John Klein: Thunder will go as far as Durant leads
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Friday, October 19, 2012
10/19/12 at 4:02 AM
Related story: Thunder, Suns set for BOK Center contest.
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Durant growing into bigger leader for OKC
Don't read too much into Kevin Durant's summer workouts with LeBron James.
There was nothing mysterious about it. There was no secret agenda.
For Durant, it was simply a workout with a friend. Nothing more. Nothing less.
"It was just one day," said Durant. "I'm always wanting to work out. I'll work out with anybody.
"That's all there is to it."
That workout, the second straight summer that Durant has spent time working out with James, has become a hotly debated issue in the NBA offseason.
The Oklahoma City Thunder come up the turnpike Friday for a preseason game with Phoenix at the BOK Center.
The Thunder reached the NBA Finals a year ago with Durant coming into full bloom as one of the two best players on the planet.
If Durant isn't the best player, and there are some who would argue he is, then it is James, who led Miami to the NBA title.
They are good friends.
Durant and James don't know what the big deal is about the workouts, something they've done the past two years.
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks certainly didn't consider it an issue.
"Kevin is a gym rat," said Brooks. "He's a sponge for information. Look, you get better by playing against the best.
"Kevin loves to play."
So, Durant spent a few days with James. That's probably not very significant since Durant spent more than a month with him working up to and then playing in the Olympics for the U.S. team.
Oklahoma City returns the core of the team that reached the NBA Finals a year ago.
Durant is the key figure for the Thunder. If he has a huge season, and there is every reason to believe he will, then Oklahoma City is a good bet to return to the finals.
He has help. Russell Westbrook is a terrific point guard. James Harden is the NBA's sixth man of the year.
However, it is Durant that lifts OKC to the elite level.
"He has to continue to work hard," said Brooks. "He has to continue to be a leader. He has shown improvement in that last year and he was terrific for us.
"He is our leader. And, our goal is like the 29 other teams in this league. We want to win the championship."
Unlike many of the other 29 teams in the league, the Thunder has a legitimate chance to win the title because of Durant.
Durant is considered by many the best scorer in the league. He is virtually unstoppable.
James is a four-time MVP, a tribute to his skill-set that makes him not only among the best of the scorers in the league but also among the NBA's best defenders, rebounders and leaders.
The Thunder appears to have most of the pieces needed to win a championship. Still, Durant's role is the most important.
Oklahoma City, still one of the four youngest teams in the league, follows Durant's lead.
"I've come back more motivated to be a leader," said Durant. "I think I've grown in that area every year.
"I think my teammates look at me for that. If I'm more positive and energetic I think that helps."
The Thunder has plenty of work to do to make that final jump to a championship.
Durant needs to continue to score but his evolution as the team's leader is critical, too.
Westbrook, who at times is a dominating point guard, needs to be more consistent. Harden can contribute more, especially to help ease the scoring load on Durant. Kendrick Perkins needs to give the Thunder some punch on the inside.
"We need everyone to win," said Durant. "It is more than one guy. It is more than just me scoring points.
"Our team is much more than just about the stats."
The stats would indicate Oklahoma City is close to that championship level.
The Thunder is loaded with capable young players.
"I am very excited about the young guys on this team," said Durant.
He should be. Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor are among the young players that should have a big impact.
Rookie Perry Jones from Baylor has tons of talent, and Durant is his role model.
"Kevin was the first guy to text me when I got drafted," said Jones. "That's why I was so excited to be here. Kevin has proven he can do so much. He has proven that a guy his size and my size can play three positions.
"I'm still in awe of being around him. But, it is pretty cool to see how much of a family this team is. They are a bunch of young guys and they all want to be here."
Durant is the glue. Players want to win. With Durant, the Thunder is going to win games.
A year ago, the Thunder came up just three wins shy of the NBA title.
"It is so tough to lose (in the finals)," said Durant. "I felt we had a good run. I thought it was our turn.
"I wanted to win so hard and to lose it was heartbreaking."
If Durant has another big season, this year it might be Oklahoma City's turn.
OKC's Kevin Durant and Miami's LeBron James guarded one another for parts of their Game 2 matchup between the Thunder and Heat, in the NBA Finals. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World