For a team like the Thunder, the goal in training camp is pretty clear. It’s about winning a championship, plain and simple. You can use the buzzwords and talk about development and process and positive steps, but the mission was to raise a banner.
It didn’t happen. Extraneous circumstances interfered, and the Thunder unceremoniously exited in the second round.
In some ways, all that good stuff that happened over 82 games, the margin of victory, the improvements, the 60 wins, the division title, the top seed, it all kind of feels like it was for not, doesn’t it?
In fact, Kevin Durant was asked if he felt like this season was a “wasted” year. Kobe Bryant once said any season that doesn’t end in a championship is a wasted year of his life.
“Nothing’s ever a wasted year for me. It’s basketball,” KD said. “I’ve grown so much as a man since the beginning of the season. I’ve grown so much as a leader. Nothing is ever wasted. Of course the ultimate goal in this league is to win a championship. But I’m never going to say I wasted a year. I’m blessed to even wake up and do something I love every day. So it’s never wasted. We take that for granted a lot. But that’s something I’m not going to do. I enjoy playing this game. I enjoy playing for this city, my teammates. So every day I get to see those guys and go through some tough times and laugh and argue it’s never wasted. I’m just blessed to be here. And I’m never going to take it for granted.”
A perfect, unsurprising response from KD. He got to play basketball and while it didn’t finish the way he hoped, he still grew as a player and person, along with his team. At 24 years old, that Durant guy has got the perspectives.
But naturally, there will be those that feel Durant’s answer reveals some mystical problem that dwells inside of him, and is what will forever hold him back from a title. Players like Kobe and MJ are mythologized because of their “drive” and near sadist thirst for winning and while Durant gives everything he has to give both on and off the floor, just because he doesn’t say it will open the door for critics.
“I don’t give a damn. I’m going to be who I’m going to be,” Durant said. “I’m not Kobe Bryant. I’m not Michael Jordan. I’m not LeBron James. I’m not Magic Johnson. I’m me. I’m not ever going to compromise myself and my integrity and what I believe in for winning some basketball games or winning a championship. That’s just not how I was brought up. I’m always going to fight for the game I love. I’m going to claw until the last buzzer sounds and if I win a championship, of course I’ll be happy. I’m not satisfied to be in this league and losing, I’m going to work as hard as I can to get to that mountaintop. I enjoy playing the game, I enjoy being here, but I’m never come out to the media and say I wasted a year because we lost a championship. Like I said, I don’t have to be Kobe Bryant.”
The focus for Durant and the Thunder has never been on isolating on one season. That much should be obvious. It’s engrained into the culture, and apparently, into Durant. He struggled in Game 5 and he’ll almost certainly have nightmares where he sees those 16 misses and wakes in a cold, Gatorade induced sweat.
“I think last night after the game, I don’t normally drink Gatorade after the game, but I think I drank four or five Gatorades,” Durant said. “I think if I wouldn’t have done that I would’ve passed out.”
It’s obvious the trial Durant went through. He labored in trying to carry his team through the second round and while he failed, he’s not letting that hold him down. During his 10-minute session today Durant spoke a lot about how encouraged and happy he is with the direction of the team and made sure to mention the oft-mentioned “bright future” company line. But it’s true. This is a setback, and a season that feels like it was lost the minute Russell Westbrook was injured.
Still, the team got better, the young core of the team improved. They had a bad break and it ruined their chances. That’s pretty much the end of the story right there.
- KD on Kevin Martin: “I love Kevin Martin. I love everything he stands for. I love his work ethic. I love him as a teammate. But free agency and what he feels I have no control over. I would love for him to do whatever he thinks is right for himself.”
- KD on where he wants his game to go next: “Be more efficient. Only way I can go is up. Just keep finding ways to get better. My offensive game, different shots, different moves, different spots on the floor I can be better.”
- I think KD wants to become the first ever 100/100/100 player in NBA history.
- KD was wearing a Memphis Sounds hat, which is an old ABA team.
- Once again, Westbrook was all types of chipper and polite. I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s awesome.
- Westbrook said he was more into the officiating than he is normally when he’s playing: “Of course. Because I knew I couldn’t get a tech sitting up there.”
- Westbrook said he talked to Derrick Rose — a friend of his — a few days after his injury. Westbrook said Rose told him to take his time and to “listen to [his] body” and “make sure [he] gets back 100 percent.”
- On how he saw in teams defending the Thunder without him: “I think when Houston started triple-teaming and trapping guys from all over the floor, I think Memphis did the same thing, I think that’s the first time I’ve seen that and I think that’s the same for Kevin as well.”
- Westbrook gave a very spirited defense of how important Perk is: “Very. Very. Perk man, he’s the best defensive post defender in the league. If you kind of sit back and see and watch the games, then you would know. I think the biggest thing people don’t understand is a lot of people only watch TV games. When we play throughout a regular season and we play Minnesota and it’s just on our network a lot of people don’t watch that, when he’s gotta guard Pekovic and different games like that. He’s a big value. He anchors our defense. He helps Serge a lot. He guards the best big and the bigs shoot, Serge has an opportunity to get blocks. He does a lot of different things for this team and I think a lot of people don’t understand that and he’s a big part.”
- Westbrook got asked about Jeremy Lamb and thought he was getting asked about Jeremy Lin. Which was fun for a second.
- On his experience: “It ended too soon. That’s what I’m going to say about the whole experience. I think we set ourselves up to be Western Conference champions this year. Heading into the playoffs we’re playing such great basketball and we have a fluke injury. That’s part of sports but you never want to think it’s going to happen to you or your team and I think that’s how our season will be looked at now. It’s more like a what-if season.”
- Martin said he had a conversation with Sam Presti and Scott Brooks today about his future negotiations and chose not to share any details of that.
- Martin on his future: “This is a place I’d love to be … I’m going to have some options out there so I’m going to have to see how the process plays out.”
- Martin: “I’m at a point in my career where I don’t need to get what I can get. It’s more happiness. And looking back on this experience, I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve been on a championship caliber team and being on a team trying to make it into the playoffs. I have a vision of what I want my career to be. The main thing is happiness and being part of something special.”
- On if it feels like there’s some unfinished business: “Yes, definitely. A chapter that’s unfinished. Just because of the injury that went down. We don’t want to put everything on an injury, but for it to happen, at the time it happened, to the type of player it happened to, we really lost a vision of when we got the news that morning before Game 3. And it was an adjustment period where we were out there just playing basketball. We lost a guy that has the keys to our car. It’s definitely a chapter that’s definitely unfinished.”
- Martin raved about the work ethic of Durant and Westbrook talking about how they showed up early often, saying that’s not something you see anywhere else in the league.
- Martin on his free agency: “When thinking about it, I’m so relaxed about it. I don’t know why I’m relaxed, but I’m relaxed.” He was asked if that had anything to do with his conversation with Presti. “Yeah you could say that. And I think as anybody looking for a job knowing you’ll have options it makes you more relaxed.” Interesting.
- “I definitely would love to play again next season … I would enjoy the opportunity to come back.”
- Fisher definitely did not sound interested in retiring.
- A lawsuit was filed by Billy Hunter today against Fisher and the news broke as he was talking to the media during his exit interview. He was asked about it and said, “I literally just became aware before I walked in the room.” Fisher declined comment as he wants to understand all the information and then put out a statement.
- On the amnesty talk: “Mark Cuban said they could amnesty Kobe Bryant, so anybody is capable of getting amnestied.”
- Perk: “I’m pretty sure I’ll be back next year.”
- “I would like to pick up my rebounding. That’s something I can do more.”
- When Perk sat down, a reporter noted how he was sweating. Perk said it was maybe the light but then joked, “I just left out of Sam’s office so I might be sweating a little bit.” I love that dude.
- Perk on Westbrook: “Russ do one thing that stands out to me. He gives everybody swag. He gives everybody swagger to Coach Brooks to KD to myself. I feed off of Russ. Russ may say he feeds off of me, but I feed off of Russ.”
- Perk: “It’s your NBA life, so it’s a year wasted. We’re not satisfied. I still feel like we could’ve gotten through that series.”
Audio via Randy Renner