Durant, Westbrook, Harden Finding their Team USA Roles

LAS VEGAS -- Even as they stretched on the floor to get warmed up for practice, it was amazing to see the ensemble of talented players on the court at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center, particularly through Thunder blue-tinted lenses.

For Americans, these 12 men who will represent the USA in the Olympics later this month are their guys. A quarter of those same players are also Oklahoma City’s guys, making the image of the 12 National team members in one spot even more incredible. The collection of the best basketball talent that the US has to offer features three Thunder players in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, all of whom recognize the amazing nature of the feat they’ve earned for themselves and the Thunder organization.

“It’s a good accomplishment for us,” Harden said. “I think every individual one of us is a great character guy and we work hard, tremendously hard. It shows the direction that we’re in, the Thunder organization and how they draft guys… It feels great to be playing with my two teammates and I’m excited and we’ll cherish it.”

Despite only being in existence as an organization for four full seasons and the fact that all three Thunder players on the Olympic team are 23-years old or younger, the Thunder has become the first NBA team in history to have three players on the same Olympic squad. Even Team USA’s Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski recognized the uniqueness of the Thunder trio’s situation when describing the dynamic of assembling elite talent from various teams throughout the NBA to make up his squad. To surround already sensational players with others of similar caliber only sparks further energy into the team.

“These guys get excited because they’re usually the best guy on their team or one of the top two guys on their team, or for the Thunder, one of the top three,” Krzyzewski said. “Now they’re with other guys who are the top guys. That excites them. They like to share their abilities.”

For Kevin Durant, this might be one of the first times in his entire life that he will be playing alongside others who have offensive and scoring talents on the same level as his. With the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony on the floor, Durant believes the Olympics will be a good opportunity for him to gel with the other remarkable talent on the floor in such a way for the team to be most effective.

“I’m just trying to be myself, go out there and try to be a good leader while I’m on the floor, play my game and hopefully it translates well with the team,” Durant said. “I’m just trying to go out there and be the ultimate team player.”

Russell Westbrook will also be called upon to play a slightly different role than he is used to playing with the Thunder, but he has been very vocal about wanting to do whatever he is asked in order for the team to succeed. Krzyzewski was asked about Westbrook potentially inheriting a similar role to the one Dwyane Wade played for Team USA during the 2008 Olympics, and confirmed that it is possible that America will see Westbrook step into that multi-faceted guard role off the bench.

“There’s that potential that Russell can do that,” Krzyzewski said. “I think Russell is a great player... I think what he does is absolutely sensational. His ball pressure, his offensive rebounding, his athleticism is off the charts.”

Krzyzewski emphasized that despite not having players like Wade, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh on the squad, young additions to the team like the three Thunder players are a massive boost to Team USA. The Hall-of-Fame coach said that Westbrook will be there his whole career and that Durant is incredible, while also praising Harden for his off-the-court personality and natural familiarity with being an active contributor coming off the bench as he does with the Thunder.

In fact, Krzyzewski compared the 22-year-old Harden’s experience with the Thunder during this Playoff run to having to perform under the bright lights of Broadway in a hit show. Harden, according to his new Olympic coach, was the best player on the floor during periods of time during the Playoff run against the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, making him an ideal choice to put into the pressure-filled environment of international competition.

“I like James a lot,” Krzyzewski said. “I watched him play and for me, he’s really a good guy. He’s smart, he’s great with people. He’s easy to play with on the court… He understands the role of coming off the bench. I think it’s a good choice for us. He earned it while he was here but also with what he’s done. We’re happy to have him.”

As the month of July rolls along, and the Olympic competition becomes more intense in August, the Thunder trio of Durant, Westbrook and Harden hope that Krzyzewski will be more-than-happy to have all three of them.