Posted Sep 29 2010 10:17AM
OKLAHOMA CITY -- There's a confidence in Thunder Country these days that runs counter to much of the modern NBA. In an age of preemptive victory parades, subtlety rules the day with this team.
It's not that they don't realize their status as a legit contender in the Western Conference. They know they're good, so they're not asking to fly under the radar. Kevin Durant pretty much assures that won't happen. But they're also not begging for extra attention.
The Thunder graciously declined a chance to appear on NBA TV's Real Training Camp. No offense, but they didn't want the cameras and microphones peaking into the inner sanctum of practice. (They instead offered an all-access pass to the team's open scrimmage.) Figuring they're going to be on TV enough this season -- 24 times, in fact -- the more they could keep private, the better.
This is a team fans want to love and the media want to cover. The organization, from general manager Sam Presti to coach Scott Brooks to Durant to the camper with no shot at making the squad, is accommodating and respectful.
Such an attitude trickles down from owner Clay Bennett, as behind-the-scenes as you can get. Presti and Brooks follow the same script, preferring to concentrate on the work at hand while not trumpeting the results. The front office goes into each Draft looking for players that fit that team-first framework. Jeff Green, James Harden and Cole Aldrich were taken as much for their ability to blend as their talent.
Durant, a no-brainer draft pick, is a superstar in name only. The 22-year-old scoring champ said this week that he still feels like he's in high school. The only difference?
"I've got my own car now," Durant said.
But there's more to that aw shucks mentality that permeates every brick in the organization. They're humble because they've been humbled. They've weathered staggering change and adversity, most coming during Durant's three years in the league.
The relocation from Seattle took a toll. All the losing did, too. Before last season's 50-win surprise, Presti fired a coach and Brooks was captaining the ship through 3-30 waters. Those memories haven't sunk.
"I thought we were going to have an interim interim coach," Brooks quipped.
Coaches talk all the time about how a team responds to adversity. That's when it shows its mettle. The Thunder players who lived through the move and the losses -- namely the core of Durant, Green and Russell Westbrook -- packed a career's worth of misfortune into nine months.
They came out of the other side closer, stronger and hungry. That's why you believe this team when they talk about "process" ... and that's a word you hear often in conversations with Brooks and Presti. Such mental programming isn't lost on the players, who extol the virtues of practice at every turn.
If it seems like there's a company line in Oklahoma City, it's because there is.
"Our mindset won't change much," said Nick Collison, the franchise's longest-tenured player. "We know that success has to be earned every day. You can't skip steps."
So when Durant says success this season will be built on having "more great practices than bad onse," you believe him because he believes it. Franchise players set the tone for the locker room, and Durant's tune is one sung by a chorus.
He spent the summer leading USA Basketball to World Championship gold, but admitted he was shocked by the starring role Mike Krzyzewski had him play. He enters this year as an MVP candidate who said he needs to improve his ball-handling and post-up game.
Hearing that Dwight Howard would pick him as a teammate over LeBron James, Durant was flattered but pointed out that he's not at LeBron's level ... yet.
"I'm working, though," he added.
Humility carries the day in OKC. Distractions don't. One might expect Green to be somewhat upset at not having a Durant-like extension in place. Both came into the league together and Durant inked his new contract this summer that keeps him in Thunder gear through 2016.
Green wants to get a deal done, too. He's just not going to let it derail his season if one doesn't materialize by the Oct. 31 deadline.
"My focus is going to be off the charts," Green assured. "This is a big year for us."
Everyone knows. The secret is out.
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