One day before the first returns were announced for fan voting in the 2011 NBA All-Star balloting, Thunder forward Kevin Durant didn't think his name would appear any higher in the polls than it did last season.
â€œI got to do a little bit more for that to change,â€ Durant said Wednesday.
On Thursday, Durant discovered he's been doing something right.
After the first month of voting, Durant leads all Western Conference forwards with 470,881 votes â€” already more than half of his entire tally last season. With his current pace, Durant would be a lock to become a first-time starter as voted upon by the fans.
It's an honor Durant would happily accept and appreciate, but one that he would not take as much pride in.
â€œComing into this league, I didn't want stuff to be given to me,â€ Durant said. â€œI wanted to earn it and work for it and play for it. But if I get voted in, that shows that I've been working hard and the fans really respect how I play. So that's cool, too. But as a player, I'd rather have the coaches put me in. You know you earned it. You know you deserve it and you worked hard for it.â€
Before coaches eventually selected him as a reserve for his first All-Star appearance last season, Durant ranked fifth among West forwards in the first returns for the 2010 game. Durant had garnered 177,205 votes then, behind Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan. Durant now leads all those players by at least 80,000 votes.
When reminded that he would never start if coaches voted him in each year Durant responded, â€œThat's fine with me. I'm still a part of it.â€
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, meanwhile, appears to be on the same trajectory as Durant a year ago. After failing to crack the top 11 players in the first returns of fan voting last year, Westbrook has risen to seventh among West guards this season. Westbrook, with 140,519 votes, currently trails Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Manu Ginobili, Steve Nash, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd.
â€œAs long as our team is doing good, that's a good thing to have on your side,â€ Westbrook said.