Durant poised to join game's elite stars

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo! Sports
Durant poised to join game's elite stars
Kevin Durant hopes more people will take notice of the Thunder after his All-Star selection

DALLAS – Kevin Durant(notes) ignored the text messages and phone calls. He didn’t search the Internet and he didn’t want his family and friends to tell him what they’d read. And if anyone with the Oklahoma City Thunder already knew the news, well, Durant had only one wish: Keep it to yourself.

Making your first NBA All-Star team is special and the 21-year-old Durant wanted it to stay that way. So he tuned into TNT and let Kenny, Charles and Ernie tell him themselves.

Kevin Durant, Western Conference All-Star reserve…

Durant flashed a wide smile upon hearing the announcement. Soon, his cousin and two friends were engulfing him in hugs. Yes, Kevin Durant’s wish had come true.

“It was like I was being drafted again,” Durant said. “It was surreal. …It was something that I had dreamed about since I was a little boy.”

Of the 28 players selected as All-Stars this season, nine will be making their first appearance. None of those nine, however, figure to return as frequently as Durant. Nor will it be long before Durant is regularly mentioned alongside LeBron James(notes), Kobe Bryant(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Carmelo Anthony(notes) as one of the game’s most dominating stars.

A little more than halfway through his third NBA season, Durant has already made quite the impact. He’s averaging 29.8 points, a tenth of a point behind LeBron’s league-leading 29.9. He’s scored at least 25 points in 25 consecutive games, the fourth-longest streak in the past 30 years, and has already had four 40-point performances this season, including the career-high 45 he hung on the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 31.

A still-slender 6-foot-10, Durant has the versatility of a guard: He can shoot the 3-pointer, he can bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense and he can get to the rim, evidenced by the fact that no one in the league has shot more free throws this season. And the scary thing? No one really knows Durant’s ceiling. He should continue to only get better as he develops a stronger post game and improves defensively.

“He's just coming on,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.

More important, Durant has the Thunder riding a six-game winning streak into the All-Star break and sixth place in the Western Conference. What appeals just as much to the Thunder is Durant’s humbleness.

“One thing I can't worry about is what people say good or bad,” he said. “All I can control is how I work every day. I have in faith in working hard. If I continue to work, I know I will grow as a player. That's the only thing I can do. But if everything goes as planned, we'll see."

Durant also understands that as special as his All-Star appearance is to him, it means even more to his franchise. Just a season ago, the Thunder fired coach P.J. Carlesimo while in the midst of a 14-game losing streak in their first season in Oklahoma after moving from Seattle. The franchise went on to finish with fewer than 25 wins for the second straight year.

The TV networks took note. In spite of Durant’s impending stardom and the development of two other promising young players – guard Russell Westbrook(notes) and forward Jeff Green(notes) – the Thunder didn’t land a single game on ABC or TNT and just one on ESPN.

That lack of exposure hasn’t stunted Oklahoma City’s success. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers entered the break on a longer win streak. The Thunder’s youth and entertaining style of play also has made them an increasingly popular team among fans.

“I hope our team is humbled,” Durant said. “The sky is the limit from here.”

Durant had hoped for the opportunity to play alongside Bryant on Sunday. Kobe’s work ethic is legendary among his peers, and Durant wanted to learn a thing or two from the Lakers star before he was scratched from the game because of a sore ankle.

Durant should eventually get his chance to play with Bryant. On the same day, Durant learned he had made the All-Star team, USA Basketball officials informed him he’ll also be included among the group of players who will compete for a roster spot in this summer’s World Championships. The announcement was only a formality: Everyone expects Durant to be an important piece of the Team USA this summer and in the future.

"I want to be a champion,” Durant said. “That's what I want at the end of my name: 'A champion.' That's what I want to be."

All-Star or not, Durant has stayed true to his humble roots. He made the 2½ trip to Dallas from Oklahoma City with his teammates and Thunder officials in an RV. After this weekend, he could have a harder time keeping a low profile.

"A lot of people don't know we have a team in Oklahoma City,” Durant said. “But once they say my name and see who we play for, hopefully people will realize that … we are a team to look out for.”

No rest for the weary

Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki(notes) knew he faced a long list of commitments with the NBA’s All-Star weekend being held in his hometown.

"I don't have a day off, that's all I know,” Nowitzki said. “Saturday is the Shooting Stars, Sunday is the game, Monday we have practice because we last played last Tuesday in Oklahoma City. It's probably the worst All-Star break for me. But it is what it is.

“I basically knew coming in last year when we got the All-Star Game that if I made it they were going to run me in circles. That is exactly what happened. I was kind of prepared for it.

"I'd like a day where I don't have to be anywhere, but it's not going to happen."

Return of Spudd

Back in 1986, 5-foot-6 Spudd Webb put together one of the most memorable dunk contest performances when he upset defending champion Dominique Wilkins in Dallas. Along with his short stature, what made Webb’s accomplishment even more amazing was that he couldn’t palm a ball and had yet to ever dunk in an NBA game.

With the dunk contest back in Dallas on Saturday, the shortest champion in its history will return as a judge. Hopefully, the Dallas native won’t be impartial to current dunk champion Nate Robison, who Webb aided in his first dunk championship four years ago in Houston.

“I’ve been doing those dunks in front of my friends for so many years that it never dawned on me what you can do or how big it was,” said Webb, now president of the D-League’s new Frisco franchise. “There isn’t the type of media stuff like what we have now.

“Probably the whole world was surprised about the repertoire of dunks I could do. I just didn’t want to bring out my [best] dunks too early. I never went around showing people I can do those types of dunks.”

New shoes to fill

Nike and Adidas will have new competition arriving in their backyard from overseas next week. Li-Ning Sports, one of China’s leading brands, is hosting local and national media and dignitaries on Monday to unveil their new showroom in Portland, Ore. Los Angeles Clippers guard Baron Davis(notes) is expected to be on hand. Other Li-Ning endorsers include Cleveland’s Shaquille O’Neal(notes), Toronto’s Jose Calderon(notes), Memphis rookie Hasheem Thabeet(notes) and the national basketball teams of Spain and Argentina.

Li-Ning, named after the three-time Olympic gold-medalist gymnast from China, generated nearly a billion dollars in revenue in 2008 and is hoping to further grow its brand by showcasing its products in the United States.

“I like what they’re trying to do,” Davis said. “The whole basketball industry and shoe business has been kind of dominated by Nike and Adidas or Nike and Reebok, give or take. I think the angle Li-Ning is taking is like a young start-up with design and creativity to try to get into the game and kind of really exploit an industry that needs a new influx of talent, a new look.”

Tip-ins

With the trade deadline approaching Thursday, keep an eye on Los Angeles Clippers center Marcus Camby(notes), who is making $9.1 million in the final year of his deal. While Camby is playing for a struggling team, he says he hasn’t asked for a trade. “It’s been the same story the past four or five years where people have been talking about me [being traded],” Camby said. “I like it here and my family likes it here. I’m not going to request a trade. It feels good to be a wanted man, but I like it here.” …The Houston Rockets are taking their time to evaluate offers for Tracy McGrady(notes). The Rockets have discussed a three-way deal with the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks that would send McGrady to New York. The Utah Jazz have cooled on the thought of moving forward Andrei Kirilenko(notes) for McGrady. Golden State has also seemed to have cooled on the possibility of sending center Andris Biedrins(notes) to Houston for McGrady. Yahoo! Sports has also previously reported talk of a possible three-way deal that could send McGrady to New York. … Former Mavericks coach Avery Johnson is among those who would be interested in coaching the New Jersey Nets. …While it doesn’t quite compete with Cowboys Stadium’s amazing super video screen, the Mavericks have an impressive new scoreboard and a 360-degree digital-effects board this season at American Airlines Center that will be on display during All-Star weekend. The Denver Nuggets bought the Mavericks’ former equipment, which is still relatively new. …Looking for some basketball-related reading material? Try “Moonfixer: The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd.” Lloyd is the first black player in NBA history and next season is the 60th anniversary of when he, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton and Chuck Cooper broke the league’s color barrier.

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