Posted Jul 8 2010 6:43AM
ORLANDO -- While LeBron James is maybe lining up a few more sponsors and trying to pick out a wardrobe for his nationally-televised exercise in self-indulgence, Kevin Durant has his arm draped over the shoulders of guard Eric Maynor, putting words of encouragement and instruction into his ear.
While Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are exchanging celebratory high-fives over their free agent union in Miami after nearly a week of high-profile wining, dining and flirting, Durant is a few hours away in central Florida trading spotting duties with many of his rookie teammates as they take turns in the weight room.
If the Summer of LeBron is all about the bombast and the big things and flexing one's might as both a player and a brand, the Summer of Durant is being spent at the Orlando Summer League, merely helping his team to get better.
Though LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amar'e and the rest have earned every right to go looking for love in all the rich places, it's so interesting to see Durant finding it in his own Oklahoma City backyard with a five-year, $85-million contract extension that was done so quietly as to seem downright quaint?
Wasn't there the slightest urge by a 21-year-old who became the youngest scoring leader in NBA history to at least put up a finger in the wind to feel the breeze and the adulation and maybe get his own one-hour TV show to let folks know where he wants to put up jump shots in the future.
"Oh, no!" said Durant, chuckling and shaking his head at the thought. "My situation is different from all those guys. Mine was a little easier. It didn't take all that stuff. I just wanted to keep it quiet. That's the kind of person I am.
"It would have been kind of hard for me to do that after I expressed how much I wanted to be here. I just said how much I love this organization and everybody's belief they've had in me. I couldn't stretch it out like that. Plus I'm a loyal person. I'm glad I'm here with the team. I'm glad I'm locked it. It was a good decision for me."
At 6-foot-9 with arms that stretch to tomorrow and an assortment of different individual skills, Durant might have arrived early as the prototypical basketball player of the future. But at the same time he's an anachronism, a joyous throwback to a different time when all that mattered was a chance to play ball for a living.
Certainly Oklahoma City did have to fork over another bundle of cash that was considerably more than minimum wage. But at the same time the team and the community did not have to go through the angst and the public spectacle of groveling for their superstar. As the first and only major league sports franchise in town, the Thunder is the petri dish for the market and having their first superstar make a commitment so quickly and without the hullaballoo speaks volumes.
"The thing I've said about him a lot is I've seen the player change almost on a daily basis over a period of time that I've gotten to know him. But I have not seen the person change," said Thunder general manager Sam Presti. "His game has developed and expanded. His humility and work ethic have remained consistently strong an unaffected regardless of whatever external attention or adulation he's received, all of which he's earned."
This is the second straight year that Durant has returned to the Summer League and not just to make cameo appearances on the sidelines, wave and sign autographs. During the games, he sits on the bench, watches and listens to the instruction being given by acting coach Brian Keefe. He gets up onto his feet to occasionally to yell encouragement and pulls players aside for 1-on-1 conversations when they come out of the game.
Durant is also working to make himself better, organizing 6:45 a.m. meetings in the hotel lobby to head for an early session in the weight room. He takes part in practices. He works on his own drills.
"Hey, as a player, I'm a long way from where I want to be," he said.
Durant is also a long way from where he was just two seasons ago when in their first season in OKC, the Thunder started out 1-16 and 2-24 on their way to a 23-59 record. Now they're coming off a 50-win season and pushed the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
He looks at the all goings-on of the summer, sees the various teams bidding for free agents, shooting for stars and nods his head at the Thunder way of doing it the old-fashioned way -- brick by brick, one step at a time.
"There is more of an accomplishment this way," Durant said. "We started at the bottom. We didn't go and get a free agent. We didn't make a big trade with different guys. We started at the bottom, took a lot of losses and then started progressing here. I think that's the best way to do it.
"There's a lot of learning going on. We're not just picking things up on the fly. They're actually taking the time and teaching us the right way to do things. No matter where we are in the summertime, they'll fly coaches out to see us. We get together end of the season and say, 'OK, I'll see you at some point' and we follow through.
"I know a lot of people talk about being a team, but I think we really do have that here. We're gaining confidence. Getting to the playoffs and getting 50 wins did some of that. But it's also about the time we've all spent together, the commitment we've made to each other and the feeling that we're really building something special."
Which is why he didn't feel the craven need for TV shows and genuflections and other paeans to his ego.
Kevin Durant grinned.
"I just love where I'm at," he said. "It was a no-brainer really."
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