The changing landscape of the Western Conference hasn't changed Kevin Durant's outlook on his team's chances.
“It's not about what other teams are doing,” Durant told The Oklahoman. “It's about what we're going to do every single game. That's how we approach it.”
Durant, speaking at his fifth annual basketball camp Friday on the campus of OU, returned to Oklahoma carrying unwavering confidence and commitment, in himself, his teammates and their combined abilities to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder atop the conference standings.
Despite the Thunder's relatively quiet offseason, one that's been void of impactful additions and widely labeled disappointing, Durant expressed belief in the direction of the team and the players that are in place.
The Thunder lost sixth man Kevin Martin to Minnesota and allowed seldom-used swingman Ronnie Brewer to walk. Oklahoma City then re-signed Derek Fisher and inked forward Ryan Gomes. In the June draft, the Thunder selected Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Grant Jerrett and Alex Abrines. Abrines will remain overseas, and none of the other additions are expected to be high-level contributors on the court this season.
“People that really knew, as far as our money situation, knew that we couldn't sign anybody too big,” Durant said. “We got myself, Russell (Westbrook), (Kendrick Perkins) and Serge (Ibaka) all locked in on big contracts so it's kind of hard to sign (someone). Everybody wants us to get the biggest free agents, but it's kind of hard to do that with the money that we have (committed) and the tax and the new CBA. So it was kind of difficult. But we knew the business side of it. But we know we have a really good team.”
The Thunder has more than $53 million committed to Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka and Perkins this season. The league's salary cap for the 2013-14 season has been set at $58.6 million, limiting the Thunder's ability to make any real noise this summer.
Still, the Thunder tried to lure a few free agents, namely Mike Miller and Dorell Wright. Miller ultimately chose to return to Memphis, where he spent 5 1/2 seasons earlier in his career, and Wright landed in Portland on a slightly more lucrative contract than the Thunder could offer.
Durant confirmed reports that he did indeed recruit both players, saying he “talked to Dorell and Mike a few times.” It was the first time Durant used his status to help recruit free agents to Oklahoma City.
“I texted those guys and let them know that it was no hard feelings if they didn't want to come to Oklahoma City, which is cool with me because those guys got to make decisions for their families,” Durant said. “Hopefully down the line we can get some players to come play for us.”
In the meantime, you won't catch Durant voicing any disappointment or displeasure in team decisions. He labeled an ESPN.com report that he walked off during an interview last month when asked to assess the franchise's moves overblown. As he walked off, Durant reportedly said “I love it,” his tone apparently leaving reporters left guessing about his true feelings.
“I didn't mean anything by that,” Durant said. “I love it. I love who we're bringing in. I love the coaching we have here. And whoever comes in here, no matter what they've done before, we're going to change them into a Thunder player, which is a character guy, a guy that's going to work hard every single day and is going to be a great teammate.
“Those guys (the media), I really don't care what they have to say about our team and what they think we need because they never stepped on the court and played and been in battle. I've been there and I know what we need on this team and I know that we have it. And I trust in Sam Presti and Troy Weaver and those guys in the front office to put great players around us all.”
Other teams have stolen the headlines and shifted the attention from the Thunder this summer thanks to their splashy moves and OKC's untimely second-round exit.
Houston landed Dwight Howard in free agency. The Los Angeles Clippers plucked coach Doc Rivers from Boston, while also adding J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley and Darren Collison. Golden State added Andre Iguodala, Jermaine O'Neal and Marreese Speights. Denver welcomed J.J. Hickson, Darrell Arthur, Nate Robinson and Randy Foye. New Orleans netted Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Anthony Morrow.
But the unspoken belief in Oklahoma City, seemingly led by Durant's quiet confidence, is those teams are playing catch up.
It's the Thunder that still possesses the conference's most talented roster, the Thunder that has improved its winning percentage in five consecutive seasons and the Thunder that advanced farther in the playoffs for three straight seasons before an unfortunate injury to Westbrook derailed that progression this past season.
And it's Oklahoma City that Durant is eager to prove the Western Conference still goes through.
“If you don't win then people tend to forget about you and they don't think you're as good,” Durant said. “That's how it is. We know the name of the game. We just got to go out there and do what we do.”