The Kid Enters the Picture
He may be a 19-year-old beanpole who lives with his mom, but Sonics rookie Kevin Durant quickly showed that he could handle the spotlight and score like a vet
Posted: Tuesday November 6, 2007 12:40PM; Updated: Tuesday November 6, 2007 12:40PM
Kevin Durant, looking like a 19-year-old who just got out of bed (which, at this moment, he is), ambles through the door of a Denver hotel and spots a half dozen autograph seekers armed with Sharpies. It is the morning of the rookie's first NBA shootaround, at the Pepsi Center some 10 hours before tip-off against the Nuggets. Durant scribbles his name on various collectibles, nods politely at a few comments ("I saw you play at Texas") and climbs slowly onto the Seattle SuperSonics' bus, at which point the hounds disperse. There is no beseeching of Nick Collison, no love for Chris Wilcox, no apparent eBay growth potential in Luke Ridnour.
And so it is for Kevin Durant, upon whom the spotlight will shine harshly this season, the Boy King of a faltering kingdom. The Sonics have no other marquee players, have gone 66-98 in the last two seasons and have their metaphorical bags packed for Oklahoma City, the team's ownership and the Emerald City having failed to reach a deal on a new arena. Moreover, with Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden out for the year after right knee surgery, Durant is the It rookie, the only first-year player on whom the league can focus its marketing muscle.
This amounts to a lot of attention for a teenager who's sharing a house with his mother, particularly since Durant's basketball trial will not be by fire but by conflagration. "Kevin is our focus," says coach P.J. Carlesimo, who was hired on July 5, one week after the Sonics made Durant the second pick (behind Oden) in the draft. "We can't hide that. We can't pretend he isn't. He will play 34 to 36 minutes and have a lot of rope."
This child-shall-lead-them approach is not new, of course, but Durant's task seems more burdensome than previous ones. Michael Jordan (1984-85) had three years of seasoning at North Carolina before he went to Chicago; Kevin Garnett ('95-96) could lean on mentors such as Sam Mitchell in Minnesota; Kobe Bryant ('96-97) had Shaquille O'Neal as a teammate in Los Angeles; and LeBron James (2003-04) arrived as the most physically imposing person in Cleveland (the Browns included). Remember, too, that Seattle said goodbye to two former All-Stars over the summer, when rookie general manager Sam Presti traded guard Ray Allen to the Boston Celtics and forward Rashard Lewis to the Orlando Magic. (The Sonics' coaches and brass share this grim-faced joke: We won 31 games last year and got rid of our two best players -- we've got to be better.)
Further, everything about the impossibly narrow-shouldered, 6' 9" Durant just says kid. The rookie Garnett was skinny, but he had (and still has) a granite toughness. Durant is a waif. He cops to 220 pounds, five more than he weighed at the predraft camp, but he looks as if he could be blown over by a stiff Northwest breeze, not to mention any future winds that might sweep through the Oklahoma plains.
Still, there is plenty of substance to Durant -- in his person (laid-back but tough), his marketing portfolio (about $80 million in deals with Nike, EA Sports and Gatorade) and his game (smooth, smart, versatile). That was clear in the opening days of a pro career that promises to be electric, no matter where the Sonics ultimately call home.