NORMAN — Kevin Durant knows the criticism is going to come. After Oklahoma City was bounced from the postseason Wednesday and he failed to come through in the clutch, he has already heard the rumblings that maybe his desire wasn’t up to the task.
During his exit interview Thursday, Durant let the assembled media know just exactly what he thinks of that type of thinking.
“I don’t give a damn,” Durant said. “I’m going to be who I’m going to be. 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.”
In the Thunder’s final game, Durant had one of his poorest shooting performances of the season. He was 5 for 21 from the field and 11 of 15 from the free throw line. While he accounted for eight rebounds and led the team with six assists, he also had a game-high seven turnovers.
Even though the mild-mannered superstar doesn’t show it in the same ways as other NBA legends who have gone on to win titles, Durant contends he wants to win as much as anybody.
“I’m always going to fight for the game I love,” Durant said. “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 mountain top. I enjoy playing the game, I enjoy being here, but I’m never going to 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.”
Because the Thunder had such a relatively early exit from the playoffs, it’s easy to forget they had the best record in the Western Conference and battled Miami for the best record in the NBA for much of the season.
Up until Game 2 of its first round matchup with Houston, Oklahoma City seemed like a forgone conclusion to make it back to the NBA Finals. But a freak accident ended the season of All-star point guard Russell Westbrook and the team was never the same.
Second-year point guard Reggie Jackson flourished into a viable scoring option for the Thunder. It was his 3-pointer Wednesday that brought the team to within two points of Memphis late in the game.
But Westbrook’s absence could be felt in more ways than on the scoreboard.
“Russ (can) do one thing that stands out to me,” Kendrick Perkins said. “He gives everybody swagger. From coach (Scott) Brooks to KD to myself.”
The Thunder front office will have to make some difficult decisions in the offseason. Those include whether or not to re-sign Kevin Martin and amnesty Perkins. Both had a subpar postseason. Perkins said he believes he will be back with the team next year. Martin hopes he will.
“I have a vision of what I want my career to be,” Martin said. “And more than anything, that’s happiness and being part of something special. This is a place I’d love to be. I’m going to have some options out there so I’m going to see how the process plays out.”
Westbrook is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for next season. He, along with Serge Ibaka, Durant, Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Liggins and Perry Jones, will all be under 25 when training camp kicks off. The Thunder have lot to look forward to.
Yet, with Oklahoma City not making it to the finals, Durant was asked if the year was wasted. He refused to take that type of attitude.
“Nothing’s ever a wasted year for me,” Durant said. “It’s basketball. 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.”
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