ORLANDO, FLA.: During an All-Star weekend saturated with talk of market sizes and trade demands, Kevin Durant quietly went about his business of representing the best team in the Western Conference.
Durant is today’s anti-?superstar. He doesn’t need an entourage or New York to feel content in the NBA. He’s in his fifth season with the Oklahoma City Thunder and thrilled to remain in one of the NBA’s smallest markets.
“I just fell into the right situation and I thank God every single day for it,” said Durant, who has already signed one extension following his rookie deal and is under contract through 2016. “The perfect thing for me was to stay in Oklahoma City. It’s something I believe in. I really love my community, my teammates, coaches, the fans that come to the game, the workers in the arena, everybody I’ve built a relationship with these last four years. It’s the perfect place for me.”
Behind Durant, the Thunder have assembled a championship-caliber team through the draft and timely trades. With Kyrie Irving already in place, it’s a model the Cavaliers are following, but it takes time.
The Thunder didn’t become legitimate threats in the West until last season, Durant’s fourth in the league, when they were eliminated in five games in the Western Conference Finals. They took the West’s best record into this All-Star break and are widely considered the favorites to advance to the NBA Finals.
“I love that teams are respecting us like that and players are respecting our team,” Durant said. “But right now it’s too early to say. The West still goes through the champions in Dallas, but we’re trying to make a little noise and establish ourselves as an organization that can go far.”
Durant nearly made his head coach look foolish with his performance in the 3-point shootout as part of All-Star Saturday night.
Before the event, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Durant had no chance to win because he never practiced it, but Durant finished second behind winner Kevin Love when the duel went to a tiebreaker.
“I’m not being hard on him, but Kevin has no shot of winning the 3-point contest,” Brooks said the day before. “I told him, ‘How do you think you’re going to go out there and shoot five racks of basketballs and not practice it one time in practice?’ He’s a gamer, I’ll give him that. He’s a ballplayer, but he’s not that good.”
Durant nearly pulled it off, but lost to Love in the tiebreaker round, 17-14.
“That would be a disgust to the game if he did win it,” Brooks said.
This was the first time in 14 years the NBA played an All-Star game without Kevin Garnett. It was the first time in 13 years Tim Duncan wasn’t invited, further proof the NBA is evolving with a new set of stars.
Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol of Memphis, Andre Iguodala of Philadelphia, Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and Chicago’s Luol Deng were all making their first appearance in an All-Star game on Sunday. But it was the absence of the longtime pillars that was more noticeable to guys like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
“Me and D-Wade were talking about it. We feel like elder statesmen now in our locker room,” James said. “Not having KG around, not having Shaq [Shaquille O’Neal] the last couple of years, Duncan, Jason Kidd. ... We’re just trying to hold it down for our younger guys.”
NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver was in China two weeks ago as part of the NBA’s effort to bring preseason basketball games back to Shanghai next season. Former NBA center Yao Ming is now the owner of a professional basketball team in Shanghai.
One obvious candidate to play in China is the New York Knicks, particularly if Jeremy Lin maintains his popularity.
“I think it’s great for the league and great for Jeremy,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said. “We’re proud of him and we think it’s a great story.”
Sunday’s All-Star game was televised in 215 countries and territories in 45 languages. More than 1,800 media credentials were distributed, including 336 international media members. … Sixers star Andre Iguodala said he was a track star as a kid (high jump was his best event), but the public address announcers could never pronounce his name … Pacers center Roy Hibbert on Lin: “No cosmic force could stop Linsanity right now.” … Heat star Chris Bosh said he grew 10 inches in high school, but he wanted to keep his perimeter game despite his newfound length in honor of Kevin Garnett. “I was seeing what he was doing, handling the ball and shooting from the outside,” Bosh said. “I wanted to be like that.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://cavs.ohio.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonLloydABJ.