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Scott Howard-Cooper

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The relationship between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could determine the fate of OKC's season.
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Durant emerging as a force both on and off the court


Posted Dec 30 2011 11:02AM

* Good for Kevin Durant. The NBA world learned of his talents long ago and found soon after that his personality was equal to his game. Now we know he is likewise becoming a great leader. There is a difference from simply being a great guy in the locker room and it is important for the face of the franchise. Trying to calm overheating Russell Westbrook during a timeout Wednesday in Memphis was Durant attempting to take control of a situation when he easily could have hung back and left it to the coaching staff to play bomb squad. This was KD stepping up, not a sign of a Durant-Westbrook chasm.

"If you want my opinion," Darnell Mayberry, the veteran Thunder beat writer, offered in the Oklahoman, "Durant and Westbrook are fine. There is nothing to worry about between the two. I don't pretend to know if things will remain that way."

* The Chris Paul trade will continue to reverberate not only because that was who the Lakers thought they had, but because that was who the Lakers had to have. Point guard is the position need, at the moment and heading to the future, not center. Even if Dwight Howard lands in L.A. in the new best-case scenario, they would be better off with Andrew Bynum and Paul as the bridge to tomorrow than with Howard and Point Guard X.

* Still waiting for a lot of people to walk back the horror stories about the possibility of contraction. It was never going to happen. David Stern himself had trouble keeping a straight face as he floated the scare tactic directed at the union that dozens of jobs could be lost in the lockout. Yet there were a series of misguided guesstimations about which teams were headed to the chopping block.

* Brandon Roy slipped into retirement far too quietly for someone whose impact can never be measured. Blame timing, as the season was starting in the post-lockout rush and CP3 and Howard trade speculation ruled the day. Roy had a lead role in rebuilding the trust of an entire franchise in one of the best NBA cities around just as the Jail Blazers had done the impossible and turned Portland off to pro basketball. He is the rare player who crosses the line from star to truly making a difference in a city.

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* How things could have been so different: Tyson Chandler signed with the Knicks only after nearly taking the Warriors offer. Had he landed in Oakland, the Pacific Division would be even more interesting, New York might still be hunting for a center, Chauncey Billups might not have been amnestied, the Clippers would not have improved by grabbing Billups on the cheap, and DeAndre Jordan would be millions poorer without the Golden State offer sheet to take back as leverage with the Clippers.

"The whole free agency thing was tough," Chandler said. "I didn't get recruited for college because I made my decision to go pro (out of high school). I never went through that whole process. I actually didn't like it. I didn't like GMs sitting in my house and talking to coaches and stuff like that. I didn't like the whole courting period. I didn't want, at the end of the day, to disappoint anybody. Somebody had to be disappointed because obviously you can only sign with one team. Honestly, I didn't like any of the process."

* Being 0-3 is bad enough, but the real troubling sign in Boston is the lack of energy so early in the season for a group that has always been known as ultra-competitive. There was little indication of matching the New Orleans effort Wednesday. No true read on the Celtics is available, though, until Paul Pierce returns and the favorable schedule in front of them now -- two games against the Wizards, one against the Pistons, Nets and Pacers over the next five -- turns into a fair barometer: the Mavericks, Bulls and Thunder in a four-game stretch.

* Kobe Bryant already has another season of physical setbacks and turns 34 next summer, but insists he will definitely play in the 2012 London Olympics rather than rest. Not a big surprise. Neither is Bryant remaining committed to a Lakers future rather than considering using the international stage as a farewell. "(Bleep) no," he said. "I've still got a couple more years left. Hell no. They have to deal with me for a couple more years."

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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