Kevin Durant: Lakers impressive on 'paper'
DALLAS – Kobe Bryant isn't one to mince words. His trash-talking style on the court is legendary and his sense of humor is as dry as it gets. So when Bryant told his Team USA teammates during Olympic training in early July that Dwight Howard would be traded to the Lakers, there were plenty of skeptics.
Howard had several suitors at that point, but Bryant's prediction still stayed in the back of Kevin Durant's mind. Bryant's words eventually became reality as Howard was dealt to the Lakers from the Orlando Magic in a four-team blockbuster trade on Aug. 10.
"Kobe called that a month before it happened," Durant told Yahoo! Sports while promoting his new movie "Thunderstruck."
"I didn't believe him. He was just like, 'We are going to have Dwight. We are going to have Steve Nash.' He just talks a lot of trash, jokes and laughs. But he said it. I don't think anyone paid attention to it but me and him. He said it and it happened. And they got better, a lot better.
"Dwight's name was being thrown on every team. Houston, Brooklyn, the Lakers. But I guess he called it right."
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."
[Related: Will the 'old' Kobe Bryant show up this season?]
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 Howard and 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 busy Durant hasn't had much rest during his shortened offseason and change doesn't appear to be on the horizon with training camp not far away in October. He has been to his Oklahoma City home just one day since the NBA Finals ended on June 21 in large part because of the Olympics. The former Texas star spent time last week promoting "Thunderstruck" in Oklahoma City, Dallas and his hometown of Washington, D.C., before departing to China for a Nike promotional tour.
Durant played a Team USA-high 26 minutes per game during eight Olympic contests, was third in the NBA in minutes per game (38.6) last season and averaged 41.9 minutes per game in 20 playoff contests. But considering the NBA's leading scorer is just 23 years old and a self-proclaimed basketball junkie, don't expect him to take it easy in the coming months.
"I see guys posting pictures on Instagram and on Twitter talking about how they were working out," Durant said. "I can't let nobody outwork me being in the gym. When I'm not there I kind of feel sluggish. I got to do something."
[OKC's Serge Ibaka unhappy with role on Spanish national team]
The Thunder enter next season with Durant, Perkins, All-Star guard Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka under long-term contracts. Forward James Harden, the 2012 NBA Sixth Man of the Year and also an Olympic gold medalist, is still without a contract extension. Durant is holding out hope that small-market Oklahoma City can dig deep to find money for Harden, too, despite the luxury tax concerns. Durant and Harden share the same agent in Rob Pelinka.
"Hopefully we keep him around," Durant said. "That's not my job. My job is to be the best leader I can be and keep the team together. I know at the start of training camp if it's not done with James it can be a little tough for him, just like it would be for any other player. My job is to help try to keep everybody together and let him know how much we value him as a player, teammate and person. I'm sure James is going to come out there and do his job and worry about stuff off the court later."
The Finals loss still stings for Durant and he says he constantly thinks back to how the Heat did all the little things en route to beating the Thunder. While he got a daily reminder of the Finals loss by playing with Heat forward LeBron James on Team USA, James didn't rub it in.
"LeBron made it easier," Durant said. "He didn't talk about it one time. That was cool. A guy that has achieved so much this past year, all he was worried about was Team USA. He never talked about it. [Chris] Bosh and [Dwyane] Wade came out there [to London] for a few days. Those guys were cool as well.
"But in the back of our minds we know we had a nice battle with those guys. In a perfect world, we can do it again. But we'll see."
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