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Next Year Starts Now

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 12, 2013 at 5:48 pm •  Published: May 1, 2010

After a season filled with them, there was something about the way this particular cliche flew off of Kevin Durant’s tongue that made it seem like much more than a trite statement.

“Next year starts now,” he said, as he sat atop the postgame platform for the final time.

That’s what Durant told his teammates immediately following Friday night’s 95-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, a defeat that eliminated the Thunder from a wild and crazy Western Conference first-round series in Game 6.

In this instance, you got the feeling Saturday morning really will mark the start of the 2010-11 season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Listening to Durant, you got the feeling him and his close-knit group hurt so much after this loss they wanted to head over to their north Oklahoma City training facility just to get in a workout.

“We’re one of the hardest working teams in the league,” Durant said. “I think we deserve a lot…I think we deserve a lot more. But it’s all a process. It’s all about going through ups and downs. Tonight was one of those times we went through a down time. But the better days are ahead of us.

“I think if we continue with that mindset to come into every year always working hard and playing basketball the right way and respecting everybody we play then the sky is the limit for us.”

Durant and Russell Westbrook were asked what they took most from this storybook season.

“Just how tough the team is,” said Westbrook, “mentally and physically.”

Thunder players can go on summer vacation with their heads held high. They exceeded expectations and defied all odds. Oklahoma City saw a league-best, 27-game improvement, had its 21-year-old franchise player take home the scoring title, the youngest ever to do so, and watched its first-year head coach win the Coach of the Year award.

But don’t, for even a second, think the Thunder will be satisfied. Before the Thunder walked off the Ford center floor, Durant gathered his teammates and made sure not one of them would. He told them to go back home and work. Then he told them he loved them.

“We’ll be back next year,” Durant said.


Kevin Durant says his poor shooting in his first playoff series won’t linger

His lumps were large, but Kevin Durant insisted he wouldn’t allow them to linger following his first-ever playoff series.

“I left it all out there every game for my team,” Durant said proudly, shortly after seeing his Thunder ousted from the first-round Friday by the Los Angeles Lakers.

What was a thrilling game elimination game for many became a terrifying Game 6 for Durant. Oklahoma City’s franchise player had a team-high 26 points but missed 18 of 23 shots in a showing that summed up his series.

Durant averaged 25 points on just 34.9 percent shooting, 28.5 percent from 3-point range. He added 7.6 rebounds per game but recorded only 2.3 assists against 3.6 turnovers.

“No matter how bad I shot, I always came out there and played hard and tried to do other things to help my team win,” Durant said. “So I can live with myself knowing that I came out there and gave it my all every game no matter how (inefficient) I shot the ball.

“That’s all I can ask for. That’s all my teammates can ask for. Even though this loss hurts, we all gave it our all every game. That’s all we can do.”

Durant was 3-for-18 through three quarters. His shoulders slumped more and more as each shot ricocheted off the rim. He tried talking to himself coming out of timeouts to get something going. His teammates tried lifting his spirits.

None of it worked.

Now, his first taste of playoff basketball will serve as a lesson, six games he can dissect all summer long and look to grow from.

He can be comforted by the fact that he’s not alone in first-postseason rust. A long line of stars struggled in their initial playoff experience.

Michael Jordan averaged 29.3 points on 43.6 percent shooting as a 21-year-old playoff pup in 1985. Kobe Bryant averaged 8.2 points and shot 38.2 percent as an 18-year-old in his first playoff series in 1997. In his first-ever playoff experience, a 19-year-old Carmelo Anthony put up just 15 points per game on 32.8 percent shooting in 2004.

It happens.

“I’m a competitor,” Durant said, flashing a smile when compared to Bryant before he blossomed into the star that he is. “I want to win every game I play. I want to be a champion, and stuff like this hurts.

“But as a player and as a team we’ve got to go through ups and downs. It’s how we get through the downtimes that’s going to make us better. That’s how it is as an individual as well. So I’m looking forward to coming back next year and playing my butt off every game and being a leader — being a better leader than I was this season, being a better player. And hopefully we go farther than we did this year.”

Thunder coach Scott Brooks praised Durant for his improvement in his third season. His offensive improvement was obvious, as he lead the league in scoring with a 30.1-point average in the regular season. But Brooks singled out Durant’s defensive development, an area that was on full display in this series with the Lakers, Durant taking it upon himself in Games 3 and 6 to defend Bryant.

“I’m proud of how he played all year,” Brooks said. “Going into this season, in order for us to be a team that’s going to compete every night and be a sometimes basketball team, Kevin needed to step up on the defensive end and he did that. He did it all season long and he did it in this series.”

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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