September 29, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Kevin Durant made the tough decision to withdraw from Team USA before the FIBA World Cup.

Now, the Oklahoma City Thunder hope to benefit from having a rested superstar.

Durant led the league in minutes last season on his way to winning the MVP award.

After the season, while some players lost weight or worked on specific areas of their games, Durant, after leading the league with 32 points per game, focused on recharging.

''I just think it was more so that I didn't want to be in full-season mode in August or July,'' Durant said during Monday's media day.

''I just wanted that time to free my body and my mind up, and just go out there and work on the court on my game and just enjoy the rest of the summer, because I know how long the season is, and I just want to be completely prepared for that.''

Durant's teammates respected his choice.

''He felt that he needed to step away, and I was glad he was able to make that decision, because I know it was a tough decision,'' Thunder forward Nick Collison said.

The Thunder adjusted Durant's offseason training program after he withdrew.

''We just rolled his offseason training program into a more intensive conditioning and fitness-based program, knowing that we were going to have him for a longer period of time,'' Thunder general manager Sam Presti said last week. ''We support him either way.''

Durant gained a greater appreciation for the game after witnessing Pacers forward Paul George's gruesome broken leg during a FIBA exhibition. He said injuries can happen at any time, and he's fortunate every time he gets to play.

''Just knowing that keeps you kind of levelheaded, and at peace with what happens on that court,'' he said. ''You worry about it too much, you start to get scared a little bit. So I just try not to worry about it.''

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Durant has improved his leadership over the years. Durant said he wants to take another step in that area this season.

''Come to work with a lot of energy and be an encouragement every single day,'' he said. ''There's going to be tough times. There's going to be bad days. That's a part of life. You try to stay consistent with that part of it as a leader. I've got to be there every single day. It's a challenge, and I'm looking forward to it.''

Durant has the MVP award, plenty of adoring fans after his emotional MVP acceptance speech and millions after re-signing with Nike.

The only thing missing is an NBA title. He believes he needs to focus on day-to-day improvement to get it.

''We've got all the tools,'' he said. ''We've got a great coach, we've got a great core of guys, we've got a great bench. We've just got to continue to take one day at a time and keep it cool and see where we are in the end.''

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

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