The weight and strength will come. The talent and intuition are already there. So what is the biggest modification
In one year he has leapt from being a freshman at Texas to becoming one of those rare pros who is asked to carry the NBA.
"The guys who are playing 35 minutes that the people are paying money to come see -- those guys earn every penny that they get,'' said Seattle SuperSonics coach
"I talked to Kevin and Jeff about that the last time we were in New York,'' Carlesimo said in reference to rookie
"Well, that's what Kevin is'' -- the lead guy -- "and that's a hard thing to do in this league. Those guys earn their money. I'm not saying the other guys don't, but when your complementing or your playing 'x' amount of minutes or you're coaching, you're stealing money, it's great. But when you're playing 35 or 40, and you're the guy they're coming to see and you've got to perform every night, people don't want to hear whatever [excuses] -- they just want to see you play.''
That's why the early signs are so promising for the 19-year-old Durant, who despite numerous excuses has yet to complain. He inherited no elder scorer to help distract the defenses after
Though Durant is shooting only 39.9 percent from the field and committing 2.92 turnovers a game, he nonetheless makes the game look easy as a 6-foot-9 guard with the wingspan of a 7-footer, a guy who moves fluidly and will create more plays for himself and his teammates as he and they improve over the next couple of years. It's no surprise that he's been held to single-digit scoring in three games, but those cold nights have been more than offset by a trio of 30-point performances. He's leading rookies in scoring (19.8) while drawing the opponent's toughest defender.
"I was telling somebody he reminds me of a
Durant still finds himself looking up to his opponents -- he admitted to stargazing at
"Early on I was thinking about that a lot,'' he said of the fans' expectations. "But as a player, I don't think you should be thinking about people outside the locker room. I know the fans pay a lot of money to come and see you perform, but you've just got to listen to everybody in the locker room, got to play for everybody in the locker room and just play within the team concept. I put my teammates first and then the fans second.''
Which, of course, is the right order: The fans want to see the stars elevating their teams. But I also remember hearing
Durant admits to the same incentive. "That gives me a little bit of an extra push,'' he said. But he is wary of getting carried away by his celebrity as well as by the depth of analysis and information he is asked to digest before each game.
"I just try to clear my mind before the game, before I step out on the court,'' he said. "Try to win the game and play hard. Just keep it like that. Don't have too many things racing through your head at one time, because if you think like that, it can go bad for you. Just have confidence in yourself on the floor, don't act too cocky, but just have confidence.''
In this new environment, it isn't always easy to trust oneself. "It can be,'' he agreed. "When you're not shooting well and you maybe miss four or five in a row and the next shot is yours and you're open to take it, you kind of hesitate a little bit -- 'I might miss,' or 'This may not be good for the team.' But as a player, that's something you can't think about. You've just got to trust in yourself and your teammates and things will be all right.''
As much as Carlesimo (a former San Antonio assistant coach) and general manager
"We just are trying to ingrain the defensive habits, the work-hard habits, the understanding that good people and good teammates share and all of those clichés are what it takes to win in this league,'' Carlesimo said. "Just get his habits right now, and we'll continue to add pieces.''