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Scott Howard-Cooper

It took three years for Kevin Durant to break into the NBA's elite.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Finding holes in a future superstar's game at the combine

Posted May 14 2010 8:19PM

And then there's the one about Kevin Durant not being strong enough.

Here is a great moment in draft history.

Teenager from the University of Texas goes to the combine in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Doesn't participate in games, because none of the top prospects do, or even a lot of the possible first-round picks, with agents holding players out even though it makes it look like their guy is afraid of a little competition and team execs grumble so loud that the league finally pulls the plug on the event. Does do the mandatory physical tests and is the only one of the 80 prospects who fails to bench press 185 pounds.

The Seattle Times gets the (cough, cough) confidential report. Story becomes a big deal in the tornado of speculation before the draft -- Durant will get posted up by Barney Fife, Durant won't be able to hold his position under the basket against Olive Oyl, good luck getting much of a career out of this weakling, etc.

Good times, good times.

For some reason, the SuperSonics didn't view the NBA as a Mr. Olympia competition and chose Durant anyway at No. 2 in 2007, and it took one season for him to become Rookie of the Year, two seasons to average 25.3 points after the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City and three seasons to break into the superstar ranks while leading the Thunder to the playoffs as one of the success stories of 2009-10.

Stick that in your clean and jerk.

It would be a comedy classic if it wasn't such a cautionary tale in the spring of 2010 as the basketball seas part before Durant -- second in the MVP voting, mortal lock to be added to the Team USA roster for the world championships this summer -- as the league prepares to gather next week in Chicago for the annual pre-draft gathering of workouts, interviews and, yes, physicals. That's right. More weightlifting.

In truth, Durant's poor bench-press showing had zero actual impact on the '07 draft. The Trail Blazers chose Greg Oden ahead of him, but undoubtedly would have anyway, just as most every team, if not all, would have made the same call in the moment. The SuperSonics/Thunder had the easy call of taking the remaining player in what everyone considered a class with two prospects clearly ahead of the pack. General manager Sam Presti was an executive in San Antonio when Durant played his lone college season about 80 miles away in Austin, had watched him a lot, had gotten the same feedback as everyone that KD was a dedicated worker. Plus, it didn't hurt that Durant was a phenomenal offensive weapon who could score from anywhere.

But it was a big deal at the time, enough that Texas coach Rick Barnes fired back via the Dallas Morning News: "If people question his strength, they're stupid. If they are looking for weight lifters to come out of Texas, that's not what we're producing. There are a lot of guys who can bench press 300 pounds in the NBA who couldn't play dead in a cowboy movie. Kevin's the best player in the draft -- period, at any position." In the rolling Oden-vs.-Durant debate, it was viewed as part of the decision (when, in fact, the sway for Portland was the chance to grab the rarer commodity of a projected impact center over a projected impact wing).

It was such a big deal that, these three seasons later, Durant hasn't let the memory go.

"It bothered me," he said recently. "It really did. I thought teams would pass up on me. That's all I was hearing -- 'He can't lift, so that means he can't take the pounding in the league. He's not going to last.' I thought teams would pass on me. It stuck with me for a while, and then I started to work out and feel good about myself. I was blessed enough to be the No. 2 pick. But for a couple of weeks, it hurt."

He said the SuperSonics never brought up the Venice Beach moment. When they came to an individual workout after the combine, Durant turned in a showing he would remember for years as underwhelming. And still they took him No. 2.

"The pre-draft process, there's a lot of dead time," Presti said. "There's always going to be things that create Internet hits and fill up space in the time leading up to the draft."

Diplo-speak for: People talk stupid.

"I thought that he'd be just fine," Presti said.

Sure, as a basketball player.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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