KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Last month, Orlando's Dwight Howard said Kobe Bryant was the NBA's best player and then picked Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant ahead of LeBron James.
Durant relayed a message to Howard. "I appreciate the kind words," Durant said, "but I don't think that I'm on his (James') level yet."
Exactly how far behind James is Durant? A skosh? A teeny weenie bit? A little bit more than that?
James and Durant face each other Friday when the Thunder and Miami Heat meet in a 7:30 p.m. exhibition game at the Sprint Center. The way Durant spoke after Thursday's practice, you'd think he didn't belong in the same county as James, let alone the same city.
"To be honest, I don't think I'm (in the) top 15 or top 20 guys in the league. Honestly," said a stone-faced Durant. "There's a lot of great players in this league who can do more than me as far as being game-changers. I have a lot to work on. I'm not saying that just to say that. I'm being real. I can name a lot of guys who I think are more advanced than me in the game."
"I'm not going to get into that," Durant said. "It's not about me being better than those guys. It's about my team trying to be better than their team. That's what I'm worried about."
This past summer brought the most high-powered free-agent class in league history, during which James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade decided to join forces in Miami and immediately transformed the Heat into a championship contender.
While James considered staying in Cleveland and flirted with other top bidders such as the Knicks, Nets and Bulls, Durant quietly sent a message via Twitter that he had agreed to a five-year extension with the Thunder.
The sports world became even more enamored with Durant, but venom has since been spewed at James for the manner in which he handled the entire situation, which included an hour-long special on ESPN to announce his decision and the lack of respect he showed the city of Cleveland, its fans and his former teammates.
Durant said he doesn't understand all the hatred toward James, nor why people made such a big deal out of Durant tweeting confirmation of his contract extension.
Keep in mind, there is a world of difference between being an unrestricted free agent (James) and agreeing to a contract extension one year before your current deal expires (Durant).
"I'm not sure I wouldn't have gone about it the same way LeBron went about it," Durant said. "He was a free agent. He could pick whatever team in the league he wanted to pick. I wasn't a free agent. I wasn't a restricted free agent. I was just trying to extend my contract. I couldn't talk to other teams or negotiate my contract with other teams. I was just extending my contract, so my situation was a lot different.
"I've never (understood) why people made a big deal about it. He (James) did it the same way when he signed his contract extension. Dwyane Wade did it the same way. Chris Bosh did it the same way. I'm sure whenever I become a free agent, you know, I'll probably do it the same way they did it."
Fresh off becoming the youngest scoring champ in league history at the age of 21 last season, Durant easily outdistanced James in the league's annual preseason poll of NBA general managers, in which 66.7 percent picked Durant to win this year's MVP and 55.6 percent chose him as the player they would sign first if they were starting a franchise.
Thunder at Heat Time: 7:30 p.m. Friday Where: Sprint Center (Kansas City, Mo.) Television: FOX Sports Oklahoma Cox Ch. 37. HD 722. NBA TV Ch. 726 Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM. THREE THINGS TO KNOW * Miami guard Dwyane Wade will not play tonight because of a hamstring injury. * Tonight's game sold out within 48 hours of LeBron James announcing his plans to sign with Miami. * The game is technically a home game for Miami. Probable starters Thunder (1-0) Pos.;Player;Ht.;Pts.;Reb.;Ast G;Russell Westbrook;6-3;9.0;3.0;4.0 G;James Harden;6-5;184.108.40.206;4.0 F;Kevin Durant;6-9;12.0;1.0;2.0 F;Jeff Green;6-9;25.0;4.0;1.0 C;Serge Ibaka;6-10;12.0;11.0;1.0 Heat (1-0) Pos.;Player;Ht.;Pts.;Reb.;Ast G;Carlos Arroyo;6-2;10.0;2.0;1.0 G;Mike Miller;6-8;6.0;1.0;4.0 F;LeBron James;6-8;18.0;3.0;4.0 F;Chris Bosh;6-10;20.0;6.0;1.0 C;Joel Anthony;6-9;0.0;1.0;2.0