Two summers ago, with little left to prove following his rookie season, Kevin Durant had a pair of his size 18 shoes delivered to Orlando in time to lace them up for one game at the annual summer league there. In that game, he scored 22 points in 27 minutes, leaving no doubt who was the best player in the gym and the league's fastest-rising star.
Last summer, Russell Westbrook followed suit with a similarly surprising appearance. The point guard averaged 22.3 points, 7.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds in four games, looking leaps and bounds better than the competition.
You can expect the Oklahoma City Thunder to steal the show for the third straight summer.
This year, the best player in Orlando when the five-day schedule kicks off Monday could be James Harden, the No. 3 overall pick in last year's draft.
But don't overlook his teammates.
Of the 12 players on Oklahoma City's summer league roster, seven are returning players. Five are first-round draft picks. On paper, the Thunder's summer league squad looks better than Golden State's regular season unit throughout much of last year.
"It's just going to give them more confidence in knowing that they can go out there and basically dominante," said Durant who is scheduled to attend the first two games. "I'm excited for them."
The Thunder's roster will leave for Orlando today. Joining Harden this year will be fellow rising second-year players Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor and Byron Mullens. Rising third-year players Kyle Weaver and D.J. White will also compete, as well as Mustafa Shakur, who was on the Thunder's roster at the end of last season but did not log minutes in a game.
Oklahoma City also is taking 2009 second-round draft pick Robert Vaden and 2010 second-round selections Latavious Williams and Ryan Reid. Rounding out the roster is Cliff Hammonds, a 6-foot-3 guard out of Clemson, and Marcus Lewis, a 6-8 forward from Oral Roberts who played last season with the 66ers.
Because the draft-night trade for No. 11 overall pick Cole Aldrich can't become official until July 8, the former Kansas center will not compete in Orlando.
Still, the stacked roster reflects just how committed the Thunder has been to a youth movement and building through the draft. But it also indicates how seriously OKC takes development over the summer.
Harden, who averaged 9.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steals in 76 games as a rookie, could have easily bypassed another session of summer school. Instead, he'll look to enhance his skills next week in an organized setting.
Harden, Maynor and Ibaka were all part of the Thunder's nine-man rotation as rookies. And though it would be unfair to expect each of them to return in 2010-11 showing the same level of improvement that Westbrook did in his second season, next week will provide the same opportunity for rapid growth.
"It'll give them more confidence, and the chemistry will build more and more with the new guys we have now," Durant said.
"Summer league really does help get you more and more comfortable with the NBA game. It was good for all our rookies last year and it'll be good for all our rookies coming in this year."