Durant's height is striking; last week Wanda suddenly looked at him and said, "Son, you are tall." He always was among the tallest boys his age, yet, fortunately for him, no coach forced him to become a center, allowing him to concentrate on shooting, ball handling and finding seams. Durant is most often compared with Houston Rockets swingman Tracy McGrady, but he's not in T-Mac's league as a pure athlete. "The first player I really followed as a kid was Vince Carter," says Durant, "which is funny because he jumps out of the gym and I can't jump at all."
Carlesimo grabs Durant during warmups once again, and he makes this night's message more specific: "I want you to be aggressive and shoot the ball." Wearing his yellow-and-green home Nikes, Durant receives the honor of being the last starter announced. (Durant's agent, Aaron Goodwin, expects that the Swooshers—who signed Durant to a six-year deal worth more than $50 million—will have a Durant shoe and apparel line by next year.)
Against an elite team, albeit one without a strong defense, Durant looks comfortable. He makes Westhead's night by going end-to-end on a break one minute into the game. Then he delivers a slick pass to Collison for a hoop, gets a dunk in transition and hits a step-back jumper on Raja Bell, the Suns' down-and-dirty defender. "Kevin is really good," Bell will say later, "and really big."
In the second period, the crowd of 17,072 begins chanting "Save our SON-ics," directed at principal owner Clay Bennett, who is sitting in a luxury box with longtime Mercer Island resident (and former Seattle coach) Bill Russell. While Durant pays little attention to the ugly civic squabble, to fans he has a special role in it—after waiting so long for a marketable young star, they don't want to lose him (and the team) after a year. However, Bennett insists that it is impossible to turn a profit in what he considers an outdated facility, and city leaders insist they will not finance a new one.
In an interview the next day Bennett bristles at the notion that current Sonics such as Durant and future free agents might not want to play in cowboy country. "You're coming at it from the perspective that Oklahoma City is necessarily an inferior market," he says, calling the question a "hypothetical some-may-say." Well, one "some" might be Goodwin. The agent wouldn't comment on the probable change of venue for his main man, but his history is to look for megadeals in major markets, of which OKC is not one.
Durant is the best player on the court for much of the game, but down the stretch Phoenix puts extra pressure on him. He coughs up the ball on a double team and commits a charging foul, and the Suns come from behind to win 106--99.
The rookie will need to get stronger to hold position in the post, so he can catch the ball close to the basket and get to the line more often. Plus, the Sonics are still sorting out who will be getting him the ball among a point-guard trio of Ridnour, Earl Watson and Delonte West. As Carlesimo says, "We have to find out who we're going to start, who we're going to use as a backup and who we're going to screw."
Still, Durant's line in the box score looks better than it did the night before (a game-high 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting), though the locker-room scene is exactly the same. I'm not thinking about Rookie of the Year or anything like that. I'm just trying to come out and help the team. There's 80 games to go, and we're going to get better.
It's unclear when the games-to-go calculations will begin to get foggy, but it will probably be soon.
GAME 3: NOV. 4, AT LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS