular season for the ages — 50-point games, impossible buzzer-beaters and statistical anomalies that flipped the record books back to Michael Jordan.

It all seemed to happen so easily, so naturally for him.

But on Sunday, barely 12 hours after his Oklahoma City Thunder bowed out of the Western Conference finals, the league’s Most Valuable Player, in a very honest moment, admitted that the season’s many adversities had stretched his psychological boundaries.

“It felt like everything was being thrown at me as a leader, just talking about myself,” Durant said. “It just felt like everything was being thrown at me to try to get me to quit, and there were nights where I didn’t think I could do it, where I didn’t think I could lead these guys.”

With co-star Russell Westbrook sidelined for nearly half of it with a knee injury, and later two more starters, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, each missing six weeks with their own ailments, Durant said the burden of leading and lifting his team throughout these last seven months tested his resolve through multiple sleepless nights.

“There were nights where I didn’t think I could do it because sometimes I was going as hard as I could and it still wasn’t working,” Durant said. “But I just stayed confident and just knowing that there’s going to be good and bad days, days when you struggle, days when you do well. Just knowing that helped me out a lot, and it prepared me a lot for this season and hopefully for the future. I’m thankful for those times that I can grow through them and get better from them.”

In the end, Durant and the Thunder reached their third West finals in four seasons, but ultimately fell short of their ultimate goal of winning a championship.

Still, the team remains young, immensely talented and intact. This season, with its many hurdles the team faced for the first time — including the blow of losing power forward Serge Ibaka for the first two games against the Spurs — might come to be looked upon as the moment on the timeline when Durant and OKC’s core came of age.

“Physically, I think I can compete with anybody; you put me on the court with anybody, I can hold my own, that’s just how I feel,” Durant said. “But mentally, everything being thrown at you, from Russell getting hurt — from him never being injured before — to having to be out there and being our source of energy for everybody on our team, giving everybody confidence from Serge to Nick [Collison] to Steven [Adams] to Thabo to Perk, from everybody looking at me and looking for confidence and looking to feel confident in themselves.

“Once I saw that I could do it, I kind of saw it from there in terms of having confidence. It was a great season as far as learning for all of us and being part of such a great group of guys that accept me no matter what, on my good and bad days.”

Durant won his first MVP in his seventh season. He averaged career-highs in points per game (32.0) and assists (5.5), plus 7.4 rpg. He was one of the game’s most efficient scorers, shooting 50.3 percent overall and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc.

When Westbrook received the stunning news that he would need a third surgery on his right knee just hours after posting a triple-double at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day, the job of keeping Oklahoma City near the top of the West standings fell on Durant.

He bettered his season averages through 26 games without Westbrook — 35.0 ppg (52.7 percent shooting, 39.9 percent on 3s), 7.5 rpg and 6.3 apg) — and virtually made the MVP award his to lose. Oklahoma City surged to the top of the West. An adjustment period upon Westbrook’s return eventually led to the Thunder finishing with the No. 2 seed and 59 wins, one off the previous season’s win total and the franchise’s highest since moving to Oklahoma City.

Durant’s scoring efficiency dipped in the postseason (29.6 ppg on 46-percent shooting, 34.4 on 3s) and his performances from game to game, starting against Memphis’ suffocating defense, were uneven as he averaged a team-high 42.8 mpg.

In Game 6 against the Spurs, the magic he performed all season eluded him. Trailing 100-99 in the final 27 seconds of overtime, Durant looked to make a move past defender Kawhi Leonard from a few feet above the top of the arc, but he slipped to the floor and lost the ball for his seventh turnover.

Finally, with a chance to tie coming out of a timeout, Durant missed an open 3 from the wing with 15 seconds left. It was his sixth misfire on eight 3-pointers in the game, and his last shot of a long, taxing season.

And one Durant will glean plenty of meaning from as he exits into the offseason.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Durant said. “And I’m very appreciative of the opportunity I had this season to grow as a leader and a man and a basketball player.”

He will be back.

48 Comments

  1. Ronald Mason says:

    To all who keep comparing KD to MJ,LB , that is you and the media , KD is not . Listen to his MVP speech and maybe you will know that he has gifts that he will use as he matures in the sport . We have to allow him to grow . OKC Management will have
    to let the team know that we cannot operate on 2 cylinders , we need all contributing and the optimun level . Then we can compete for the Championship . We must play as a team , ALWAYS !!!!

  2. okcDoke2014 says:

    Next year top four out of the west: Spurs, Grizzlies, Clippers and Blazers

  3. okcDoke2014 says:

    Spurs had three blowout games and OT win away, sounds like great basketball

  4. okcfanBUT says:

    KD and Westbrook are both outstanding players and we are very fortunate to have them . KD does have a harder job to do when the rest of the team fail so miserably. He can’t do it all for them, much too much for any leader to handle. I don’t know whether it’s a coaching staff being too lenient on them or just laziness on the teams part? But when you have just two players taking on all of the scoring responsibility , a championship will not be won. Lebron has it easier because the performance of his team mates are outstanding. Look at his scoring, he doesn’t need to kill himself to keep up.

  5. Michael Bucket says:

    OKC look like a villain team, no aura of a champion…Don`t wish for championship unless the team change their persona!!Being showy and proud will not make a champion team..!!

  6. Dirks2gatoradebottles says:

    Wanna be part of my framily, KD?

  7. KDfan says:

    This is for the Thunder fans and community: Please, I urge you all to be patient and keep the faith. This is a journey, undertaken and well planned by the OKC management. This team is young and success in form of Championships is inevitable. Major changes to coaching and/or the core group of players will only destroy the journey. Scottie has groomed and grown with KD, Russ and Serge. They are all still maturing. Small but pivotal tweaks will need to be undertaken without making huge or costly (no pun intended) mistakes. If the OKC management is serious about winning multiple Championships (which I’m sure they are), they will do the necessary. Us being a small market doesn’t help either in achieving a quick pathway to success. But we have been very successful and swinging upward every single year. I’m very proud of our OKC Thunder management, staff and players, especially their clean and bottom-to-up building modus operandi. They have laid a strong foundation; we just have to let the roots grow deeper and stronger and let the tree grow tall and rich, so it can bear us sweet fruit for years to come. Last but not the least, our OKC Thunder is a great support to our community. We Are, and Always be Thunder!

  8. fourputtforsnowman says:

    No congrats for the spurs? or miami? or memphis who lost in a game 7 to okc? or the clippers who are a newly put together team? okc keeps thinking of itself as a championship team but they are only a game better than a few other teams…all of whom are improving today instead of talking about themselves (and how great they are and what a burden they carry) the way kd is. You can cheer for him…I’ll take the rest of the western conference. Much more fun to watch…just better team basketball.

  9. Stanley P says:

    Sign Luol Deng in the off-season, he’s an UFA, forget Sefalosha and I think OKC will be in the mix at the highest caliber again. Also instead of Butler get Paul Pierce or a veteran alike. Go OKC !!!

  10. okc2014 says:

    Spurs cheated and OKC should have won. They played the parker injury game and caught OKC off guard. KD is better than Kobe and Lebron combine and Westbrook plays team ball.

    Now I look stupid as my nick. I’ll root for the Heat just to make me smart again.

    • Gosheven says:

      “The Parker injury game?” “Caught OKC off guard.?” And this after the “Serge Ibaka is out for the postseason debacle?”

      LOL, Please! OKC got beat, fair and square. Where did San Antonio cheat? Please enlighten us all.

  11. Stiz says:

    I believe KD is lacking leadership skills for real, he’s not just thinking it, he needs to get everyone’s minds right. His defense lacks and to be a leader you have to be on top of every aspect of your game which he is not. Dudes crazy don’t get me wrong but he needs to buckle down and not chase LeBron or MJ. He needs to fix his own flaws of his game (which is clearly not on the offensive side) he’s crazy offensively and he is good defensively which could definitely use some growth. But he’s still not the best in the game. That’s LeBron. Durant will be the best in 4-6 years tho

    • RP says:

      I disagree. Only a leader could havecarried that bunch to be so successful for nearly half the season while Westbrook was out. They worked their way up to #1 in the league AS A TEAM after his departure and dropped after his return. I think the problem lies in the confusion of who the leader is when Westbrook is on the team. Westbrook demands that he be when the real, proven leader is Durant. He just needs to take over.

  12. thespectator says:

    good year for kd but at the rate they are going i dont think they can win a ring, not the way they are built right now…their has to be a balance…sure they can put up 60 points between westbrook and durant but u gotta have others putting in too…this is why miami works so well, the heat players know their roles and play them well, okc still has some growing up to do..

  13. Tom says:

    OKC need to sack Scott Brooks. They should get in somebody who can at least get either good offense or good defence. The Thunder just rely on having a more athletic roster and two really good 1-on-1 players. Hard to see what if anything they get from Brooks.

  14. ELdiabLo says:

    if spurs wasn’t able to revenge this year, hope next year the thunders would able to do it on finals to see more interesting match-up

  15. okcDoke2014 says:

    Durant is no MJ for sure. MJ played both sides of the ball at the highest level and team first ball

    • RP says:

      I don’t think Durant is the one not playing team first ball. He needs to demand the ball more often.

  16. Bu says:

    KD has been playing like MJ on offensive end all season. I agree with one of the fans said, if he plays more D and see him dive for the ball sometimes, that would certainly help the team.

    On the other hand, the relentless drive to get home court and stressed out is wrong tactics by coach & management. Look at how Doc Rivers preserve the Celtics for playoffs in each of the years.

    • RP says:

      I would rather not see him dive any more than he did this year. It’s tougher to do at his height and the Thunder would be history if he got hurt.

  17. Chong says:

    I love OKC and Durant but I really feel this team still has quite a way to be a championship team. They are an awfully talented team but I think they need to focus more energy on their defense and let their offense come naturally. I think as it is they use too much energy to match the opponent’s offense. Instead of trying to outscore an opponent they should try to limit the opponent more and should not have much problems doing so with such athletic players. I feel Russel especially, wastes a lot of energy in offense (not that I mind seeing those plays) but it is really unnecessary. Look at the Spurs..their offense comes easy, they just move the ball around and anyone who has an open shot will take the shot. At the end of the day, 2 points are 2 points it does not matter how much energy and flair it has. He also needs to understand that he is a PG, he has to facilitate the offense not BE the offense. I think he takes too many shots and the OKC offense becomes too predictable with him running it. When Durant ran it during the regular season, Durant scored the bulk of it but almost everybody, jackson, lamb, ibaka, Sefolosha all contributed.

  18. leborn jaems says:

    thats my boy kevin d!! thanks to him too for helping us in this finals week’s practice!!

  19. JC says:

    KD need to work like a team , until now KD think like superstar , he should be change his mind and see the sport like a team , work together , to much ego to win a ring , learn from Lebron James , he win the ring when he go to Miami and work together like a real team

    • TMac says:

      Kevin Durant has too much ego to win a ring??? Sorry bro, you must have the wrong Kevin Durant because the Kevin Durant that plays for the Thunder is far from being egotistical.

    • RP says:

      I guess you didn’t watch the Thunder this season?

  20. Bong says:

    KD is BallHog…pure scorer not a winner. RIP Every Season.

  21. okcDoke2014 says:

    Thunder need to make some serious moves on personnel this offseason. Clippers and Grizzlies are talented and getting better every year. Plus, Durant’s contract is up in 2016 as a UFA and Westbrook a year later,. They need to create a team they want to stay with so they do not bolt like LeBron did to win a championships.

  22. joe says:

    You have to be mad at the management doe. They had many top picks for consecutive years in a row, and although they picked wisely and built a very strong core of durant, westbrook, ibaka, and harden. they gave it up. knowing full well that they would be competing for championships and not have lottery picks anymore how could they do that?? Who trades a #4 draft pick with potential? you trade a top four pick who hasnt lived up to expectations. People also forget they drafted eric bledsoe.

    I mean I really like this team, its just frustrating to know they could have been a much more powerful team. And now its going to be hard to maximize the weak draft picks they are positioned to get or trade for a substantial third all star who can take the burden off durant and westbrook offensively and defensively.

  23. MB says:

    Not only is KD one of the best in the game, but also one of the humblest…..that is why I like him so much. He (and his team) will be back next year for another finals run (This time trying to win it all).

  24. allaroundballer says:

    The best part is that he’ll be better n able to make better decision on court, because he’s still 25YO. Let’s be real there’s no single (or let say two) young superstar ever win the nba. Duncan needed robinson, wade was surrounded by veterans and jordan was 28YO back then

  25. Kimmy says:

    He’s reflecting and that’s a good thing. I just hope he gets some help next season.

  26. okctofinals says:

    Here’s knowing OKC will get back to the Finals. Still a great season and a fantastic run to play through injuries.

  27. Dam says:

    And this is exactly what puts him just below Lebron at this moment. Where Lebron had been pushed in a sole leader-role right away, Durant had never experienced it until the Westbrook injury. It takes time to get used to and only the best and most experienced players can deal with it on a nightly basis. Due to this Durant seemed a bit worn down in the play-offs.
    This experience will surely have improved Durant as a player and i know he’ll be more ready the next time he has to face it alone.

    • RP says:

      Durant was worn down because he did double duty almost half the season…not just as a leader. Westbrook was still missing games up to the very end, while Durant played hard up to the last second of the last game. Everyone talked about Westbrook’s energy in the postseason…..well…duh!? He rest half the season. Durant has to get some rest this next season.

  28. I would love to see Durant focus in more on defense than anything else. Especially as a help defender. You can’t always drop 30pts but you can always defend and give your team a chance to win regardless. This team needs more 2-way players anyhow, as Lamb, Perkins, Sefalosha, Collison really hurt them on one end or another, but it starts with your leaders, if they can get away with not playing defense then why not you.

    Lebron is the reason Ray Allen is diving on the floor for loose balls and working hard to get over screens, James sets a precedent of what is expected of everyone, just like Duncan does for San Antonio. When Durant and Westbrook dig in defensively the way Lebron and Dwade have then I think this team will turn that page.

    Also, they have to get better role players or commit to playing and developing Jones and Lamb by giving them real minutes consistently while holding them accountable so they are ready for the playoffs. They are not veterans who know how to stay ready, they still don’t even know if they belong in this league yet, either find out or move on because the West is only going to get better.

  29. RP says:

    There was nothing at all for him to feel bad about in this post season and especially in that last game. Yes, he slipped. There could have easily been sweat on the floor or his ankle, that he twisted earlier in the game, could have given out. As for the shot…..don’t even get me started. There was no reason for him to have not gotten a touch for like 4 minutes of OT but then expected to pull a 3-2pointer out of his @$$ at the last minute. Westbrook missed the previous 7 shots…some of those should have been taken by the league leading scorer. There’s no reason why a person shooting 4.8% on 1 of 27 shooting should be taking all the shots. KD is the real MVP and will continue to improve if the Thunder will get a PG that will recognize who he’s lucky enough to have on his team.

  30. carmen jones says:

    Kevin durant is a whiz! His time will come, with patience our beloved Thunder will get the championship well deserved. adams, jackson and lamb must continue growth and westbrook continue being himself, we have a magnificent team.

  31. lakers says:

    a true mvp and one of the best ever to fill it up…but in my opinion he will never win a ring with OKC as long as Russell jack up shots westbrook is there…should of kept Harden traded westbrook and have Jackson as your PG

  32. abdalla syam says:

    gooooooooooooooooooood

  33. MariusV says:

    That’s why KD is a true MVP. He cares about the game, about his teammates. Maybe next year he will get another MVP trophy and a ring.

  34. celentano says:

    KD& the rest of Okc gone fishing argh argh!