Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City aren’t supposed to mix. The market allegedly is too small for the player to ever realize his growth potential, from his success on the court to his sponsorship opportunities off it. It’s a stereotype that has followed Durant since he first stepped foot in Oklahoma. Now, just three days before his first NBA All-Star Game, comes the question of whether the Thunder’s star forward can grow into a perennial All-Star starter while playing in Oklahoma City? In this year’s fan voting for the game’s starters, Durant finished more than 1.2 million votes behind Denver’s Carmelo Anthony and more than 286,000 shy of San Antonio’s Tim Duncan among Western Conference forwards. Durant’s 870,567 votes were fifth most among the conference’s forwards, also trailing Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol. But history says Durant can rise into the starting unit. Karl Malone was a 13-time All-Star in Utah. The Hall of Fame power forward didn’t start only four times. Malone’s teammate, point guard John Stockton, was a 10-time All-Star and a five-time starter in the annual mid-season exhibition. The two took home co-MVP honors in 1993. Duncan is making his 12th All-Star appearance despite playing in San Antonio. And the Spurs big man has been a fixture in the game’s starting lineup the past 10 years, his only appearance as a reserve coming in his 1998 debut. Before being traded to Boston, Kevin Garnett was equally successful in Minnesota. Garnett, now a 13-time All-Star, has started 11 of the past 12 games. After coming off the bench in 1997, his inaugural selection, Garnett started eight of the next nine All-Star games for the Wolves. ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine’s NBA writer Ric Bucher contrasted Duncan and Garnett’s inclusions against Nowitzki, who has never been voted in as a starter. Nowitzki started the 2007 game in place of injured Houston center Yao Ming. "Take those three guys,” Bucher said, "you can’t tell me that market size is a determining factor.” So what must Durant do to join the starting five? To become a fan favorite, Durant seemingly needs to continue his scoring feats, find playoff success or simply supplant someone. Durant is on pace to do all three. "I would be shocked if he doesn’t become a perennial guy,” Bucher said. "KD has a much more effervescent personality and dynamic game and is more media friendly already than Duncan ever was.” According to Bucher, Durant also has the right image, carrying a squeaky clean reputation to match what Bucher called his blend of charming innocence and realness. What Durant projects, Bucher said, is marketable to middle America and the non-NBA states that before the rise of the Internet couldn’t vote via traditional in-arena paper balloting. Vince Carter once parlayed his perception and highlight-reel plays into perennial leading vote-getter status in Toronto. Dwight Howard, Orlando’s fun-loving center, is scheduled to start his third straight All-Star game Sunday after being a reserve as a first-timer in 2007. "That’s the ticket,” Bucher said. "KD strikes me as a guy who isn’t going to get in trouble off the court.” Or Durant could soon slide in for Duncan, who turns 34 in April and is playing for a team that doesn’t posses the same upside as the Thunder. Garnett became a mainstay in the starting lineup when fans began calling for the fresh young star over the aging Malone. "I think he’ll be a top five talent in this league,” Bucher said. "But being a perennial All-Star starter, the two aren’t necessarily connected. It just means you have to be a likable guy, win games and create lots of highlights.” Text "OKTHUNDER” to 65360 for your chance to win an OKC Thunder Durant 2010 All-Star Replica Jersey. NewsOK OKC Thunder news text alerts sponsored by Totally Tickets.
Thunder 89, Portland 77The Thunder won its sixth straight game late Tuesday night. Go to NewsOK.com for complete coverage.